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2019 SEC Football Preview: Kentucky Wildcats

2019 SEC Football Preview: Kentucky Wildcats

2018 Recap

2019 SEC Football Preview: Kentucky Wildcats
2018 Schedule

2018 Record: 10-3 (5-3)

2nd in the East

Last year was one for the record books for Big Blue Nation. In Mark Stoops’ sixth season he finally earned his first bowl win over Big Ten giant Penn State. Kentucky defeated Florida for the first time since 1986, as well as the first time in Gainesville since 1979.

At 10 wins it is only the third time in program history they have managed 10 or more wins in a season. The last such occurrence happened in 1977 when the Wildcats finished a program-best No.6 in the rankings.

Kentucky also had a dominating win at SEC West conference foe and then No.14 Mississippi State. To cap off the season, they took the claim as best in Kentucky with authority by way of a thumping of in-state rival Louisville 56-10 on the road.

The Wildcats put five players in the NFL draft – the most since 2008. It is also the most in the modern era.

Mark Stoops received the Coach of the Year Award in the SEC in 2018 as well. The Wildcats had five players taken in the NFL draft from the 2018 team – the most since 2008 when four were taken.

2019 Schedule Breakdown

2019 SEC Football Preview: Kentucky Wildcats
2019 Schedule

Ceiling: 8-4 (4-4)

Floor: 4-8 (1-7)

2019 Projected Record: 6-6 (2-6)

Conference Standings: 5th in the SEC East

  • Week 1 Toledo: W
  • Week 2 Eastern Michigan: W
  • Week 3 Florida: L
  • Week 4 @ Mississippi State: L
  • Week 5 @ South Carolina: L
  • BYE
  • Week 7 Arkansas: W
  • Week 8 @ Georgia: L
  • Week 9 Missouri: L
  • BYE
  • Week 11 Tennessee: W
  • Week 12 @ Vanderbilt: L
  • Week 13 UT Martin: W
  • Week 14 Louisville: W

There are plenty of opportunities for a bigger season for Kentucky. The biggest issue is the huge losses faced on both sides of the ball. Kentucky returns the least amount of players in the SEC – just eight total.

Three NFL draft picks on the defensive side of the ball will leave questions on how well they’ll hold up with so many fresh faces and little returning leadership.

2019 SEC Football Preview: Kentucky Wildcats
Benny Snell Jr. ranks 3rd all time in scoring at Kentucky. (Photo courtesy of www.dispatch.com).

On the offensive side the Wildcats will greatly miss Benny Snell Jr. In his three years in Lexington, the Ohio native broke or tied 14 school records including career rushing years, total TD’s, rushing TDs and 100-yard games.

We’ll know more after the first three games of just how competitive this team can be this year. Early road losses against Mississippi State and South Carolina will be tough to overcome but it would not be surprising to flip a win in Nashville against a down Vanderbilt team.

On the other side, Kentucky will have to be careful at home against Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisville. All are teams looking for improvement this year and a game in Lexington would be important focus points in all three locker rooms.

Looking Ahead to 2019

Replacing Benny Snell Jr

The accolades of Benny Snell Jr. could fill an article by itself. The bottom line, Kentucky’s offense is going to take a hit with the loss of its best player.

The good news is that his backup AJ Rose is more than capable of leading the way in the backup. The two were part of the same recruiting class in 2016 with Rose playing in Snell’s shadow for three years. Now is his time to shine.

2019 SEC Football Preview: Kentucky Wildcats
Junior AJ Rose looks to build on his 442 rushing yards last year as Snell’s backup. (Photo courtesy of aseaofblue.com).

He averaged 6.2 yards per carry and scored five times on the ground and one through the air. Rose is reportedly faster than Snell while also coming in three inches taller.

Behind Rose is a trio of freshmen runningbacks, one coming in the latest class. Kavosiey Smoke and Chris Rodriguez are both redshirt freshmen with big hopes as they mature and get put into bigger roles. Top running back recruit in this past year’s class, Travis Tisdale may also see some carries here and there.

Depleted Defense

Kentucky’s defense gave up just the 6th fewest points last year, good for second-best in the SEC. They have seven spots to fill from that defense, including linebacker Josh Allen (1st round), cornerback Lonnie Johnson (2nd round) and safety Mike Edwards (3rd round).

2019 SEC Football Preview: Kentucky Wildcats
Kash Daniel returns off a season with 84 tackles and 7.5 TFL’s. (Photo courtesy of www.courier-journal.com).

The defensive line should still be able to hold their own with massive anchor units Calvin Taylor (6′ 9″ 310lbs) and Quinton Bohanna (6′ 4″ 361lbs) both returning. They’ll provide help in the trenches which will take some pressure of Senior standout Kash Daniel the team’s leading tackler.

The secondary, however, is in a lot of trouble. Not only did the NFL take two starters but Derrick Baity and Chris Westry are also gone. That leaves Davonte Robinson as the only returning player with significant playing time.

JUCO transfers and some underclassmen are going to have to step up in order to provide an adequate secondary. The secondary struggled in the Spring game as well as exposing vulnerability at all levels.

Recap

Kentucky faces an uphill battle with losing most of their 10-3 team a season ago. There are still bright spots that give hope for another bowl appearance, and of course, Mark Stoops has proven he can overcome any obstacle.

 

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