2018 Kentucky football projections on the Hour Glass
John Luke McCord
If you look at it from a wide scope, the job Mark Stoops has done at Kentucky is commendable. He started with a 2-10 season in 2013, followed by two 5-7 campaigns. In the two previous seasons, however, he’s managed seven wins each. But that won’t be on the minds of Big Blue Nation this season as the Wildcats look to navigate one of the easier schedules for an SEC program. Instead, fans are again ready for Stoops and the Cats to take a step forward.
But there are plenty of questions to answer before that happens. First, the Cats must find production at quarterback, despite the fact that this is the first season since 2000 that they will not have a returning signal caller with any sort of experience at this level. Gunnar Hoak is more familiar with the offensive system, but junior college transfer Terry Wilson, who signed with Oregon out of high school, brings plenty of hype. Wilson is the projected starter here, due to his ability to make plays downfield with his arm as well as his ability to create yardage on the ground.
Another question will be depth. While there is plenty of talent at the starting spots, Kentucky’s three-year recruiting stamp of 74.10, according to Hour Glass analytics, ranks 11th best in the SEC and hints of little depth at certain spots.
However, the SEC East could again be ripe for a wildcard team to make a run. Georgia is the king, but Florida still has no QB and a new coach, that’s the same story for Tennessee, and the story for Missouri and Vandy could be lack of talent around the QB spot. For the Wildcats, finding a QB could be what unlocks the talent around the position. Benny Snell is back to carry the load at RB this year after rushing for over 1,300 yards last season, and he should have more depth behind him this season. Additionally, a strong three-man wall in the interior of the offensive line should also aid Snell. At receiver, there’s plenty that’s gone but also plenty of talent that will be in place this season. Tavin Richardson had to step up last season, and should pair well with Dorian Baker. CJ Conrad gives the Cats a playmaker at tight end, just as Lynn Bowden does in the slot.
There’s plenty of experience returning on the defensive side of the ball, and reason to believe that unit will take a step. Stoops mentioned at Kentucky’s pro day in March that the event in 2019 would be even more star-studded. The linebacker group will have Joshua Paschal, Jordan Jones, Josh Allen and others back. Up front there should be plenty of size to play the interior, but look out for Denzil Ware coming off the edge. At safety, Mike Edwards and Darius West are the top returning tacklers on the team. Derrick Baity and Lonnie Johnson are back to lead the cornerback group.
The quarterback position could make the Cats a dark horse in the Eastern division this season, or lack of experience and consistency from that spot could doom them. It’s likely their success can be directly tied to how well the man who earns that spot performs.
HG analytics pick: 4-7, 6th in SEC East
My pick: 3-9, 7th in SEC East
2017 Kentucky Projections; 5-7; Actual finish 6-6 (92 percent accuracy)
Hour Glass National Recruiting Ranking: 32nd – Outside our Realistic College Football Playoff Bust Line on our talent index.
National Coaching Rank for Mark Stoops on HG Scale: 41st (Stoops Stamp at -1) – Average coaching value for 2018 set at 3.75.
Returning Kentucky quarterback play rated 58th in the country in P5 rankings; 106 out of 130 teams nationally. Average quarterback stamp nationally for 2018 is 8.3. Kentucky has a stamp of 1.3.