Editor's note: The spectacle that is SEC media days ended earlier this week. But with the newly-expanded four-day media event over, we're at a bit of a loss. Fall camp is still weeks away; the regular season is even further, with the 2014 campaign kicking off at the end of August. So what better time to roll out the preseason power rankings among teams in the SEC?
Starting today and ending July 31, we'll count down the teams from worst to first. The format will involve a "best-case/worst-case" scenario for each team, taking our a page out of former War Eagle Extra beat writer Andy Bitter's playbook from 2010. (One final note: Please, as Bitter said four years ago, remember all scenarios "are meant to be hyperbolic.")
No. 14: Kentucky
The good news: At media days, coach Mark Stoops touted how much farther along his team is in terms of leadership and physical fitness compared to last year.
The bad news: The team has no idea who will start at the most important position on the field, as the Wildcats will enter the fall with a four-way quarterback competition on their hands. Oh, and don't forget this is Kentucky we're talking about, a school not exactly known for its prestigious history on the gridiron.
Best-case scenario: The quarterback battle doesn't drag on, as Patrick Towles, who held a slight advantage during the spring, cements himself during fall camp. That clarity pays off, as Towles becomes the biggest quarterback sensation for the Wildcats since Tim Couch was throwing all over SEC opponents from 1996-98. (Though it should be noted Towles won't be the "biggest quarterback sensation for the Wildcats" in a literal sense, since that honor goes to Jared "The Battleship" Lorezen.) Thanks to Towles masterfully running offensive coordinator Neal Brown's "Air Raid" scheme, the Wildcats start out 4-0 (wins over Tennessee-Martin, Ohio, Florida and Vanderbilt) for the first time since 2008. The victory over the Gators is particularly sweet, since it ends a 27-game skid in the series and marks Kentucky's first triumph in Gainesville since 1979.
Kentucky suffers its first loss against South Carolina but quickly bounces back to top Louisiana-Monroe. The schedule stiffens considerably from there, as the Wildcats go from 5-1 to 5-6 after falling to LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, Georgia and Tennessee. Needing a win in the season finale against arch-rival Louisville to gain bowl eligibility, Kentucky does just that, as Towles connects with Javess Blue on an 8-yard touchdown pass with less than a minute remaining to give the Wildcats a 31-28 victory. Kentucky's fan base is so excited to end its four-year postseason drought, it almost sells out its ticket allotment to the Independence Bowl. Sure, the matchup with Duke is one folks would prefer to see on the hardwood, but Stoops and his team aren't complaining. One year after playing in the ACC title game, the Blue Devils are understandably disappointed to be playing in Shreveport, and the Wildcats take advantage, cruising to a 38-14 victory. Stoops endears himself to the bowl's title sponsor — Duck Commander — to the extent that he's invited to appear on an episode when "Duck Dynasty" resumes filming in 2015.
The 7-6 season gives Kentucky a shot in the arm on the recruiting trail, which never hurts in the ultra-competitive SEC. It even gives Kentucky backers an extra minute or two to appreciate football before turning their attention back to the hardwood and another highly-touted, much-scrutinized, John Calipari-led squad. Kentucky takes an extra bit of delight out of the struggles of Louisville. In his first season back with the Cardinals, Bobby Petrino falls flat on his face — but not off a motorcycle, mind you — in a 4-8 maiden campaign in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Worst-case scenario: Things get started off on the right foot with an expected rout of Tennessee-Martin in the season opener. But then the unraveling begins to take on the hue of the last two seasons, which saw Kentucky go 2-10 both times. Hosting an Ohio team many believe to be one of the best squads not residing in a "Power 5" conference, Kentucky looks listless, falling to the Bobcats 24-14. That's followed by its 28th consecutive loss to Florida and a defeat to Vanderbilt and its rookie coach Derek Mason.
Dropping to 1-4 after getting blasted by South Carolina, Louisiana-Monroe offers a brief reprieve for win No. 2. But that's the last positive the Wildcats take out of the season, as they close with six consecutive losses — LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee and (the most difficult of all to stomach for Kentucky fans) Louisville. Already ahead 42-7 entering the final period, Petrino doesn't let up, tacking on 24 more points in the fourth quarter. The 66-10 result and Petrino's decision to run up the score make for a cold postgame handshake from Stoops.
Another two-win effort means no bowl and no "Duck Dynasty" appearances for Stoops. Things aren't any better off the field, as all major recruiting services rank the Wildcats' 2015 class last among SEC teams. The dismal season is business as usual for Wildcat supporters, who gave up hope on football before the calendar had turned to November; there were more important matters to tend to, after all, such as speculating whether Calipari's 'Cats can go undefeated in 2014-15. In a further punch to the gut for Stoops, Louisville doesn't miss a beat in the transition from Charlie Strong to Petrino. Posting an 11-2 record with Petrino back at the controls — of the football program, not a motorcycle, mind you — it's clear that Louisville won't have a problem placing itself among the elite in the ACC.