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Kentucky (0-0) vs. Western Kentucky (0-0)



The Sports Network

DATE & TIME: Saturday, August 31, 7 p.m. (et)

FACTS & STATS: Site: LP Field (69,143) -- Nashville, Tennessee. Television: ESPN News. Home Record: UK 0-0, WKU 0-0. Away Record: UK 0-0, WKU 0-0. Neutral Record: UK 0-0, WKU 0-0. Conference Record: UK 0-0, WKU 0-0. Series Record: Kentucky leads, 3-1.

GAME NOTES: Bluegrass State rivals travel to Nashville, Tennessee for a neutral-site opener to the 2013 season, as the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and the Kentucky Wildcats square off at LP Field.

In an SEC that is generally strong from top to bottom, Kentucky was one of the few pushovers in 2012, finishing a mere 2-10 overall while going winless in eight league contests.

After UK qualified for the Compass Bowl in 2010, the team had declined under Joke Phillips, who was fired at the end of last season. Supplanting Phillips in 2013 will be first-time head coach Mark Stoops, who has been an assistant in recent years at programs such as Florida State, Arizona and Miami-Florida.

Western Kentucky's 2012 campaign got of to an outstanding start, with its only loss in the first six weeks coming against eventual-national champion Alabama (35-0), but it went on to drop four of its next five before winning the regular-season finale at home versus North Texas (25-24). Despite the up-and- down season, the team finished 7-5 overall (4-4 in the Sun Belt) and qualified for its first bowl game since 1963, and its first as a member of the FBS. It went on to lose the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl to Central Michigan, 24-21.

Willie Taggart, who made huge strides with the program in just three seasons, departed his post to accept the head coaching position at South Florida. WKU opted for a high-profile option to replace Taggart, with Bobby Petrino coming on board. Although Petrino is attempting to repair his tainted image, his coaching resume' in eight years with Louisville and Arkansas is fantastic (75-26, 4-3 in bowl games).

UK won the first three matchups in the all-time series with WKU in 2008, 2010 and 2011 before the Hilltoppers took down the Wildcats in Lexington on Sept. 15 last season, 32-31, in overtime, winning the game in the extra session following a successful two-point conversion.

Kentucky's offense put up the fewest points in the SEC a season ago, scoring just 17.9 ppg on 315.0 ypg. Stoops brought in former Texas Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown to run the unit with the hopes of implementing a similar run-and-gun style that the Red Raiders employ.

The new regime is still assessing the situation under center, with Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith, both sophomores, expected to split time to start the year. Smith (.687 completion percentage, 975 yards, eight TDs, four INTs) was slightly more impressive than Whitlow (.540, 801 yards, three TDs, two INTs) in 2012.

No returning receiver had more than 300 yards a season ago. Demarco Robinson will act as the No. 1 wideout and an increased number of targets should allow him to improve upon a lackluster 2012 campaign (28 rec, 297 yards).

Raymond Sanders made the most of his 125 carries a year ago, rushing for 669 yards and five touchdowns. Jonathan George (504 yards, four TDs) will also see plenty of action in the backfield this fall.

Not surprisingly, the Wildcats' defense was also one of the worst in the SEC in 2012, allowing foes to score 31.0 ppg and gain 391.0 ypg while forcing just 13 turnovers in 12 games, but the return of seven starters should help the unit this time around.

The three top tacklers from last season -- Avery Williamson (135 tackles), Alvin Dupree (91) and Miles Simpson (70) -- return to the front seven. Dupree is a quality playmaker behind the line of scrimmage as well, adding 12.5 TFL and 6.5 sacks, both team-highs.

Donte Rumph (six TFL, four sacks) provides a solid interior presence, and Ashely Lowery (43 tackles, one pick) will start at safety once again.

Western Kentucky ranked in the middle of the pack in the Sun Belt last season both in terms of scoring (28.8 ppg) and yardage (391.8 ypg), but Petrino brings with him his proven high-octane offense that is sure to result in even loftier numbers, especially considering the team's star running back returns.

Antonio Andrews is one of the top playmakers in all of college football. As a rusher in 2012, he was a workhorse, carrying the ball 304 times for 1,728 yards and 11 touchdowns, but when adding his receiving and return totals, he put up one of the best seasons in NCAA history. His 3,161 all-purpose yards being the second-most all-time behind only Barry Sanders (1988).

While things are set at running back, the situation is much less clear under center. With the departure of Kawaun Jakes (2,488 yards, 22 TDs, 11 INTs), Brandon Doughty will take over as the starter. The junior was just 14-of-25 with zero TDs and a pick during his first two seasons.

