Mark Stoops and the Kentucky Wildcats are coming off of back-to-back bowl seasons and will be returning the most talent in years. With C.J. Conrad, Mike Edwards, Benny Snell, and Josh Allen, the Wildcats have potential draft picks all over the field.
Stoops also has his deepest and most veteran unit he’s ever had on the defensive side of the ball. Offensively, the line struggled at the start of last season to adjust to life without Jon Toth and Cole Mozier, but with the addition of Drake Jackson and some tinkering it improved dramatically by the end of the season.
Dorian Baker missed all of last year with an injury but he should be ready to step into the number one target in the receiving core.
This all should be setting up for what should be a very successful season for the Cats. But as Lee Corso would say: “Not so fast my friend”.
Stephen Johnson was one of the most successful quarterbacks in Kentucky history in regards to overall winning percentage. He’s graduated and has left a big void in the backfield to be filled by either Terry Wilson or Gunnar Hoak.
Wilson is a JUCO transfer without much Power 5 experience even though he was once an Oregon Duck. Hoak is a redshirt sophomore that has yet to take a snap in a game.
The narrative is that there will be a talent upgrade at QB but numbers don’t tell the entire story of Stephen Johnson. His toughness and leadership were invaluable as was his ability to make big plays in the clutch.
Can Hoak or Wilson fill that void?
The Cats went 7-6 last season with a schedule that was set up for even greater success. But they faltered with head scratching losses at home to the Florida Gators and the Ole Miss Rebels. UK dominated the majority of both games only to let them slip away in the end due to coaching blunders and porous defense.
They were able to achieve home victories over Tennessee and Missouri; they also collected road wins vs. South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Not too shabby for Kentucky football but the reality of the situation is that the season should have been better.
The record in 2018 isn’t as welcoming. The Cats will have to travel to College Station to face Texas A&M, Knoxville to face the Vols, Gainesville to face the Gators, and Louisville to face the Cards.
Missouri and South Carolina are both expected to be greatly improved and they will have to travel to Columbia to face the Tigers.
So what are fair expectations for the Cats? Honestly with the schedule and the questions at quarterback I will be happy to get to a third straight bowl game. This is a reasonable expectation in light of recent trajectory.
But how does the rest of Big Blue Nation feel? I get a sense of frustration because of how last season went. The losses to Florida and Ole Miss were deflating. There was a feeling that the old curses of Kentucky football were being laid to rest. And then once again old ghosts were resurrected at Kroger Field.
The 2018 version of the Wildcats will be the most talented of the Stoops tenure and the majority of those players will be gone after this season.
If we swapped last season’s schedule with this one, I would be fully invested in at least eight wins. But unfortunately luck once again won’t be on our side.