2013 Record: 2-10 (0-8 in SEC)
Head Coach: Mark Stoops (second season at Kentucky)
Last Bowl Game: 2010 BBVA Compass Bowl: lost to Pitt 27-10
Stadium: Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, KY (capacity = 67,606)
2013 Home Record: 2-5
Spring Game Highlights:
8/30 vs UT Martin
9/6 vs Ohio
9/13 at Florida (2013 result: lost 24-7)
9/27 vs Vanderbilt (2013 result: lost 22-6)
10/4 vs South Carolina (2013 result: lost 35-28)
10/11 vs ULM
10/18 at LSU
10/25 vs Mississippi State (2013 result: lost 28-22)
11/1 at Missouri (2013 result: lost 48-17)
11/8 vs Georgia (2013 result: lost 59-17)
11/15 at Tennessee (2013 result: lost 27-14)
11/29 at Louisville (2013 result: lost 27-13)
Stats to Fear: converted just 30.91% of third downs (last in SEC), allowed 37 sacks or 3.08 per game (last in SEC), only intercepted three passes in 2013 (tied for last in FBS), gave up 35.8 more ypg on defense in 2013 (compared with 2012), Phil Steele ranks Kentucky with the 6th toughest schedule in 2014
Stats to Cheer: 2013 is over, is that a stat?, averaged 5.29 yards per play in 2013 (versus 4.78 in 2012), only had 15 turnovers in 2013 (first in SEC)
Phil Steele’s Returning Starters: Offense: 8, Defense: 8, Special Teams: 1
Key Losses: LB Avery Williamson, RB Raymond Sanders, QB Jalen Whitlow, DL Donte Rumph, DL Mister Cobble
Key Defensive Returnees: DE Alvin Dupree (61 total tackles, 7 sacks), DE Za’Darius Smith (6 sacks)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Maxwell Smith (57% completions, 9 TD, 1 INT), RB JoJo Kemp (482 yds rush, 4.82 ypc, 3 TD), RB Josh Clemons (279 yds rush in 2011), WR Javess Blue (43 rec, 4 TD), WR Ryan Timmons (32 rec)
Top 2013 Recruits: QB Drew Barker (Early Enrollee), DT Matt Elam, S Darius West, DE Denzel Ware, RB Stanley Williams, WR Thaddeus Snodgrass (EE), RB Mikel Horton (EE), DT CJ Johnson (JUCO/EE), S AJ Stamps (JUCO/EE)
Last year was a year of transition under first time head coach Mark Stoops. The Wildcats looked better at times but also got ran out of the building by some of the upper echelon SEC teams. In year two, how much improvement will we see from Kentucky?
The first thing Kentucky needs to do is decide on a quarterback. They have Patrick Towles, Drew Barker and Maxwell Smith, so there are options. After spring, it looks like it’s Towles job to lose. The running back corps looks like a potential strength for the Cats but we’ve heard that before. Kemp, Clemons and Braylon Heard (Nebraska transfer) provide a good trio of backs and Mikel Horton could also provide an additional dimension as a bruiser. The Cats have some talent at receiver but had some injury setbacks this spring. If everybody is healthy this year, they should be serviceable (at worst) at that position. If they can find some play-makers out of the group (looking at Ryan Timmons and Demarco Robinson) then their offense could begin to take shape. The offensive line returns four starters, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not but with it’s second year under the new regime they should get better.
The defense has talent up front with Dupree and Smith but will need someone to step up and replace the production lost with the departure of LB Avery Williamson as well as a pair of defensive tackles. Kentucky returns a lot from a young secondary but it was JUCO transfer AJ Stamps that put his stamp on the spring and is the one to watch in the Cats secondary. If Kentucky wants to be significantly better in 2014, this is the unit that needs to make the difference as they placed 13th in the SEC in total defense (only A&M was worse) and 13th in points allowed (A&M again).
Kentucky is getting better but there is still a big talent gap between them and the upper tier of the SEC and SEC East. The Wildcats have some weapons and if they can stay healthy, they will compete game in and game out but there is little margin for error with this team.
The good news for the Cats is that the schedule opens up about as good as could be expected. They start off at home against UT Martin and Ohio (both should be wins). Then they travel to Florida, who will be improved but still have huge question-marks and then come home to face Vandy, another team with huge question-marks and is going through a coaching change which could set them back in the short term. Then they host South Carolina and ULM. Kentucky lost their first game in 2013 and went on to win just two games and they lost their first game in 2012 and went on to win just two games that season as well. They have to get off to a quicker start and this schedule is catered to helping the Cats do just that. A 4-2 (or even 3-3) start would make this a successful season even if Stoops and company don’t make a bowl, which I don’t think they will this season.
This season is about getting better and continuing to get the right talent into Lexington. Kentucky placed 22nd on 247 Sports team recruiting rankings for 2014 and they are currently 28th (at the time this was written) for the class of 2015. Getting talent on campus is a big key for Stoops and his coaching staff and they are making progress but they will have to show some progress on the field to keep upgrading the talent.
On paper, Kentucky looks like a team that will win from 3 to 5 games this season. They should beat somebody they aren’t supposed to but the key to this season is beating the teams they are supposed to (UT Martin, Ohio, ULM) and competing in the SEC game in and game out.
Note: final predictions for all SEC teams will be made in August in my conference preview.