On paper, a matchup of an SEC home team and a MAC squad shouldn’t be all that close. I think all of us have seen this type of movie enough by now to know it chapter and verse. We’ve been told “it just means more”, heard the conference acronym chanted more often than not at the conclusion of the national championship game, and if you’e ever in the presence of an SEC fan they will make it abundantly clear just how prolific the SEC is.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a Kentucky fan since I was born. Yes, as hard as it is to believe, even the Fearless Leader of a MAC fan site can have other rooting interests outside of the little conference that could. So it is only fitting that when the my fandom Venn diagram occurs, I would be called into service.
This is the seventh meeting between the two squads, with the Kentucky Wildcats winning the first six. The Central Michigan Chippewas come into the contest off an 8-5 record in 2017 and Kentucky finished 7-6. That record for UK is deceptive. At one point Kentucky was 5-1 and a darkhorse contender for the SEC East.
Anyone who follows Kentucky or football in general knows that they are not the elite of the SEC. It has been an arduous and taxing three decades as a member of Big Blue Nation every fall. There have been many a year when it wouldn’t take an elite MAC squad to knock them off, just an average one. But this ain’t your daddy’s Kentucky Wildcats.
Gone is the loser mentality and the feeling like the next disappointment or shocking error is right around the corner. The program is more talented, better coached, better supported, and better suited to make a run at something special than ever before. And while they still may be in the bottom half of the conference, the gap between them and the top is smaller than ever.
When Kentucky has the ball:
There’s been a bit of a QB controversy in Lexington for most of the offseason as Terry Wilson and Gunnar Hoak. Hoak is the pocket passer and Wilson the scrambler who got some highlights on season two of Last Chance U. The juco transfer Wilson was named the starter this week, and it’s all systems go for the Wildcats under the Wilson regime. Kentucky’s biggest weapon is running back Benny Snell, the odds on favorite to lead the SEC in rushing in 2018. Helping that fact is a veteran offensive line. CMU’s defense will have their work cut out for them assuming Kentucky doesn’t try and get cute with Wilson. If they run, run, and run some more, they should find great success. CMU’s best hope is to continue their trend of interceptions and the opportunities with a new QB will likely exist. They simply have to capitalize.
When Central Michigan has the ball:
For Kentucky, the defensive unit has an extra bit of motivation thanks to CMU RB Jonathan Ward saying he never heard of the aforementioned Benny Snell. That didn’t get received well in the locker room, and I would not be surprised at all to see exceptionally hard or violent hits as a result. Kentucky’s defense is senior-laden and used to stacking up against some of the best offensive talent in the country. For CMU, they have a rookie signal caller and three freshmen WRs. Any sort of miscommunication or errant throws and you can bet that the speed of Kentucky defense will take advantage.
From a fan perspective, if you’re heading to Lexington, you’re in for a treat. We’re a hospitable bunch of people and the stadium is a nice one to catch a game in (the brisket nachos are highly recommended). If you’re looking for a nice meal after find your closest Malone’s. Want to get some drinks? Campus town area comes with your usual run of college bars on Limestone and Euclid and there is no shortage of grown up type places in downtown. Parking is going to be brutal. Get there early and find a yard near the stadium where people are selling land for a small fee. Walk over to the blue lot, tailgate, and enjoy yourself.
Can Central Michigan win? Sure. It would require several turnovers, an unexpectedly high performance from an untested Chips offense, and Kentucky’s defense to not perform as expected. None of those things are necessarily impossible. Will Central Michigan win? Unlikely. Their best hope is to hope for chaos early and a close game by halftime. If Kentucky’s offense struggles will there be a Saban-esque switcheroo at the half? Kentucky fans are thinking this year could be special and another trip to a bowl, but each and every one of the positive scenarios being talked about includes a win over the Chips. The talent is there to do so, it’s just a question of will it.