The University of Kentucky football team will look to appear in a bowl game for the third straight season in 2018.
If the Cats can reach this goal, it would be the first time the team appeared in bowl games in three consecutive seasons since a five year streak from 2006-10. To do so, they will have to find ways to win without a handful of the key players who helped them reach bowl games the last two seasons.
The most notable departures include Quarterback Stephen Johnson (graduated) who quickly became one of the better quarterbacks in Kentucky history guiding the Cats to a pair of bowl game appearances, a 14-10 overall record and became the first quarterback in school history since 1924 to beat both rivals Tennessee and Louisville.
Garrett Johnson (graduated) was the Cats top target at Wide Receiver a year ago. Johnson finished his UK career with 156 receptions, 2095 receiving yards, and 11 Touchdowns.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Cats lost two key starters starting middle linebacker Courtney Love (graduated), who made 92 total tackles on his senior year.
“Biltz bro” and defensive end Denzil Ware transferred to Jacksonville State of the FCS and will bring his 48 total tackles and 6.5 sacks from a year ago with him.
However, despite losing two key defensive starters, their starting quarterback, and top wide receiver, the hardest to replace may be kicker Austin MacGinnis.
At quarterback, Kentucky seems to have two solid options in Terry Wilson and Gunnar Hoak to replace Johnson.
At wide receiver, the team still has the explosive Lynn Bowden Jr, Tavin Richardson who had 371 receiving yards and a touchdown last season, and Dorian Baker returning from injury.
On the defensive side, the team has depth at middle linebacker with junior Kash Daniel ready to slide into a starting role, and promising sophomore Joshua Paschal prepared to take Ward’s spot at defensive end when healthy.
At kicker, Kentucky lacks any experience. Senior Miles Butler is the likely starter with sophomore Matt Ruffolo and freshman Chance Poore also on the roster. Butler hasn’t kicked in a game since 2015 when he appeared in three games playing for an injured MacGinnis. He did go four for four in his field goal attempts and 11 for 12 on point after attempts, but he lacks much experience which may mean growing pains.
The job of replacing Austin MacGinnis also is no easy task. MacGinnis earned the notion of being one of the nations best kickers. In his career, MacGinnis made 72 field goals, was a first-team All-SEC kicker all four seasons, became the school’s all-time leading scorer, twice broke the school record for consecutive field goals made at 11, and hit two game-winners in 2016 against Mississippi State and Louisville.
In college football, finding a consistent kicker is hard to find. Ask Alabama who did not even need overtime if Andy Pappanastos did not embarrass himself with awful misses. Kentucky will be relying on a guy with four career college field goal attempts that’s a scary thought.
Which 2017 Wildcat do you think will be missed the most?