Coach Stoops and the Kentucky coaching staff will have to replace one of the more beloved players in recent football history is Stephen Johnson next season.
Johnson cemented his reputation as one of UK’s favorite quarterbacks this season, even if the overall results didn’t match what fans had hoped for. That being said, who will fill in as Kentucky’s quarterback next season is very much in the air.
There are currently four quarterbacks on UK’s roster: Drew Barker, Gunnar Hoak, Danny Clark, and Walker Wood. Of these four, Barker is the only one who has seen any significant game time. He began last season as the starter, before a back injury gave the job to Johnson.
While he’s shown flashes of his potential, Barker hasn’t really developed that much in his time at UK. In a few brief appearances this past season, he managed a total of two completions on four attempts for 33 yards in the games against EKU and Mississippi State.
And there was brief thought that there would be a competition between him and Johnson for the starting spot in the 2017 season. That didn’t pan out, but with Johnson’s departure, Barker will be the most experienced quarterback on UK’s roster.
Gunnar Hoak was a redshirt freshman this past season after graduating early and enrolling at UK in January of 2016. Hoak was tabbed as a four-star prospect by ESPN, and he ranked 14th nationally among quarterbacks. He logged an impressive game in the Blue-White scrimmage this past April, going 16-of-24 through the air for 174 yards and two touchdowns, also adding 17 yards and a score on the ground.
While Hoak probably wasn’t going to challenge for the starting job, he showed promise moving forward. If he’s able to build on that game and continue improving, he could emerge as an early front-runner for the starting job next season.
Danny Clark signed and enrolled at Kentucky this past January. He didn’t see any significant game time this season, but he was a commit that Kentucky was able to steal from Ohio State. Clark was a four-star recruit by both ESPN and Scout and was the 26th ranked quarterback overall in the 2017 class.
Clark is another dual-threat QB with a big arm and the potential to develop into a solid pocket passer who is able to make plays with his feet as well. Clark was a big commitment for Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw and it will be interesting to see how they are able to develop him and if he can make his presence felt in the race for starting QB.
Walker Wood also joined Danny Clark and enrolled this past January. Wood played his high school football at Lafayette High School in Lexington. Wood earned a three-star designation by all the major recruiting services and was ranked by Rivals as the number 24 dual-threat QB in the 2017 class.
Wood totaled over 1,000 yards on the ground and over 3,000 through the air in his senior season at Lafayette and, like Clark, it will be interesting to see how he develops and see how he competes in spring practices in 2018.
And in one of the biggest additions to the 2018 squad, Stoops and Kentucky have landed the commitment of Oregon junior college QB Terry Wilson. Wilson was formerly an Oregon Duck before transferring to Garden City Community College in Kansas.
This is a huge get for Stoops and Co. and Wilson has the potential to earn the starting job outright this spring. That is far from a foregone conclusion as there are four other options UK can turn to already on the roster.
However, Johnson’s success as a dual threat QB in Eddie Gran’s offense paves the way for Wilson (and Hoak, Clark, and Wood) to have success in the same system. I think Wilson’s talent level and experience in junior college give him the edge over the other four QBs, and with Wilson set to sign in the early signing period, we’ll get to see all five of these quarterbacks in action in spring practices.
With so many quarterbacks on the roster it isn’t outside the realm of possibility to see one of these guys transfer come spring time.
I think Drew Barker, with so much talent coming in behind him, would be the most likely to transfer. He’d sit out a year, but have the chance to lead a team in his last season in college.
I expect if he wants to transfer, Barker will see how spring practices and the Blue-White scrimmage go and weigh his options from there. I think Hoak and Wilson will emerge as the frontrunners for the starting job during spring action.
Hoak has already shown flashes of his ability and Wilson is a stellar athlete with a good body of experience behind him. If Barker transfers, I expect this to be a two-way battle between those two.
I think Hoak will be named the starter come the beginning of next season. He already has a season and a half of work in Gran’s system and, unless Wilson blows everyone away in spring practices, I think that will give Hoak the edge as well as give Wilson some extra time to adjust and practice before getting game action.
And I think the staff will follow the model laid out with Barker and Johnson from a season ago and that Wilson will ultimately be the starter by the end of next season. Long story short, the coaching staff has options at QB, and talent that they have a chance to develop.
Johnson’s departure will leave a hole in the offense, but there are a couple players behind him that can fill that hole and hopefully have the same mark on the program that Stephen did.