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Kentucky Football Player Preview: Benny Snell primed to finish as school’s all-time rusher

Few teams will rely on one player as much as Kentucky will rely on their junior running back in 2018. He will need his teammates to help lighten the load on him if they are to achieve their goals for the year.

Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

When it comes to the outcome of Kentucky’s 2018 football campaign, one player carries the hopes of the program on his five-foot, eleven-inch frame.

The Wildcats will go as far this season as Benny Snell, Jr is able to take them. A pre-season candidate for the Doak Walker Award, presented annually to the best running back in college football, the junior is coming off a pair of seasons that are among the best in Kentucky football history.

Benny Snell, Jr

Position: Running Back

Class: Junior

Hometown: Westerville, OH

Measurements: 5’11”, 223 lbs

School: Westerville Central

Recruit Rankings: No. 41 running back in 2016 class

It’s not just his stats that make Snell so special. Sure, he set the sophomore rushing record at Kentucky in 2017 with 1,333 yards, a total that led the SEC in rushing last season.

He’s also the only rusher in Kentucky history to top 1,000 yards in each of his first two years, and is within striking distance of the career mark (for which he needs about 1,400 more). Of course, there’s the touchdown record, which Snell set late in the season and will extend even further this season.

Maybe the most impressive stat of all, though, is the fact that Snell is just the third rusher in the history of the Southeastern Conference to rush for more than 2,400 yards and 31 touchdowns before his junior year.

When you consider the other two names on that list are Herschel Walker and Leonard Fournette, the company being kept is pretty outstanding.

t’s the brute force he employs that helps make Snell such a successful rusher. He has rushed for more than 750 yards after contact in each of his first two seasons as a Wildcat, which is extremely impressive given the fact he only played eleven games his first year.

In fact, his 884 yards after contact in the regular season were the seventh most among all running backs in FBS.

Despite the terrific season, Snell comes into this season with a bit of a nasty taste in his mouth. His sophomore year was cut abruptly short when a referee unfairly ejected him from the Music City Bowl for removing the referee’s hands from his body.

The referees in that game had twice let Snell get hit well after the play was over, once driven into the ground well past the whistle. His reaction was warranted, and even Louisville fans took to Twitter to defend him—which tells you only one person thought he should be thrown out of that game.

Now, needing to average close to 120 yards per game to break Sonny Collins’ career record for rushing, Snell enters the season with a chip on his shoulder and a point to prove.

“I am the best running back in the SEC,” Snell said when asked about it at SEC Media Days this summer. His former high school coach agrees, and thinks he is ready to unleash a nasty streak. “When he’s intense the way he is,” Westerville Central coach John Magistro told reporters, “I’m sure he’d run over his own mother.”

Snell cannot make those runs alone, though. We saw many times last year in Eddie Gran’s offense that Snell needs to be allowed to be given a hole, and when he is he can make something happen.

Too many times, he would be hit in the backfield, or would get to the line of scrimmage only to find zero lanes to run. With four returning linemen this year, the expectation will be that he will get his chance to hit those holes.

If that happens, multiple things come into play, both for Snell and the offense. With Kentucky not having a single player on the roster who has taken a snap from center in a college football game, it will be vital that the run game can be relied upon to open things up for the passing game.

Whether it is Terry Wilson or Gunnar Hoak who is handing off the ball when the season kicks off, they will need Snell’s running prowess to buy them time and help them set up play-action opportunities.

As for Snell, he could very easily see himself work into the top rounds of the NFL Draft with a successful season. In the non-conference, Snell will face three very porous run defenses in Central Michigan (who allowed 185 yards per game rushing last year), Middle Tennessee State (134 yards per game rushing), and Murray State (a whopping 208 yards per game rushing).

Given that Snell has averaged less than 93 yards per game against “Group of Five” opponents in his career, it will be important that he helps shoulder the load against those three opponents.

We saw last year what Snell can do when he gets on a roll. Against Tennessee, Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt, he put together a span of three games in which he rushed for nearly 500 total yards and scored nine touchdowns.

If Snell is able to put together an entire season where he runs like that, not only could he be looking at going down in Kentucky’s record books as the best running back in school history, and put himself in the discussion for multiple awards, he could very well lead the Wildcats back to a bowl game for the third straight year.

There are many question marks surrounding this Kentucky team entering the 2018 season. Whether Benny Snell is ready to throw the team on his back and carry them to the postseason is certainly not one of them.