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Kentucky Wildcats Football Season Preview: Phil Steele Edition

A look into what Phil Steele has to say about the upcoming season for the Cats.

The Wildcats are poised to contend for the SEC East title.
The Wildcats are poised to contend for the SEC East title.
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Phil Steele is one of the best college football analysts today. In fact, his preseason magazine has been the most accurate the past 19 years compared to all other publishers. Each year he provides an in-depth look at every Division I football team along with his own predictions on how the season will play out.

This season Phil believes that the Kentucky Wildcats will contend in the SEC East if the can end their drought against the Gators, Bulldogs, and Volunteers, which they are a combined 0-15 against in the past 5 seasons. His preseason rankings have the Wildcats finishing tied for 4th in the East with South Carolina and has Kentucky coming in at 34 in his Top 130 Power Poll. Due to their strength of schedule, Phil has them finishing as the 42nd best team in the country and predicts they will play Virginia Tech in the Music City Bowl.

Their schedule, which is ranked with as the 51st toughest in the country according to Steele is as followed:

9/2 @ Southern Miss

9/9 Eastern Kentucky

9/16 @ South Carolina

9/23 Florida

9/30 Eastern Michigan

10/7 Mizzou

10/21 @ Mississippi State

10/28 Tennessee

11/4 Mississippi

11/11 @ Vanderbilt

11/18 @ Georgia

11/25 Louisville

Looking into the roster the Cats will return 8 starters on offense and 9 on defense which will provide experience throughout the year. A projected 49 returning letterman from last season will also benefit the Wildcats early on.

Projected Starters on Offense:

QB Stephen Johnson SR. 6-2 185

RB Benny Snell SO. 5-11 223

WR Dorian Baker SR. 6-3 211

WR Garrett Johnson SR. 5-11 175

TE CJ Conrad JR. 6-5 245

C Bunchy Stallings JR. 6-3 315

RG Nick Haynes SR. 6-3 300

LG Logan Stenberg SO. 6-6 318

RT Kyle Meadows SR. 6-5 300

LT Cole Mosier SR. 6-6 335

K Austin MacGinnis SR. 5-10 172

Notables: Stephen Johnson back for another year will allow Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw the opportunity to open the offense up to exploit defenses in the SEC. Johnson was 5-4 last year as the starter for the Cats, while throwing for 2037 yards on 145-265 attempts. He also threw 13 touchdowns to 6 interceptions and punched 3 scores in on the ground. Benny Snell is expected to be the bell cow this season with the departures of Boom Williams and Jojo Kemp. Snell ran for over 1000 yards and found the end zone 13 times during his freshman campaign. Phil Steele has Snell on his preseason 3rd team All-SEC. Other Wildcats that earn preseason All-SEC honors on offense are: Nick Haynes (3rd), CJ Conrad (4th), Austin MacGinnis (4th).

Projected Starters on Defense:

DE TJ Carter SO. 6-4 280 (replaces Alvonte Bell who was dismissed from team)

NT Naquez Pringle SR. 6-3 320

DT Adrian Middleton JR. 6-3 275

DE Denzil Ware JR. 6-2 245

WLB Jordan Jones JR. 6-2 221

MLB Courtney Love SR. 6-2 242

SLB Josh Allen JR. 6-5 230

CB Chris Westry JR. 6-4 195

CB Derrick Baity JR. 6-3 186

FS Darius West JR. 6-0 210

SS Mike Edwards SR. 6-0 200

P Grant McKinniss SO. 6-1 210

Notables: On defense, Kentucky returns their top 4 tacklers and only lost 5 contributors from last season that recorded a tackle. Jordan Jones looks to lead the defense as he is considered by Steele as the 6th best draft eligible ILB in CFB and gave Jones 1st team All-SEC preseason honors. Jones lead Kentucky a season ago with 109 tackles and 11.5 tackles for a loss. Mike Edwards should man the secondary for the Cats as he is rated as the 9th best draft eligible strong safeties and is recognized as preseason 2nd team All-SEC. Other defensive Cats earning preseason honors are: Denzil Ware (3rd), and Josh Allen (3rd).

Overall: Expect Kentucky to return to another bowl game this season with its being a real possibility that they can play in their first ever SEC championship. Avoiding the likes of AlabamaLSUAuburn, and Texas A&M out west only helps the Cats chances.

Check out Phil Steele's complete predictions and analysis for the upcoming season in his 2017 College Football Preview Magazine, which is available at newsstands today! Follow him on twitter @philsteele042.