Viral food, feud and more

LEXINGTON — Imagine a prediction in the fall of 2012 that Mark Stoops would last a decade as Kentucky football coach.

Consider the absurdity of projecting as Stoops would overtake Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant as the winningest manager in UK history.

But nearly 10 years later, Stoops is nine seasons into his tenure and one win after tying Bryant’s 60 as the most ever by a Wildcats coach. He had two 10-win seasons in the last four years, a feat Kentucky hadn’t achieved in a single season since 1977.

More cat news:Kentucky football running back Chris Rodriguez is unavailable for the season opener

It turns out that bold Kentucky football predictions can come true.

Here are a handful of them for 2022. You won’t need a decade to see how they pan out.

Barion Brown returns a kickoff for a TD

Not so bold, you say? Not so fast.

Sure, the freshman wide receiver is a dynamic athlete. And yes, Stoops singled him out during Monday’s game week press conference, saying Brown will “give us some juice and give us a guy that can really hit” on kick returns.

And so bringing one all the way back might not seem so far-fetched.

But check the history.

Since Stoops took over, no Kentucky player has kicked off at home. Not one. In nine years. Kickoff returns aren’t as easy as they used to be, but it’s an extreme streak nonetheless. Every SEC East team has at least three comebacks since the UK’s last. Florida has seven. Last season’s FBS leader Brian Battie of South Florida returned three himself.

The last cat to bring home a kickoff for six was Derrick Locke on September 19, 2009 against Louisville. Brown is as good a bet as any to knock Locke off the list lately.

UK Football Guide:Everything you need to know about Kentucky football players, schedule and more in 2022

Will Levis repeats his viral feat

Britain's QB Will Levis (7) smiles for a lighthearted moment while talking about the team's outlook for the upcoming season during a Media Day event at Kroger Field in Lexington, Ky. on August 3, 2022.

Levis enters the season well outside the top 10 Heisman Trophy contenders in the Las Vegas ratings, according to Vegas Insider.

So picking him to reach New York as a runner-up seems like a stretch, even for a bold prediction.

(Plus, esteemed colleague Alexis Cubit has already taken this one, opposite Malik Cunningham of Louisville.)

But that long-term status means Levis could use any viral boost for his Heisman bid. And a guy who has already achieved internet infamy for eating a banana with the skin on and drinking coffee with mayonnaise can surely find another way to access our collective consciousness online.

Levis — who is “built like a Greek god,” said QB Deuce Hogan — seems tailor-made for the Bicep Egg Challenge. And why stop with a cracking flex? Levis can crack the shell over a glass and drink the yolk raw, “Rocky” style.

Equally audacious, though less absurd: At the end of the season, Levis cracks the top 10 in the NFL Draft, the highest-drafted cat since Tim Couch in 1999.

Kentucky offense takes a step back

Levis is the best QB Stoops has coached in the UK. Kentucky might have its deepest body of tight ends and wide receivers in the Stoops era. The Cats swim with running back options.

But the assumption here is that if the UK are to get back to their 10 wins, the defense will prevail.

Levis has a chance to be better than he was a season ago. He is a more experienced starter. It will have more close and wide end weapons. But even if he improves, he will undoubtedly miss the safety valve provided by Wan’Dale Robinson.

The last round:Will Levis changed Kentucky football last year. His next challenge is to be even better

Robinson, now a rookie with the NFL’s New York Giants, was an experienced transfer from Nebraska who could make plays for his quarterback. Get the ball in his vicinity and Robinson could get to work. The Wildcats have options on the roster to become comparable big-game threats, but it will take time.

And speaking of time: Levis is going to need it as he adjusts to new faces and a new offensive system, especially early on with star running back Chris Rodriguez unavailable. That puts pressure on the left tackle protecting Levis’ blind side, redshirt rookie David Wohlabaugh.

It won’t be a surprise if the British attack progresses towards the end of the season, but it is assumed that in September they will remain neutral at times.

JJ Weaver is Kentucky’s best defensive player

Kentucky's JJ Weaver bags Missouri's Conner Bazelak.  September 11, 2021

Considering everything he’s been through, it’s easy to hope for a banner year for the former Moore star.

And it’s not hard to see it happen.

It’s bold to bet on Weaver as the top dog of a stacked Wildcat defense with stars like Octavious Oxendine, Jacquez Jones and DeAndre Square.

But Weaver looked set to take it to another level before a torn ACL sidelined him nine games in his first redshirt year. And while he was buoyant in sophomore year, even he admits he was hesitant on his surgically repaired knee.

Distribution of Kentucky football positions:Confidence and some concerns about the Wildcat defense?

Now he is healthy. He has experience. He learned the intricacies of his position. And he’s on his way to being a defensive MVP.

Mark Stoops pushes the basketball bear

Already this offseason, Stoops had to respond with a tweet in response to John Calipari’s “school of basketball” stance and a remark some people thought was aimed at South Carolina coach Shane Beamer.

And although Stoops said this week on his radio show that he and Calipari were moving forward “in about two minutes,” it’s not outrageous to think he’ll be stirring up the Twittersphere at least once more this fall.

And maybe he won’t let go of the Calipari beef so easily. Ever since Stoops has coached Kentucky, he’s been hearing about “school basketball,” likely as a negative recruiting approach from his rivals.

Stoops is an emotional guy on a roll, and his team will have the opportunity to knock down high-level opponents. Looks like Stoops could use the spotlight of success to dig in. A #footballschool sub-tweet, perhaps, or a thinly-veiled reference to third-base-born batting programs.

It’s probably too much to hope for Stoops versus Cal in a CAGE! MATCH! MATCH! MATCH! at the 50 meter line. But here’s hoping Big Blue’s fun feud still gets some juice.

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