Saturday is coming up, and it’s going to be an exciting time as the Kentucky Wildcats open the 2021 season at Kroger Field against Louisiana-Monroe.
On paper, this shouldn’t be a close game. Kentucky is a 30 point favorite entering the game against a Warhawks squad that went 0-10 last season and was near the bottom of the Sun Belt in major statistics. While they have a new coach in Terry Bowden, the Warhawks aren’t expected to take a significant leap from last season.
Meanwhile, Kentucky brings in a new offense under Liam Coen, a new quarterback in Will Levis, and some impact transfers to team up with a lot of returning talent.
As the Wildcats take the field on Saturday, let’s take a look at some players to keep an eye on.
#1. Will Levis
This seems like a no-brainer, as the eyes of BBN will be glued on the new QB1. Levis won the starting job in the offseason after coming in from Penn State, and has had a couple weeks to prepare as the starter going into the opener.
The Warhawks allowed around 215 passing yards per game last season, but that number doesn’t tell the full story. Teams were ahead usually from the get-go against UL Monroe last season, which meant passing the ball wasn't needed a lot. The Warhawks allowed about 9.92 passing yards per attempt last season.
There should be openings in the passing game for Levis and this should be a good opportunity to prove why he deserves to be QB1 for the Wildcats and build some momentum going into a critical Week 2 matchup against Missouri.
2. Isaiah Epps/Chauncey Magwood/the WR group
This one is a bit more open. Isaiah Epps is listed as the third starter at wide receiver going into Week 1, backed up by Chauncey Magwood, but I’m interested to see who is going to step up as the third receiving option in this group.
Josh Ali has shown what he can do last season and Wan’Dale Robinson is expected to be a breakout player for the Wildcats, but aside from them two, who will step up? Epps has been in the program for a while and seems like a strong candidate. Magwood has had a lot of positive buzz in the offseason.
Maybe Rahsaan Lewis builds off his strong showing in a recent open practice and becomes a reliable third option or maybe Tae Tae Crumes, the wideout from Louisville known for his speed.
Kentucky needs a reliable third wide receiver. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone shows out in Week 1 for that spot.
#3. Jordan Wright
Kentucky accumulated just 15 sacks last season. That number has to improve for the Wildcats to have a successful 2021 campaign, and one of the players who will be tasked with improving production is Jordan Wright.
The senior will be counted on to provide a consistent pass rush and improve on his junior season where he finished with 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.
Wright improved as the year went on last season, playing two of his best games in Kentucky’s win over South Carolina and the bowl game against NC State.
Wright has the tools to be a really good pass rusher for the Wildcats, and this year will be his chance for a breakout season. That starts Week 1 against a Warhawks offensive line that allowed 27 sacks last season. That offensive line group has five returners on it, but Kentucky should be able to get plenty of pressure on ULM’s QB throughout the game.
#4. Jacquez Jones/Trevin Wallace
This position was listed as an “OR” on the Week 1 depth chart, and whoever ends up getting the starting nod will be taking the field for the first time in a Kentucky uniform.
Jones has the experience edge as a senior with three years of playing experience, including 33 games and 182 career tackles. He was a fixture in the Ole Miss linebacker group during his time there, and that SEC experience should be a major bonus.
But freshman Trevin Wallace has turned heads throughout the offseason. A consensus four-star prospect, Wallace is the second-highest-rated defensive recruit to sign with Kentucky in the Mark Stoops era.
Jones probably earns the starting nod, but expect to see Wallace early on as well. With both playing their first game at Kentucky, they’ll definitely be players to keep an eye on.
#5. Matt Ruffolo
The Week 1 depth chart gives the starting nod at kicker to the senior Ruffolo over Chance Poore.
Overall, Ruffolo had a pretty solid year kicking for the Wildcats last season, going 12-14 on field goals and 22-23 on extra points, although the lone extra point miss came at a crucial time in the Ole Miss game.
Ruffolo enters the season on the Lou Groza Award watch list, a list of 30 kickers from across the country.
Week 1 will be a good chance for Ruffolo to get the season started off on the right foot, although he hopefully is kicking a lot of extra point attempts and not field goals.