By the time the weekend before Thanksgiving rolls around, we'll know what kind of Georgia team we're dealing with in 2011. We'll also know whether they have a shot at the SEC East title, and if they do, Kentucky figures to be one of the most pivotal games on the schedule. Last year's easy 44-31 win notwithstanding, the Wildcats can't be taken for granted -- they've lost a lot of their playmakers on offense but have still managed to beat Georgia twice in the last five years. The Dawgs can't afford to look ahead to either Georgia Tech or a potential SEC title engagement in Atlanta before they welcome the Wildcats to town.
BETTER KNOW THE WILDCATS
Coach: Joker Phillips, 6-7 in one season at Kentucky
Last season: 6-7, 2-6 SEC East (5th); lost to Pittsburgh 27-10 in the BBVA Compass Bowl
Returning starters for 2011: 17 (six offense, nine defense, two special teams)
Key returners: QB Morgan Newton, OG Larry Warford, WLB Danny Trevathan, SS Winston Guy
Key losses: WR/RB Randall Cobb, RB Derrick Locke, QB Mike Hartline, DT Ricky Lumpkin
Best-case scenario: The Dawgs stay focused and clinch their first SEC East title since 2005 with a dominating defensive performance. The battle for the trenches will be challenging, as Kentucky's O-line returns four of last year's starters, but behind them the talent level is limited. Not that Morgan Newton isn't a versatile, physically gifted player, but there's nobody back there who's proven he can match Derrick Locke's running threat, nor anyone with Randall Cobb's combination of speed and shiftiness.
Worst-case scenario: A low-scoring defensive struggle goes Kentucky's way after the Dawg defensive front fails to make a critical stop late in the fourth quarter. Offensively, the Wildcats may be rebuilding, but defensively they're as experienced as any team in the SEC. And if points are at a premium, the Georgia defense can't afford to whiff on a single stop. Unfortunately, last year's game saw the Dawgs give up one third-and-long conversion after another -- the main reason for their two-TD win was a festival of Kentucky turnovers at inopportune times -- and the secondary simply has to get better at making stops in those situations if the Dawgs are to improve upon last year's 6-7 record.