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UK faces improved SEC in 22 – The Advocate-Messenger

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JAMIE VAUGHT

Collaborating columnist

The 2022 campaign for British football is fast approaching and there is plenty of excitement in the Big Blue Nation.

After a historic 10-3 campaign with five SEC wins in 2021, the Wildcats – who have several returning stars, including QB Will Levis – should be very good this fall. Coach Mark Stoops’ club also has a favorable schedule with eight home games at Kroger Field, and the Cats don’t even play West Division favorites like Alabama and Texas A&M, both in the Top 5. or 6 of the preseason, this time around.

Here are my annual game-by-game UK predictions for this season.

• Miami-Ohio (September 3, Lexington). This Ohio school won’t be so easy to beat as the Redhawks are expected to finish first in the Mid-American Conference East Division, according to Athlon Sports. Miami has a tried and tested QB by the name of three-year-old starter Brett Gabbert. The 7 p.m. season opener will air on ESPN+/SEC Network+ (online). UK by 9.

• Florida (September 10, Gainesville). Could the Wildcats stop the Gators again after beating them 20-13 at home last fall? Dan Mullen is gone because Florida has a new coach.

Billy Napier is the new boss who coached under Dabo Swinney at Clemson and Nick Saban in Alabama. The once mighty Gators, who will host Top 10 team Utah in the season opener, are still far behind Georgia. The ESPN showdown begins at 7 p.m. in Florida by 2.

• Youngstown State University (September 17, Lexington). This will be the first-ever contest between the UK and the Penguins of the Missouri Valley Conference. SEC Network will air it at noon.

By the way, Youngstown State will go to Ohio State in 2023 for nearly $1 million, compared to $550,000 from the UK, according to various media outlets. UK by 27.

• Northern Illinois (September 24, Lexington). Like the Miami game, it won’t be a breeze for the Wildcats. Athlon Sports picked the Huskies to win the Mid-American Conference West Division. They beat Georgia Tech 22-21 last year. Miami and Northern Illinois are both ranked ahead of Vanderbilt in a national preseason poll.

Interestingly, before the Huskies travel to Lexington, they host Vanderbilt the weekend before. This game will air on CBS Sports Network. UK by 14.

• Mississippi (October 1, Oxford). It could be a draw with a slight advantage for the Rebels due to their home field advantage. Coach Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss club is coming off a 10-3 season but needs a good replacement for excellent QB Matt Corral. The Rebels may have found one in Jaxson Dart, a transfer from Southern Cal. Ole Miss by 6.

• South Carolina (October 8, Lexington). It could be another close game. The Wildcats barely beat the Gamecocks 16-10 on the road last fall. USC QB Spencer Rattler traded from Oklahoma. Sophomore coach Shane Beamer has been generating a lot of excitement in South Carolina after a surprising 7-6 campaign in 2021, including a 38-21 win over North Carolina. UK by 3.

• State of Mississippi (October 15, Lexington). Mike Leach, a former British assistant, is a fun coach to watch with his happy attack. Bulldogs QB Will Rogers is back for his first year. The Cats lost to MSU 31-17 last fall. UK by 7.

• Tennessee (October 29, Knoxville). Do you remember last year’s game at Lexington?

Kentucky, which gained 612 total yards offensively, had multiple chances to tie (with a field goal) or win (with a touchdown) in the end, but lost to first-year coach Josh Heupel and Flights 45-42. Tennessee, which went 7-6 last season, should improve. YOU by 6.

• Missouri (November 5, Colombia). Third-year coach Eliah Drinkwitz and his rebuilding Tigers are still struggling with lackluster records. The QB position is a question mark after the departure of Conner Bazelak to Indiana. UK by 9.

• Vanderbilt University (November 12, Lexington). It’s the same old story at Vandy. Coach Clark Lea, who served as defensive coordinator at Notre Dame from 2018-2020, is entering his second year at his two-degree alma mater and trying to improve things in Music City. Vandy kicked off his season with a win in Hawaii. In the past two years, Vandy hasn’t won any SEC contests. UK by 14.

• Georgia (19 November, Lexington). This could be the SEC East Division title showdown we’ve been waiting for.

Georgia is still loaded even after winning the 2021 national championship and losing 15 players to the NFL. Coach Kirby Smart’s club opens its season against Oregon in a Top 10 game in Atlanta. Kentucky lost to the Bulldogs 30-13 last year. UGA by 14.

• Louisville (November 26, Lexington). The Cardinals have a chance to improve from last season’s 6-7 team with the return of senior QB Malik Cunningham. Coach Scott Satterfield needs to win more often as fans grow impatient after a three-year mark of 18-19. Against U of L, Kentucky has won three straight games in blowouts. UK by 10, finishing their regular season with a not-so-bad 8-4, including four SEC wins.

Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime sports columnist in Kentucky, is the author of five books on British basketball, including the recent “Chasing the Cats: A Kentucky Basketball Journey.” He is the editor and founder of KySportsStyle.com magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or contact him via email at [email protected]