Saturday, July 15, 2017
Bilo's 2017 College Football Preview: Kentucky Wildcats
There was a period early in 2016 where it looked like the Mark Stoops era would come to an end. The Cats started out just 2-3, and Stoops was his own worst critic. Kentucky turned it around after that, and won five of their final seven regular season games, and got to seven wins. The Wildcats have not fully turned the corner yet, but 7-5 at Kentucky is acceptable at the basketball school. Can this team make another run at a bowl game in 2017? Can they push through the top three in the SEC East? Will they fall back?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Stephen Johnson is back at QB, but he is not the perfect QB to run this offense. That said, he is the best that the Wildcats have, and so they make do. Johnson only completed 54.7% of his passes, but tossed 13 TDs to just six INTs on the season. As long as he can limit the mistakes and manage the game, he is enough to get this program by, for now.
Benjamin Snell, Jr. is back at RB, and will be the prime back this season after rushing for 1091 yards and 13 scores. He averaged 5.87 yards per carry, and is a big play threat out of the backfield.
Three seniors return as starters on the line for Kentucky in LT Cole Mosier, RG Nick Haynes, and RT Kyle Meadows.
Austin MacGinnis is back at PK after hitting 16/19 FG attempts last season.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The most concerning area of the offense is receiver, where not one WR finished with as many as 40 receptions last fall. Garrett Johnson was the leader with 39 receptions last fall, and only three receivers on the team last fall finished with 20 or more receivers.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
All four starters return at LB, and it is a fairly active group. Courtney Love and Josh Allen return on one side, and combined for 138 tackles last fall. Jordan Jones is the star, as he led the team with 109 tackles, and pairs with Denzil Ware, who wrapped last season with 70 tackles. Expect this unit to be the heart and soul of this defense.
Both CBs return in Chris Westry and Derrick Baitey. Baity finished with seven PBUs last fall, while Westry needs some work after knocking away just three passes last fall. Both are juniors this season, and should show some signs of development. Mike Edwards is back at Safety, and he finished with eight PBUs and finished with 100 tackles. He is an NFL caliber prospect.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The defensive line lacked any kind of real aggressiveness last fall, and only one starter returns in DT Adrian Middleton. Naquez Pringle is projected to start at NT, while Alvonte Bell is projected to start at DE.
Punter Grant McKinnis is back at Punter, but was barely average last fall after averaging just 39.19 yards per punt.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 at Southern Mississippi, 9/9 Eastern Kentucky, 9/16 at South Carolina, 9/23 Florida, 9/30 Eastern Michigan, 10/7 Missouri, 10/21 at Mississippi State, 10/28 Tennessee, 11/4 Ole Miss, 11/11 at Vanderbilt, 11/18 at Georgia, 11/25 Louisville
Have no doubt that Mark Stoops is still very much on the hot seat in 2017. His overall record at Kentucky is still just 18-30 despite making the bowl last fall, and the program still has miles to go. The opportunity is there to win another six or seven games this season right off of the top, but there is no wiggle room, and some of those games are very much a trap. If Kentucky slides backwards, there could be a change in staff. They cannot afford to go back, as the SEC East has never been more vulnerable. It's time to make a charge.