#65 Kentucky Football 2016 Preview

Kentucky Wildcats
Overall Rank: #65
#13 SEC
Kentucky started the 2015 season with a 4-1 record. It was false hope though. When the schedule got tougher, the Wildcats and their shaky defense fell apart. They finished 5-7 with another disappointing bowl miss. Beating South Carolina and Missouri is nice, but it is not exactly the big step forward Coach Mark Stoops was hoping for. That could come this year with more experience on offense, but it’s hard to see where this team will get more than five wins.
2015 Record: 5-7, 2-6
2015 Bowl: None
Coach: Mark Stoops (12-24 at Kentucky, 12-24 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Eddie Gran, Darin Hinshaw
Defensive Coordinator: D.J. Eliot
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Stanley Williams, RB, 855 yards
Passing: Drew Barker, QB, 364 yards
Receiving: Garrett Johnson, WR, 694 yards
Tackles: Marcus McWilson, S, 66
Sacks: four tied with 1.0
Interceptions: J.D. Harmon, CB, 3
Other Key Returnees: RB Jojo Kemp, WR Dorian Baker, WR Jeff Badet, K Austin MacGinnis
Key Losses: QB Patrick Towles, LB Josh Forrest, S A.J. Stamps, DL Cory Johnson, LB Khalid Henderson, LB Ryan Flannigan
Kentucky’s offense will look a little different under new coordinators Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw. The air raid offense will be reeled in a little bit and there should be little trouble transitioning with so much experience returning. Quarterback Patrick Towles opted to transfer after losing his starting job to Drew Barker. Last year Barker started two games and completed 50.0 percent of his passes for 364 yards and a touchdown. Garrett Johnson is the big play receiver and Dorian Baker and Jeff Badet are very experienced wideouts as well. Barker has the weapons to work with and now he just needs to consistently get them the ball. With four starters returning on the line, Barker could have some time to operate too. Last year the line allowed the most sacks in the SEC, nearly one and half per game, but hopefully the experience on the line will fix that. The line could also pave the way for a big year for Stanley Williams. As a sophomore in 2015, Williams rushed for 855 yards and six scores. Jojo Kemp and Mikel Horton were productive backs behind Williams and will be again. If the ground game can do a little bit more, the passing game could open up too and this offense could be pretty good.
But the pressure is on the defense to step up and get the job done. The front seven returns very little experience. Regie Meant is a solid defensive tackle and the rest of the three man line should be big, but it remains to be seen if they can be successful attacking the line of scrimmage. Courtney Love from Nebraska and De’Niro Laster from Minnesota will help bolster a decimated linebacker corps. Love has emerged as a leader during practice, but he barely saw the field during his one year with Nebraska. The most experience is in the secondary where just about everybody returns, including a bevy of talented sophomores. Cornerback Chris Westry is the best of the bunch and fellow sophomore Derrick Baity started four games opposite Westry. Mike Edwards is a promising safety too. And if all of the sophomores do not work out, there is a ton of senior leadership more than capable of stepping into the secondary. The secondary was solid last year and that was with very little help from the front seven as far as getting pressure on the quarterback. If Kentucky can find a pass rusher or two, it will not be easy to throw against the Wildcats.
The Bottom Line:
As good as the secondary might be, the run defense is going to be an issue. If the opposition can run the ball as easily as they did last year, it does not really matter how good the pass defense might be. Once again the Kentucky schedule is easier towards the beginning of the season. Four of their first six games are at home against Southern Miss, New Mexico State, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Those are all winnable and could get Kentucky off to a 4-2 start. Even with a 4-2 start, outside of Austin Peay, finding another win to reach bowl eligibility will be tough and that would put Coach Stoops squarely on the hot seat.
Projected Bowl: None
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 162.7 (78th in nation, 9th in conference)
Passing Offense: 209.3 (79, 6)
Total Offense: 372.0 (89, 9)
Scoring Offense: 24.7 (95, 10)
Rushing Defense: 196.1 (96, 12)
Pass Defense: 198.1 (28, 5)
Total Defense: 394.2 (59, 12)
Scoring Defense: 27.4 (69, 13)
Turnover Margin: -0.17 (85, 11)
Sacks: 1.42 (106, 14)
Sacks Allowed: 2.50 (93, 11)

Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#72 Landon Young
#119 Drake Jackson
#247 Jordan Griffin