How hot were those preseason hot takes?
With only the bowl game remaining it's a good time to hit the pause button and look back at what we thought about Kentucky before the season, measuring that against what we now know with the benefit of hindsight.
Before the season the Cats Illustrated staff went to the roundtable for a series of questions and topics. We'll take a look back at those first.
The staff debated the toughest game on the schedule, but really there wasn't much debate. Everyone who was asked said Georgia. In hindsight, that was a pretty good pick. Kentucky's three blowout losses in 2017 came against Georgia, Mississippi State and Louisville. Given that Georgia won the SEC and Kentucky was competitive for only a short while against the Bulldogs, expectations were on the mark.
On the question of the defense's breakout player, the picks ranged from Chris Westry to Jordan Griffin and Darius West. In other words, the widespread expectation was that someone from the secondary would break out. That made sense because there weren't many obvious candidates on the defensive line, and the linebacking rotation seemed pretty well set and established.
Of those choices, West was probably the closest thing to a breakout player. He was better against the run than in coverage. But the real breakout player on defense probably turned out to be Quinton Bohanna, the true freshman nose guard. While I did say that I thought Bohanna was better than advertised according to the rankings, I did not anticipate Bohanna winning the starting job during his true freshman season.
How about the breakout offensive player? Cats Illustrated writers went with Tavin Richardson, Clevan Thomas and C.J. Conrad. Of that group of answers the closest to hitting the nail on the head would have been Richardson, because his numbers did go up and he showed clear improvement. Thomas played in most of Kentucky's games but his only catch came in the USM game, while Conrad basically duplicated his numbers from his sophomore season.
The staff discussed Kentucky's defensive line before the season, asking and answering the questions of how good the unit would be and how good it would need to be. The general consensus was that the line was a big question mark and a concern, and while the group played well early in the season, against better competition those takes turned out to be true.
Before the season Cats Illustrated staffers called Jordan Jones, Austin MacGinnis and Benny Snell the program's most valuable players. It's tough to tell, even with hindsight, how accurate those picks were. For instance, Jones didn't perform as well as MacGinnis or Snell, but his regression from his all-conference sophomore season could explain the defense's struggles. While the Jones pick is complicated to assess, it's safe to say that MacGinnis and Snell were two of Kentucky's three or four most valuable players, along with perhaps Mike Edwards and Stephen Johnson.
I also made an effort to set the over/under for several statistical categories on offense.
Stephen Johnson is already over the 9 projected starts (with 12). He would have to pass for 352 yards to reach the 2,400 projected passing yards, although that number was reasonably set. His 10 touchdown passes have been well off the 17 number set in that exercise, but he's also thrown only four interceptions compared to the eight in that over/under. He's been better than the fumble mark set, too.
As for the running backs, I set the over/under for Benny Snell's carries at 240 and he's already over that with 256. That basically means he's shouldered a little more of the load than I anticipated, with Sihiem King and A.J. Rose getting only spot duty. I set King's over/under for carries at 100, but he only toted the rock 72 times in the regular season. He is well under the bar in projected rushing yards with 334 compared to the 500 I picked preseason.
A.J. Rose carried the ball 13 times and I had projected 50 for him. Lynn Bowden is slightly "under" the projected Wildcat touches (30) but between passes and runs it wasn't too far off.
I set the over/under for Snell's rushing yards at 1,250. At one point his pace made that seem like a pipe dream, but a strong second half has Snell at 1,318 before the bowl. He's already four over the preseason over/under for touchdowns with 18 (set at 14).
Finally, the Cats Illustrated staff made predictions for college football beyond Kentucky. Tennessee, Florida and Georgia earned preseason SEC East championship picks, and the Bulldogs turned out to be the winners there, with the Vols and Gators tanking and firing their coaches. There were two predictions for Kentucky to finish third and one for the Cats to finish fourth, and Kentucky came in third, so those were on the money.
You can read the staff's playoff predictions here. T.J. Walker and myself both accurately forecasted Alabama and Oklahoma as preseason playoff picks, although none of the Cats Illustrated staff nailed Clemson or Georgia.