HOOVER, Alabama (KT) — Kentucky was picked to finish sixth in the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference by the league’s media on Friday.
The Wildcats were selected to finish ahead of only Vanderbilt despite a breakthrough season a year ago when Kentucky finished 10-3 and defeated Penn State in the Citrus Bowl. Georgia was tabbed first in media voting, followed by Florida, Missouri, South Carolina and Tennessee. The Bulldogs are the early favorite to make a return to the SEC Championship game.
Alabama was picked to win the West and the overall league title. Following the Crimson Tide were LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Arkansas.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, whose team ended a long losing streak to Florida and finished second in the SEC East, wants the Wildcats to remain on their current path of success. Stoops said the Wildcats are “proud of that accomplishment (last year), but we want more.”
“Coming off the first 10-win season we've had in 41 years, we want to continue to do the good things we're doing, continue to build on the principles, practices, and systems that we've done to get us to that point,” he said. “We're not interested in just having one good team or one good year. We're interested in building a program. And that's what we're doing.
“Clearly, there's a lot that goes into that. Some of the things that we talk a lot about at Kentucky is build and protect our culture. And then it's important for us to select the right players. As we have success, as we win, it gives us the opportunity to be more selective with those players and make sure they fit in our system and buy into our culture."
Offensive lineman Logan Stenberg doesn’t expect the Wildcats to have a down year.
"We're just so much stronger and so much smarter this year," Stenberg said. "I don't see how we couldn't do better than last year."
Senior linebacker Kash Daniel was a second-team selection on defense, while Stenberg (offensive guard) was a third-team All-SEC selection. Drake Jackson (center) also was a third-team pick. Lynn Bowden was a third-team selection as a return specialist. Bowden also is being counted on to carry the load at wide receiver in addition to punt return and kickoff duties.
Stoops wasn’t surprised by Daniel’s preseason selection.
“What you love about Kash is, what you see is what you get,” Stoops said. “He's a guy that's very passionate about things, and you got to love that. He's passionate about being from Kentucky, being from eastern Kentucky and having a tough blue-collar background that I can certainly relate to.
“He's selfless. He cares about his team. He cares about winning. Sure, he wants to do good for himself, but he's passionate about his brothers in that locker room. And I think that's why a lot of people relate to him very well.”
Stenberg is from Alabama and was glad to be home for the SEC’s kickoff event.
“We got off the plane (Thursday) morning, and Logan felt pretty good. He said the air smelled a little different and tasted a little different, so it was fun for him to get home,” Stoops said.
Stoops was in favor of starting quarterback Terry Wilson wearing No. 22 in the season opener in honor of the late Jared Lorenzen, who passed away last month.
“When Terry called me right away or texted me right away and asked me what I thought about that, my immediate response was, that would be a great idea to honor him, to recognize him, to wear his number in the opener — I'm all for that,” Stoops said. “And we have talked about it, and we will continue to work on that and what we'll do to recognize him as the season gets closer.”
Stoops said Lorenzen’s death was “a tough loss for all of us.”
“ Jared was a remarkable man,” Stoops said. “I didn't know him as well personally. I knew him. Of course, he was around the program some. But he was beloved throughout our community, the Big Blue Nation. He was a person and father, and that was a big loss to us.”
SEC EAST STOCKED
The SEC East is stocked with an abundance of returning quarterbacks. Wilson returns for the Wildcats, while Feleipe Franks (Florida), Jake Fromm (Georgia), Jake Bentley (South Carolina) and Jarrett Guarantano (Tennessee) also are back.
“it doesn't surprise me to see the strength of the East,” Stoops said. “We knew that was going to happen. You know, there's quality coaches. There's great programs, very rich in tradition. None of us are interested in going backwards. There's some very talented head coaches that are very driven to continue to push, and that's what we're all trying to do.
“It's no surprise that the East is improving. But we all know so is the West. So you're just trying to constantly do your part. I can't be affected what's going on with the rest of the league, you know. We really got to focus on Kentucky and what can we do to make sure we're improving.”
Georgia has made two straight appearances in the SEC title game and defeated Auburn 28-7 to capture the crown in 2017.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.