The opening salvo of the 2016 season has been fired, and it’s high time that the Kentucky Wildcats take the field at Commonwealth Stadium for their season-opener against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles.
This summer featured all of the hallmarks that fans of Kentucky football regularly experience: an offseason mired in dubious optimism following a season of emotional craters and zeniths. Now that summer has given way to the bracing days of autumn, reality has firmly affixed itself to Cats fans who are aching for a bowl game yet buttressing their collective psyches in the event that Kentucky enters the throes of another 5-7 season.
The Cats’ 2016 schedule only promises that winning 6 games will be no simple task. Saturday’s meeting with Southern Miss proves just that. The Eagles are predicted to be one of the top teams in Conference USA this season, with outlets like Athlon Sports predicting them to not only win 10 games, but also to take the conference title back to Hattiesburg.
It is pretty evident that Kentucky did not schedule a cupcake for their season-opener. They scheduled a conference title contender whose appetite for victory will only be sated with a road win over an SEC school.
Matchup to watch
The biggest matchup to watch in this game is the quarterback battle between Kentucky’s sophomore QB Drew Barker and Southern Miss’ senior QB Nick Mullens. Mullens is a veteran of the game that many believe will be the key to the Golden Eagles’ attempt to win the Conference USA title this season. He threw for roughly 4,500 yards last season, all while throwing 38 passing touchdowns.
It is a good bet that Mullens is going to be on the money from the start on Saturday, which is why it is imperative that Drew Barker does not stumble too badly at the beginning of the game. I say “too badly” because alas, he is still a sophomore who only has less than a handful of collegiate starts to his name. It’s a given that he will be a bit rusty at the outset. If he can recover quickly and other indispensable offensive forces like Boom Williams do their part, then Kentucky should win this ballgame.
How it all ends
In the end, I believe that Kentucky will win this ballgame due to two big factors: Boom Williams & their secondary. For starters, Boom Williams should have a stellar 2016 season, and I just do not believe that Southern Miss’ depleted defensive line will be able to handle him. Now, when it comes to Southern Miss’ potential for potent passing, the onus will be on Kentucky’s skilled secondary to stop Mullens and company. They’re certainly the best part of the Wildcats’ defense this year, and they should frustrate Mullens a bit.
Forgive the hyperbole for a moment, but for Kentucky, the march to six wins begins on Saturday. A win will go a long way towards boosting the spirits of fans around the Commonwealth, but a loss will all but lock up another bowl-less season. There’s a lot riding on this performance...
Honestly, it seems as if this game is one where not much good can come from it, but a lot of bad sure can. A loss here would certainly let the air out of the dreams of Kentucky fans and players alike, putting a damper on the season from the get-go. A win means that Kentucky beat a Group of Five team at home. Don’t get me wrong—Southern Miss is a good team—but they’re still a team that an SEC program should be able to beat comfortably in their home stadium.