SEC Football kicks off this weekend, and Kentucky starts out with a challenge. The Wildcats (5-7, 2-5 SEC last season) need an impressive start as they have been out of bowl contention since 2010. Head coach Mark Stoops inherited a program in 2013 that was lost in the depths of SEC competition. Although the team’s record has improved, Stoops has yet to reach the successes he had as defensive coordinator at FSU.
This season is his time to escape the hot seat, but Southern Mississippi presents a unique challenge. They have a new head coach, Jay Hopson, the former Alcorn State head coach and Southern Miss defensive coordinator. More importantly, the Golden Eagles offense is lead by coach Shannon Dawson, Kentucky’s offensive head coach just a season ago. However, Kentucky’s biggest threat comes in the form of Southern Miss senior quarterback Nick Mullens, who threw 38 touchdown passes and 4.476 yards last season. Stoops knows his players will need to perform to their best ability on each snap in order to be competitive against Mullens’s accuracy. Mullens has go-to wide receiver D.J. Thompson to catch a lot of passes, and running back Ito Smith is prepared for a breakout season.
With an offense low in production last season, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran has brought a new energy and focus to Kentucky. Coach Stoops believes his team is stronger and ready to compete after a great camp. The team will rally around quarterback Drew Barker and running back Boom Williams hopes to add a solid running dimension to the offense.
Gator fans in particular could be watching this game closely as UF opens SEC play at home with Kentucky next weekend.
Southern Mississippi and Kentucky can be seen on ESPN U at 7:30.