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Sports Notes: Surprising Cats could be in first place in SEC East when dust settles Saturday

A win over Auburn Thursday would leave Kentucky with a 5-1 record for the second season in a row. A loss by Florida would leave the Cats in first place in the SEC East (Bill Thiry Photo)

A win over Auburn Thursday would leave Kentucky with a 5-1 record for the second season in a row. A loss by Florida would leave the Cats in first place in the SEC East (Bill Thiry Photo)


If I had made a list a few weeks ago of things I expected to be true halfway through October, the University of Kentucky sitting in sole possession of second place in the Southeastern Conference East Division race would not have made the top 10.

For that matter, Auburn residing firmly in the basement in the SEC West wouldn’t have earned a mention either. Yet here we are.

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Coach Mark Stoops’ Wildcats figure to be the betting line favorites over the Tigers when the teams collide in the first nationally televised Thursday night game in the history of Commonwealth Stadium, new or otherwise. And who would have predicted that back in the dog days of August?

Yet, here we are.

A win would leave the Wildcats at 5-1 for the second year in a row, but more importantly, with a 3-1 SEC mark. Heading into play this week, only Florida is better (6-0, 4-0 SEC). Following Tennessee’s surprising 38-31 win over preseason favorite Georgia, in which the Vols overcame a 21-point deficit in Knoxville, Kentucky is positioned for its best SEC finish in three decades.

Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee each have two conference losses and Vanderbilt is 0-2 in league play. Over in the West, LSU and Texas A&M are still unbeaten and Mississippi and Alabama have a single conference loss. Alabama topped Arkansas last week and LSU hammered South Carolina while both Ole Miss and Mississippi State defeated non-conference opponents handily.

Obviously, Kentucky has a lot riding on this week’s game. A loss in front of what should be a rowdy capacity crowd at Commonwealth would be a major setback for a season that is showing such promise. Next up on the schedule is a visit to Mississippi State, a Halloween night affair at home with Tennessee, then a trip to Georgia. These games will tell the tale of the Wildcats’ season.

In case you missed it, Georgia lost more than a game last week: Star running back Nick Chubb injured ligaments in his left knee and will have season-ending surgery. The Bulldogs coughed up the big lead at Tennessee just a week after getting run off their home field by Alabama. Georgia has a big Halloween home game of its own with Florida coming to town.

The SEC race figures to get interesting over the next couple of weeks and Kentucky is part of the conversation. I guess I may need to revise list.

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There are three other critical games on the SEC schedule this week. After we see whether Kentucky can take the next step with a win over Auburn, we have Texas A&M hosting Alabama in a battle of top 10 teams, Florida at LSU and Missouri going to Georgia.

The loser of the Missouri-Georgia game will be virtually eliminated from the conference race. Florida and LSU features two unbeaten teams both ranked among the top eight schools in the country with the winner laying claim to being the SEC’s best team. (Note: the Gators suspended starting quarterback Will Grier for the rest of the season for NCAA violations).

A Bama loss would probably knock Nick Saban’s team out of the SEC race.

A Kentucky win over Auburn coupled with Florida losing to LSU would mean the Cats would be leading the SEC East halfway through the season. I can’t believe I just typed that sentence.

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Kentucky is receiving votes in both the writers’ and coaches polls this week. The Cats received 13 votes from the coaches and four in the Associated Press poll — one less than Western Kentucky.

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Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty, who passed for 359 yards in the Hilltoppers’ 58-28 C-USA win over Middle Tennessee, has been named one of the finalists for the 2015 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.

The original watch list of 30 was trimmed to 15, with the award to be presented at a ceremony on Dec. 11 in Baltimore.

The award is presented annually at the end of each season to the nation’s top college quarterback based on character, citizenship, scholastic achievement, leadership qualities and athletic accomplishments. Candidates must be a college senior or fourth-year junior on schedule to graduate with their class.

Doughty had thrown for at least 400 yards in four consecutive games, the fourth-longest streak in FBS history, before the Middle Tennessee game. He threw all five of his scoring passes in the first half, which ended with WKU holding a 52-14 advantage. Western put up 593 yards of total offense in the game despite easing off the gas in the second half.

Doughty is one of three `Group of Five’ quarterbacks represented on the Manning Award, Walter Camp, Davey O’Brien, Maxwell Award Watch Lists and now shortened Golden Arm list, joining Memphis’s Paxton Lynch and Navy’s Kennan Reynolds. As a team, WKU has 15 honorees on watch lists this season, the highest total in the program’s FBS history.

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This year’s Major League baseball playoff teams include a number of participants with ties to the Lexington Legends.

Both of the teams the Legends have been affiliated with, the Houston Astros and the Kansas City Royals, were still alive at this writing and several former Legends dot the rosters.

The Royals’ roster includes two former Legends: Ben Zobrist, who played for Lexington in 2005, and Terrance Gore, who was a Legend in 2013.

Houston’s Jose Altuve, who played for the Legends in 2010, will be at second base for the Astros. He led the American League in hits and stolen bases for the second consecutive year and won the AL batting title in 2014 with a mark of .341.

Infielder Matt Duffy, a 2012 Legend, was on the Astros roster for the wild card game Tuesday night against the New York Yankees, but was not on Houston’s roster for the division series.

Former Legend Delino DeShields Jr. is with the Texas Rangers, who are playing the Toronto Blue Jays in the other American League division series. DeShields, who played for Lexington in 2011-12, holds the Legends’ single-season record for stolen bases with 83 in 2012.

Utility player Enrique Hernandez, a Legend in 2011, batted .307 in 76 games for the National League Western Division champion Los Angeles Dodgers and is active for the team’s division series with the New York Mets.

Former Kentucky star right-hander Joe Blanton was on Pittsburgh’s roster for the wildcard game the Pirates lost to Chicago. The UK star from 2000-02, returned to the big leagues in 2015 after missing the entire 2014 season following a 2-14 season in 2013 with the Los Angeles Angels.

Blanton, 34, was used in relief by the Pirates, compiling a 5-0 record and a 1.57 ERA in 21 games and 34.1 innings.

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