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Jamie Vaught: Despite key personnel losses from 10-3 team, UK football should remain competitive in SEC

After enjoying a remarkable 10-3 campaign in 2018, including a victory over Penn State in a New Year’s Day bowl, will the University of Kentucky football team continue its winning ways this fall?

Yes, but the Wildcats likely will regress some after losing megastars Josh Allen and Benny Snell Jr. to the NFL. UK won’t win 10 games this time, but it should remain respectable with a forgiving schedule that has eight home matchups.

Kentucky — which plays its first three games at home, beginning with a formidable Toledo squad on Aug. 31 – still has enough talent and depth to compete in the Southeastern Conference, and that’s why the Wildcats should be fine in 2019.

The new college football yearbooks – Athlon Sports, Lindy’s Sports and Street & Smith’s — are cautiously optimistic about the Wildcats, but the colorful publications have them slotted at either No. 5 or No. 6 in the seven-team SEC East Division. And Athlon has Kentucky attending a postseason Music City Bowl party in Nashville, while Street & Smith’s has UK going to the Independence Bowl.

Athlon has a nice feature story about UK’s Josh Paschal, a sophomore defensive end from Maryland who has been battling cancer. Lindy’s All-Decade Team of the 2010s (with one season left) has Allen on the list.

Street & Smith’s includes an interesting article about the future of postseason bowl games, many of which have suffered low TV ratings and small crowds.

Several UK players were recognized with preseason All-SEC honors. They are center Drake Jackson, all-purpose standout Lynn Bowden Jr., offensive lineman Logan Stenberg, linebacker Kash Daniel, offensive lineman Landon Young and defensive lineman Quinton Bohanna.

By the way, it was the 6-foot-6, 322-pound Stenberg who blocked for Snell, the school’s all-time leading rusher who became the first player in UK history to rush for 1,000 yards in three straight seasons. Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops — who had five players selected in the 2019 NFL Draft – believes UK will continue to produce future NFL players and has a high praise for Stenberg, a senior from Madison, Ala.

“Yeah, I definitely think there are guys that will continue to move forward. A guy that jumps out at me is a guy like Logan Stenberg,” said Stoops in late April. “He is a guy that could have come out this year but he is definitely coming back and has that mentality that many of these guys did to concentrate on some of the areas that he needs to improve. I am sure there are a lot of guys that will continue to have an opportunity.”

UK’s five NFL draft picks this past spring were the most since 1979, when coach Fran Curci’s squad had eight players (James Ramsey, Jim Kovach, Kelly Kirchbaum, Rod Stewart, Bob Winkel, Robert Hawkins, Dan Fowler and David Stephens) chosen.

As for national rankings, all three publications have the same four SEC teams — Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Florida — in the preseason Top 10, with the Crimson Tide either at No. 1 or No. 2. In addition, Texas A&M is ranked No. 10 in Athlon.

It should be another exciting SEC campaign for the Big Blue faithful.

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Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of KySportsStyle.com magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.

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