After missing spring practice due to COVID-19, Kentucky football is looking for a fresh start, hoping to get back on campus in mid-summer.
But before the 2020 Wildcats can be taken out of the box, some have already cast aside Mark Stoops and company as nothing more than potential “spoilers” in a stacked conference next season.
Bud Elliott, a 247 Sports national college football analyst, has released his preseason power rankings heading into summer, dividing teams in various tiers based on projections.
Alabama stands alone in Tier 1 as “The Conference Favorite” with Auburn, Texas A&M, LSU, Florida and Georgia all projected in Tier 2 under “Legit Conference Title Shot.” Kentucky and Tennessee fall into Tier 3 for “Bowl Likely Secured, Potential Spoiler” and Mississippi State, Missouri, Ole Miss and South Carolina land in Tier 4 “Fighting For A Bowl.” Arkansas and Vanderbilt are both at the bottom (Tier 5: Maybe Next Year?).
Per Elliott: “Kentucky knows what it is. It’s a team which will play tough, but smart defense, typically denying the big plays. And offensively, it will look to find creative ways to run the football using whatever personnel necessary, throwing opportunistically. The ceiling with this approach is not necessarily great, but Mark Stoops has made a consistent bowl team out of Kentucky and is in the middle of one of UK’s best stretches ever. The Wildcats should once again make a bowl and could play spoiler to a Georgia, Florida, or Auburn.”
Per the rankings, the SEC West would have the top four teams in the conference in Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M and LSU. From top to bottom, the SEC East would include Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina, Missouri and Vanderbilt.
With Lynn Bowden off to the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders, the Wildcats will have a different look in 2020 as quarterback Terry Wilson is expected to return under center as he recovers from a season-ending knee injury. Wilson, who says he’s now at “90 percent”, recently landed on the cover of the Athlon 2020 SEC Annual.
As a first-time starter in 2018, Wilson led the Cats to a 10-win season, only the third in school history, throwing for 1,889 yards and 11 touchdowns. Auburn transfer Joey Gatewood, a former four-star recruit, was expected to compete with Wilson for the starting job, but may have to wait after a proposed one-time transfer rule was recently taken off the table by the NCAA.
Offensively, Drake Jackson, recently named the top returning center in college football, will anchor an offensive line that many consider to be the best in the SEC with Landon Young, Darian Kinnard and Luke Fortner all returning up front.
Defensively, Kentucky returns some key players from 2019 that includes outside linebacker Boogie Watson, who finished sixth in the SEC last season in sacks. In addition, nose guards Quinton Bohanna and Marquan McCall are getting some early buzz.
The Cats, who open the season on September 5th against Eastern Michigan, have a tough 2020 schedule, playing road games at Florida, Auburn, Missouri, Tennessee and Louisville.
Under Stoops, who is entering his eighth season at Kentucky, the Wildcats have won back-to-back bowl games, beating Penn State and Virginia Tech, winning seven games or more each of the past four seasons.