Round Table: What should fans make of that 6-percent number?

Justin Rowland, Publisher
Cats Illustrated

There seems to be a pretty significant split when it comes to Kentucky this year in the world of public opinion.

While nobody's picking the Cats to finish in the SEC East cellar, there are those who consider the dark horse, and there are others (and an ESPN computer model) that consider Kentucky very much a long shot to make serious noise at the top of the division.

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What do you make of ESPN's FPI model, which gives Kentucky a 6-percent chance to win the SEC East? (UGA is at 37-percent, Florida at 31-percent, Tennessee at 17-percent and South Carolina is at 6-percent as well).

T.J. Walker: I think a 6-percent chance is probably a little low but I wouldn't put Kentucky's chances of winning the SEC East over 10 percent. The Cats have one win over Florida and Tennessee in their last 64 chances. The Bulldogs were able to beat Kentucky at a rocking Commonwealth Stadium last year. UK will likely have to go 3-0 or 2-1 against those teams to have a chance to win the East. That's not likely, although possible. Then you have to consider road games at Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and South Carolina. All hungry teams that played UK extremely close while the Cats were the home team last season.

I have no problem with ESPN saying UK has a 6-percent chance to win the east. Like I said I'd maybe make it 8 or 10, and the Cats have a better chance than South Carolina, but UK will need to prove some things before the FPI will consider UK a favorite.

Derek Terry: I don't think much of it one way or the other. I think UK has a chance to win at least four games in the SEC again this season and possibly five with an upset. 6-2 would be the best-case scenario (and highly unlikely) Six wins would assume UK beats the same four opponents it did in conference last year (that's a challenge in its own right), plus Ole Miss and then springs an upset against Tennessee, Florida or Georgia. That's going to be a very difficult task for this team.

Basically, 6-2 is unlikely but might be good enough to win the SEC East. 5-3 seems more reasonable and maybe a team with a 5-3 conference record could sneak into Atlanta with that record. The more likely finish in my opinion is 4-4 or 3-5, which would still get UK to a bowl game assuming it wins three of four non-conference games.

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Justin Rowland: As I said on the podcast, I would put Kentucky in the 8 to 10-percent range which is in the same general vicinity. In other words, I think 6-percent seems a tad low but as a ballpark figure it's not ridiculous. It's on the low end of a range, on a spectrum of reasonable answers, and I'd say the high end of non-homer picks would be 12 to 15-percent max. But that'd be pushing it for me.

The bigger surprise to me was seeing Tennessee at 17-percent (seems high) while Vanderbilt and Missouri are left splitting the difference of the remaining scraps (seems a tad low). I might not have any team in the division at lower than 5-percent. Missouri's defense was atrocious but they could have the best offense in the East, while Vanderbilt has a formula and an identity, and they've overachieved before.

The reason I don't think the number is ridiculous ... well, it's a combination of factors. It's true that it's been five years since UK has won a game against UF, UT or UGA but that's not the biggest reason. I just think to win the East, however down the East has been, Kentucky would have to make very substantial improvements on defense. I think moderate, even significant improvement can be expected given what's returning. But the defense allowed 31-plus points per game last year and didn't get nearly the amount of sacks, hurries or pressures that previous East winners have generally averaged. The offense would have to be really terrific to offset the defense being average (which I think is the most likely scenario given the line's questions), and it's hard for me to predict the offense will be more than pretty good.

I do see Kentucky returning to a bowl. I see Kentucky as competitive on paper with every team they'll match up with. I see them moving in the right direction. But I would still say 8 to 10-percent likelihood of winning the East, right in the same range I'd put both Tennessee and South Carolina. And I think Georgia and Florida are without question the two favorites.

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