#45 Kentucky Football 2017 Preview

Kentucky Wildcats
Overall Rank: #45
#10 SEC
Last season Kentucky finally ended their bowl drought that dated back to 2010. The Wildcats managed to win four SEC games and reach the TaxSlayer Bowl. Kentucky lost to Georgia Tech 33-18 in the bowl, but it was a promising season. With a more experienced offense and a few quality pieces to build around on defense, this is a team that should start a bowl streak in 2017.
2016 Record: 7-6, 4-4
2016 Bowl: TaxSlayer Bowl vs. Georgia Tech (L 18-33)
Coach: Mark Stoops (19-30 at Kentucky, 19-30 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Eddie Gran, Darin Hinshaw
Defensive Coordinator: Matt House
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Benny Snell, RB, 1,091 yards
Passing: Stephen Johnson, QB, 2,037 yards
Receiving: Garrett Johnson, WR, 585 yards
Tackles: Jordan Jones, LB, 109
Sacks: Josh Allen, LB, 7.0
Interceptions: Derrick Baity, CB, 3; Mike Edwards, S, 3
Other Key Returnees: TE C.J. Conrad, LB Courtney Love, DE Denzil Ware, DT Adrian Middleton, K Austin MacGinnis
Key Losses: RB Boom Williams, RB Jojo Kemp, WR Jeff Badet, WR Ryan Timmons, OL Jon Toth, LB Marcus McWilson, DB Blake McClain
Coach Mark Stoops found a quarterback last year in Stephen Johnson. He threw for 2,037 yards and 13 touchdowns with six interceptions last season and started the last nine games for the Wildcats. Johnson is a very good deep passer, but he does need to be smarter with those passes. Finding a consistent deep target would help too. Garrett Johnson caught a team high 39 passes for 585 yards and five touchdowns, but deep threat Jeff Badet is gone. This could be a balanced offense now with Johnson gaining experience and confidence, but Kentucky will still rely heavily on their ground game. Benny Snell had an amazing freshman campaign, rushing for 1,091 yards and 13 touchdowns. Fellow 1,000 yard rusher Stanley Williams needs to be replaced, but Kentucky hopes Snell can pick up most of the slack. Sihiem King and redshirt freshman A.J. King will get some carries as well. And with so much talent on the offensive line, arguably the most in the SEC, Kentucky should be extremely successful on the ground.
The line on the other side of the ball is a major concern though. The unit ranked 110th in the FBS in rushing defense, allowing 228.2 yards per game on the ground. In the 3-4 scheme, the front line needs to be tough and physical and there are not many proven productive options. The Wildcats could rely on some newcomers if the returning players are not ready to step up. The group of linebackers that were so inexperienced heading into 2016 are now grizzled veterans. Josh Allen and Denzil Ware will get plenty of pressure on the opposing quarterback from the outside. Those two were the team’s top pass rushers last year tallying 7.0 and 5.5 sacks, respectively. Jordan Jones and Courtney Love are back in the middle after combining for 185 tackles in 2016. The secondary has the most experience with safety Mike Edwards and cornerbacks Chris Westry and Derrick Baity leading the way.
The Bottom Line:
As long as the defensive line finds enough productive bodies to rotate through the brutal SEC campaign, this should be a very dangerous Kentucky team. It has taken a little time, but Coach Stoops has made Kentucky a team that can compete in the SEC. The schedule is very manageable as well. The two teams Kentucky plays from the West this year are Mississippi and Mississippi State. On paper, it cannot get any better than that. It has been a while since expectations were high, but it should be considered a disappointment if this Kentucky team fails to reach a bowl game.
Projected Bowl: Belk Bowl
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 234.2 (20th in nation, 3rd in conference)
Passing Offense: 186.1 (102, 13)
Total Offense: 420.2 (61, 10)
Scoring Offense: 30.0 (58, 9)
Rushing Defense: 228.2 (110, 12)
Pass Defense: 206.1 (35, 5)
Total Defense: 434.2 (85, 9)
Scoring Defense: 31.3 (86, 11)
Turnover Margin: -0.54 (107, 14)
Sacks: 1.62 (97, 12)
Sacks Allowed: 2.15 (68, 9)
Madness 2017 Recruit Rankings:
#167 JaVonte Richardson
#169 Lynn Bowden
#246 Yusuf Corker