Doughty is fortunate to have wideout Willie McNeal at his disposal, who caught 43 balls for 556 yards and six touchdowns a year ago.

One of the Hilltoppers' biggest strengths in 2012 was the play of the defense, as the unit ranked in the top-two in the Sun Belt in both points per game (25.6) and yards per game allowed (345.3 ypg), and several key components are back in place.

Andrew Jackson is one of the top linebackers in the country, and he put together an outstanding 2012 season (122 tackles, 17.5 TFL, four FF). He has a lot to live up to this fall, as he was recently named the Preseason SBC Defensive Player of the Year.

Jonathan Dowling is another veteran member of the defense. In addition to racking up 68 tackles from his safety position, Dowling was integral in the turnover battle with six interceptions and two forced fumbles.

WKU recorded 32 sacks last season, but all four starters on the front line have moved on, including standout Quanterus Smith (18.5 TFL, 12.5 sacks).

The Wildcats have turned over a new leaf in terms of leadership, and in time, Stoops should be able to bring the program back to respectability, but for now, they're simply not talented enough to take that step. After defeating UK on the road last season, the Hilltoppers will have the confidence to capture this neutral-field clash behind a big performance from Andrews.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Western Kentucky 34, Kentucky 27

08/28 10:55:43 ET

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Scoreboard
Local
Final
UVA 27
UNC 28
Final
NCCU 42
SAVST 14
 
1:00pm Today
CAR
SEA
Final
SFG 11
KAN 4
8:07pm Tonight
SFG
KAN
 
Final
WISC 52
MD 7
Final
SMU 10
MEM 48
Final
ILL 28
MINN 24
Final
RICE 41
UNT 21
Final
NEB 42
RUTG 24
Final
KST 23
TEX 0
Final
ARK 45
UAB 17
Final
UVA 27
UNC 28
Final
EMICH 17
NILL 28
Final
NAVY 41
SJST 31
Final
BST 35
AKR 21
Final
GASTATE 31
GASO 69
Final
TOL 42
UMASS 35
Final
WMICH 42
OHIO 21
Final
COL 37
UCLA 40
Final
UMO 10
KSU 3
Final
WAKE 17
BC 23
Final
BUF 14
CMICH 20
Final
MARS 35
FATL 16
Final
PITT 28
GT 56
Final
SMISS 20
LATU 31
Final
MSU 35
MICH 11
Final
KENT 31
MSST 45
Final
STAN 38
ORST 14
Final
TCU 82
TTU 27
Final
OKST 10
WVU 34
Final
WKENT 66
ODU 51
Final
UTST 34
UNLV 20
Final
MIZZ 24
VANDY 14
Final
UCF 34
TEMPL 14
Final
WASU 37
ARZ 59
Final
CLEM 16
SYR 6
Final
LAMON 18
TXST 22
Final
TXSANANTO 0
UTEP 34
Final
COLST 45
WYO 31
Final
LSU 10
MISS 7
Final
TENN 20
ALA 34
Final
AUB 42
SCAR 35
Final
PSU 24
OSU 31
Final
UTAH 24
USC 21
Final
WASH 10
ARST 24
Final
HAW 18
NEV 26
Final
SJS 1
BUF 2
Final
TOR 1
BOS 4
Final
NYI 7
DAL 5
Final
PHI 4
DET 2
Final
OTT 2
NJD 3
Final
MON 3
NYR 1
Final
STL 3
CHI 2
Final
NAS 0
PIT 3
Final
MIN 7
TAM 2
Final
ARI 2
FLA 1
Final
CAL 1
WAS 3
3:00pm Today
WIN
COL
 
4:00pm Today
LOS
CLB
 
7:00pm Tonight
CHI
OTT
 
8:00pm Tonight
ANA
SJS
 
9:30pm Tonight
VAN
WAS
 
9:30am Today
ATL
DET
1:00pm Today
CIN
BAL
1:00pm Today
NYJ
BUF
1:00pm Today
NEP
CHI
1:00pm Today
TEN
HOU
1:00pm Today
JAC
MIA
1:00pm Today
TAM
MIN
1:00pm Today
CAR
SEA
1:00pm Today
KAN
STL
4:05pm Today
ARI
PHI
4:25pm Today
PIT
IND
4:25pm Today
CLE
OAK
8:30pm Tonight
NOS
GBP
Final
NCCU 42
SAVST 14