#68 Kentucky 2018 Football Preview

Kentucky Wildcats
Overall Rank: #68
#12 SEC
 Kentucky Logo
For two straight years, Kentucky has gone 7-6 overall and 4-4 in SEC play. Both those seasons ended with a bowl loss, the latest coming at the hands of Northwestern in the Music City Bowl, but for the Wildcats that is a significant achievement. Now the goal for Coach Mark Stoops and company is to seriously compete for an SEC East title.
2017 Record: 7-6, 4-4
2017 Bowl: Music City Bowl vs. Northwestern (L 23-24)
Coach: Mark Stoops (26-36 at Kentucky, 26-36 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Eddie Gran, Darin Hinshaw
Defensive Coordinator: Matt House
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Benny Snell, RB, 1,333 yards
Passing: Lynn Bowden, WR, 92 yards
Receiving: Tavin Richardson, WR, 371 yards
Tackles: Mike Edwards, S, 97
Sacks: Josh Allen, LB, 7.0
Interceptions: Mike Edwards, S, 4
Other Key Returnees: RB Sihiem King, TE C.J. Conrad, Darius West, CB Derrick Baity
Key Losses: QB Stephen Johnson, WR Garrett Johnson, LB Courtney Love, DE Denzil Ware
The key for Kentucky will be finding a new quarterback to replace Stephen Johnson. Johnson did not put up big numbers, but he was relatively consistent. It remains to be seen if the Wildcats can find any consistency with their crop of new faces. Junior college transfer Terry Wilson has the ability to run with the ball, which is a good fit for the offense. However, Gunnar Hoak has been around the program for a couple years and is more familiar with the playbook. Neither has taken a Division I snap though. The passing game will struggle more due to inconsistency at wide receiver. Garrett Johnson is gone after catching a team high 48 passes for 539 yards and two touchdowns. Tavin Richardson was the team’s second leading receiver last year and Dorian Baker returns after missing the 2017 campaign with an injury. The new quarterback will also have C.J. Conrad at tight end and he could get plenty of looks as the check down option. While the passing game retools, Kentucky will rely heavily on running back Benny Snell. He rushed for 1,333 yards and 19 scores as a sophomore.
Kentucky hopes the return of eight starters will help improve a defense that ranked 12th in the SEC in total defense. The front three returns Adrian Middleton and T.J. Carter, but they also moved sophomore Josh Paschal from outside linebacker to end in an effort to add to their pass rushing presence. The return of outside linebackers Denzil Ware and Josh Allen certainly makes it easier to move Paschal to the line. Allen thought about going to the NFL after tallying 47 tackles, including 6.5 sacks and 9.0 tackles-for-loss, but will instead wreak havoc in the SEC for one more year. Jordan Jones had a bit of a down year due to injuries and off-field incidents, but he has proven that he can lead this team in tackles and get into the backfield. The secondary returns four senior starters who entered the program with high expectations. Mike Edwards is a tackling machine, tallying 97 last year. Fellow safety Darius West added 86. Cornerbacks Derrick Baity and Chris Westry have one more year to live up to the hype.
The Bottom Line:
The pieces are there for Kentucky to reach another bowl game. However, the questions surrounding their quarterback situation could linger for quite some time. If the Wildcats find a consistent signal caller who can at least be a threat to pass the ball, they will get to a third straight bowl game. And maybe this time they can win it too.
Projected Bowl: Birmingham Bowl
2017 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 161.7 (68th in nation, 8th in conference)
Passing Offense: 188.2 (96, 10)
Total Offense: 349.8 (103, 11)
Scoring Offense: 25.5 (87, 10)
Rushing Defense: 175.3 (78, 10)
Pass Defense: 251.6 (102, 13)
Total Defense: 426.9 (91, 12)
Scoring Defense: 28.2 (75, 8)
Turnover Margin: 0.23 (46, 5)
Sacks: 2.31 (44, 8)
Sacks Allowed: 2.38 (86, 9)
Madness 2019 NFL Draft Rankings:
#19 Josh Allen
Madness 2018 Recruit Rankings:
#223 Marquan McCall