With the Georgia Bulldogs now the national champions of college football, the time has arrived for the final polls and power rankings of the 2021 season.
Kentucky finished the season 10-3, giving Mark Stoops his second double-digit win season in the last four. After an impressive come from behind victory against Iowa in Orlando, the AP poll recognized the Cats for another impressive season, ranking them 18th overall in the final poll. It is just the 10th time in school history that Kentucky has been ranked in the final AP poll.
The Cats came in as the 4th ranked team in the SEC, behind Georgia (No.1), Alabama (No. 2), and Ole Miss (No. 11).
As for the final Coaches Poll, Kentucky checked in at No. 15.
Now, we get to the fun part of the off-season as we get to check out the way-to-early rankings for the 2022 season.
Here are a couple of early rankings that are showing some early love to the Cats:
Mark Schlabach of ESPN has the Cats coming in at 21st overall. A good place to be for a team that is looking to win over the hearts of the national media.
The Wildcats narrowly missed out on possibly playing in a New Year’s Six bowl game, but they still won 10 games in a season for only the second time since 1977. (The first was 2018, also under coach Mark Stoops.) With tailback Chris Rodriguez Jr. opting to come back, the Wildcats could be very explosive on offense next season. Quarterback Will Levis, a Penn State transfer, should be even better with a full offseason. Both offensive tackles might turn pro. Defensively, there are a lot of questions about who is coming back with 10 senior starters on that side of the ball. If at least a handful decide to return, the Wildcats might push for 10 victories again.
Brad Crawford placed the Cats in a similar spot to Schlabach, having them come in at 20th. Tied with Penn State in his rankings, he has UK as the 5th highest ranked team in the SEC behind Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M, and Arkansas.
The word: Kentucky loses top playmaker Wan’Dale Robinson offensively, but quarterback Will Levis is returning after a 10-win season and you know Mark Stoops’ team will be a bully in the trenches.
Pat Forde also has Kentucky at 21st overall heading into next season, mentioning that he also sees the momentum this program has accrued continuing in 2022.
With two 10-win seasons in the last three, the Wildcats have arrived as a consistent contender. They should keep that momentum going in 2022, with quarterback Will Levis returning and leading rusher Chris Rodriguez Jr. expected to do the same (big-play receiver Wan’Dale Robinson has declared for the draft). There will be some retooling on defense. Kentucky has been active in the transfer portal, both in terms of who’s coming and who’s going, but Mark Stoops is bringing in the highest-rated recruiting class in school history and some of those freshmen could have an immediate impact.
Bill Bender gives the highest ranking to Kentucky entering the 2022 offseason, placing them at No. 12. This ranking would make UK the fourth-highest ranked team in the SEC, and second best in the East.
Mark Stoops was given an extension in the offseason, and he kept offensive coordinator Liam Coen and defensive coordinator Brad White. The continuity is there following a 10-win season, and Will Levis is back at quarterback with a full offseason to work with. It wouldn’t hurt if Wan’Dale Robinson returned, and Virginia Tech transfer Tayvion Robinson can make an impact at receiver. The defense was loaded with seniors, so there is a rebuild on that side. Dare we say the Wildcats reload as the second-best team in the SEC East?
Obviously there is going to be a lot of movement in the next nine months, but seeing Kentucky listed across the board as one of the top teams in the country entering the season is only a good sign. Preseason rankings might seem a little silly every now and then, but if Kentucky wants to make some noise being included in these early top-25 rankings is a good way to do it.