After a 4-1 start, the Kentucky Wildcats lost six of their final seven games, and failed to reach a bowl game for the fifth consecutive year.
Going into this offseason, the Kentucky football program is facing several questions, from players to coaching. Here are five burning questions facing the Wildcats football program.
1. Can Drew Barker be "the man" for the Wildcats' offense?
There are few options now. With Patrick Towles deciding to transfer for the final season, the quarterback job is Drew Barker's job to lose. The backups will be junior Reese Phillips and early enrolee Gunnar Hoak.
The coaching staff is confident that Drew Barker will be the starting QB next season (and going forward) but Barker has not shown much in-game to prove himself to the Big Blue Nation. In Barker's two starts this season (against Charlotte and Louisville), Barker completed 22-51 passes for 257 yards and one rushing touchdown.
In my opinion, the Mark Stoops era may very well be defined by Drew Barker. He was one of the first big commitments in the 2014 class, the first class that Stoops was able to fully put together. Barker was the guy he wanted out of that class and got him. If Barker succeeds, Kentucky will fare well next year. If Barker falters, so will Kentucky.
2. Will the receivers step up?
The wide receivers were one of the major problems that the Wildcats dealt with this past season. There were way too many drops, lack of execution, and (what appeared to be) a lack of effort. The receivers will have to step up next year in order for the Wildcats to be successful.
Guys like Dorian Baker, Garrett Johnson, Jeff Badet, and Ryan Timmons have a lot of talent, but struggled with drops throughout the year. Going into 2016, two highly-touted receivers will join the mix in Tavin Richardson and Jabari Greenwood. These two red-shirted this season, and likely would've played, but will look to see the field next season.
The additions of Richardson and Greenwood, plus another year of practice for guys like Blake Bone, will hopefully light a fire under the starting receivers to improve in order to keep their starting jobs.
3. Will there be staff changes?
I wrote a piece on this site following the Louisville debacle about why Mark Stoops should fire Shannon Dawson and DJ Eliot, and carefully evaluate each position coach. I still stand by that opinion, 100 percent. I firmly believe Kentucky needs a change in direction at the coordinator positions and some position coaches. So far, the staff has remained the same, but there are questions regarding changes on the coaching staff.
A big question involves defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley. After Kirby Smart was hired as the head coach at Georgia, Ansley's name popped up as a potential possibility for a defensive backs coach at UGA. Ansley is a guy that I think UK needs to try to keep, if at all possible.
The Wildcats have had success with recruiting defensive backs and have seen that recruiting come to work, as by the end of the year, the Wildcats were starting two freshman cornerbacks and freshman safety Mike Edwards starting as well. The defensive backs will be one of the strengths of the Wildcats next season, and Ansley has a lot to do with that. Kentucky needs to try to keep him, if at all possible.
It is very likely that changes to the coaching staff are coming, but the questions remain: Who and when? That is yet to be seen.
4. Will the offensive line improve?
If you ask me, yes. I think the offensive line will improve, and it has to for Kentucky to fare well next season. Saying the offensive line was rough this season would be an understatement. Injuries and poor performance forced the Wildcats to try multiple combinations and the offensive line struggled tremendously over the second half of the season.
Too many times last season, Towles and Barker did not have any time to throw the ball and were constantly under pressure and being sacked. The addition of JUCO OT Tate Leavitt will be huge, as he will likely be a day one starter. Freshman Landon Young probably needs to redshirt, as well as Drake Jackson, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Young come in to fill the right tackle spot, and move George Asafo-Adjei inside. Kentucky returns all their offensive linemen from last season, excluding LT Jordan Swindle and backup guard Zach West.
A young offensive line will benefit from the return of center Jon Toth. He will be the leader of a group that has to improve.
5. Can Kentucky move past this season?
Moving on is easier said than done. So no matter how many times the players say they are moving on from this season and looking forward to next, part of me wonders if that is completely true. Something happened with this team that resulted in a destructive collapse over the back half of the season.
There were hints of a locker room divide, which is truly sad, but Kentucky has to forget about this past season and move on. The 2016 season will be huge for Coach Stoops and Co. Another mid-late season collapse and Stoops will find his seat getting hotter and hotter. The schedule does not look favorable next season, but anything short of a bowl game will be a disappointment for the Wildcats.