No. 20 Kentucky seeks to start strong against Miami (Ohio)

Miami (Ohio) (0-0) at No. 20 Kentucky (0-0), Saturday, 7 p.m. (SEC+, ESPN+)

Line: Kentucky by 16 1/2 according to FanDuel.com Sportsbook.

Series record: Kentucky leads 8-4-1.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

Miami (Ohio) (0-0) at No. 20 Kentucky (0-0), Saturday, 7 p.m. (SEC+, ESPN+)

Line: Kentucky by 16 1/2 according to FanDuel.com Sportsbook.

Series record: Kentucky leads 8-4-1.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

Miami is coming off a bowl win and seeks an upset in the first of two ranked opponents in the opening three games. Kentucky begins with its first preseason ranking since 1978 and high projections of contending in the SEC East. A win helps coach Mark Stoops match legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant as the Wildcats’ winningest coach.

KEY MATCHUP

Kentucky’s secondary vs. Miami’s receivers. Wildcats strong safety Tyrell Ajian and cornerbacks Keidron Smith (Ole Miss) and Carrington Valentine lead a unit that had to replace four key starters. They’ll face a receiver corps featuring Mac Hippenhammer and Jalen Walker (1,184 yards, nine TDs combined) and Indiana transfer Miles Marshall (22 catches, 311 yards in 2021).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Miami: QB Brett Gabbert is on several preseason watch lists after throwing for 2,648 yards and 26 touchdowns with just six interceptions last season. He ranks seventh in program history with 5,443 passing yards, 41 TDs passing and a 58% completion percentage. His passing acumen comes honestly: he’s the younger brother of veteran NFL QB Blaine Gabbert, who backs up Tom Brady in Tampa Bay.

Kentucky: Senior QB Will Levis has been touted as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate and first-round NFL draft choice. He’s coming off a breakout season in which he completed 66% of his passes for 2,827 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also rushed for 376 yards and nine TDs. He must bond with a new group of receivers but has Izayah Cummings (195 yards, 3 TDs) back.

FACTS AND FIGURES

The RedHawks are picked to win the Mid-American Conference East Division in a preseason media poll. … Hippenhammer had career bests of 48 catches, 786 yards and five TDs after transferring from Penn State. … Miami’s offensive line returns four players with 72 combined starts, including all 13 last season. … Already Kentucky’s longest-tenured coach entering his 10th season, Mark Stoops can tie legend Paul “Bear” Bryant (60) as its winningest coach with a victory. … Running back Chris Rodriguez Jr., who rushed for 1,379 yards and nine TDs last season, is out for the game and could face a multi-game suspension for off-field issues. … Kentucky has won four of its last five openers and 11 of 15 overall.

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