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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Know your foe: Week 10, Kentucky

Kentucky has two of the best defensive ends in the SEC.

2013 Record: 2-10 (0-8)

Series History: 3-2 (MIZZ)

Last Meeting: Missouri won 48-17 (2013)

Player to Watch: Missouri offensive tackle Mitch Morse

2014 Projection: 3-9 (0-8)

Kentucky defeated division rival Tennessee by a score of 10-7. That was on Nov. 26, 2011.

That was the last time the Wildcats won a Southeastern Conference game, a 33-month drought in conference play. The streak has climbed an abysmal 16 consecutive defeats and could very easily hit 24 by season’s end.

Although the Wildcats own the longest current streak of futility in major college football, second-year head coach Mark Stoops seems like he might finally have the recipe for success in Lexington.

Much like his basketball counterpart at Kentucky, coach John Calipari, Stoops lit up the recruiting trail in his first year on the job, garnering 28 total commitments. His haul is littered with high-rated talent, making up the 20th-best recruiting class of 2014, according to ESPN.

In the SEC, 20th place is not normally something to write home about, but for Kentucky football, it is a step in the right direction.

Headlining the Wildcats’ class are quarterback Drew Barker, defensive tackle Matt Elam and a pair of big physical receivers in Blake Bone and Dorian Baker.

Stoops’ first-ever class proves not only that the Wildcats can recruit on a national level, but that they can retain their home-grown talent.

Although Barker was a consensus top-five high school quarterback throughout his recruitment and Elam held offers from national powers like Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame, both chose to stay in their home state of Kentucky.

However, football is still won on the field, and while the Wildcats’ star-studded recruiting class could lead to some noticeable improvement, Kentucky was a 2-10 group a year ago.

Stoops’ squad does return some notable talent from last season, though. Kentucky might very well have the most destructive duo of defensive ends in the SEC in seniors Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith.

The two combined for 13 sacks last season, but after an entire offseason of building chemistry and learning under Stoops, one of college football’s greatest defensive minds, they could wreak even more havoc on the new litter of quarterbacks across the SEC this fall.

Missouri senior left tackle Mitch Morse will be key in dealing with Kentucky’s defensive line, so that Mizzou running backs Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy can get to the outside and space out the offensive attack.

Offensively though, the Wildcats look — amazingly — even worse than before. Former starting quarterback Jalen Whitlow announced his transfer from the team early in the spring, meaning there is a three-way position battle between Barker, fellow freshman Reese Phillips and sophomore Patrick Towles, none of whom have started a collegiate game.

So while Kentucky might be on its way under Stoops, it’s hard to see the Wildcats leaving Columbia with anything more than a moral victory this fall.

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