Head coach: Mark Stoops
Record at school: 36-39
Breaking it down
Location: Lexington, Ky.
Stadium: Kroger Field (61,000)
All-Time record: 616-621-44
Conference affiliation: SEC
Last conference title game appearance: None
Returning starters: 8 (4 offense, 4 defense)
1. Historic 2018 season: Coach Mark Stoops has been building a strong program in his time at Kentucky, culminating in last season’s 10-3 record. It was only the third time in school history that the Wildcats achieved 10 wins and was the best record in 41 years. Kentucky had its first winning record in SEC play since 1977 and ended a 31-game losing streak to Florida.
2. Passing the torch: A lot of talented players on both sides of the ball who helped build that impressive record are not around this year, as the Wildcats return only four starters on offense and four on defense. Returning at skill positions are quarterback Terry Wilson, who completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 1,889 yards and 11 touchdowns, and receiver Lynn Bowden Jr., who caught 67 passes for 745 yards and five touchdowns.
3. Not forgotten: Running back Benny Snell Jr. ran for 1,449 yards and 16 touchdowns while averaging 5.0 yards per carry last year. He was drafted in the fourth round by Pittsburgh. Josh Allen led the team with 88 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss and 17.0 sacks. He went on to sweep the defensive player of the year awards, winning the top four trophies for defensive players. But besides those two standouts, Kentucky lost three starters on the offensive line, two defensive linemen and a linebacker and must replace the entire secondary.
4. Stepping up: Junior running back A.J. Rose will replace Snell, the school’s all-time leading rusher, and Wilson has several receivers to look for besides Bowden. Josh Ali, Isaiah Epps and Bruce Oliver will all be catching passes in an offense that should be more balanced than in the last few years. Last year, with Snell leading the way, the Wildcats ran the ball 64.4 percent of the time, but Stoops would like to even out the running and passing attempts this year.
Linebacker Josh Paschal finished the biggest fight of his young life when he recently completed treatment for a melanoma on the bottom of his foot that was discovered about this time last year. He returned to action late last season, and because he only played a few games he was able to redshirt and not lose a season of eligibility. The Wildcats are counting on him for a big season after he recorded 17 tackles and 3.5 sacks as a freshman before only playing in two games last year.
Cheer: Tennessee. Last year, the Vols pulled off a big upset, catching Kentucky right after a disappointing loss to Georgia. This year Tennessee comes to Kroger Field, and the Wildcats could be ready to return the favor.
Jeer; Florida. Kentucky knocked off the Gators in the Swamp, ending a 31-game losing streak. Even though Florida will be on the road, look for coach Dan Mullen’s team to do anything necessary to prevent another loss.
8-4: Despite the loss of so many starters, Stoops has built a solid program and will have the Wildcats ready to play when the season kicks off. Georgia and Florida look to be stronger than Kentucky, but the Wildcats will match up well with the other teams on the schedule. Look for another successful season and a quality bowl game.
Did you know?
Linebacker Kash Daniel still had his uniform on in February, when he appeared in a promotional commercial for Kentucky football that aired during halftime of the Super Bowl. The spot ran on two local stations, one in Lexington and one in eastern Kentucky and cost $35,000 for the airtime. Daniel was in the center of a group of “teammates” and yelled to get them fired up to play without the large group of star players who graduated after the past season.
Stoops was asked why he feels so good about the team despite having to replace so many starters.
“We're not interested in going back. We're not here to take steps backwards. We're not,” he said. “We're continuing to grow. We're continuing to improve the program. That's not just coach speak when I say those things. The outcome will take care of itself. I know I'm judged ultimately on wins and losses. But internally we're judged on how we're building our program, what we're doing to continue to grow and put ourselves in a position to be successful. That's what it's all about.”
Kentucky 35, Central Michigan 20
Kentucky 27, Florida 16
Kentucky 48, Murray State 10
Kentucky 28, Mississippi State 7
Kentucky 24, South Carolina 10
Texas A&M 20, Kentucky 14
Kentucky 14, Vanderbilt 7
Kentucky 15, Missouri 14
Georgia 34, Kentucky 17
Tennessee 24, Kentucky 7
Kentucky 34, Middle Tennessee 23
Kentucky 56, Louisville 10
Kentucky 27, Penn State 24 (VRBO Citrus Bowl)
Aug. 31 Toledo
Sept. 7 Eastern Michigan
Sept. 14 Florida
Sept. 21 at Mississippi State
Sept. 28 at South Carolina
Oct. 12 Arkansas
Oct. 19 at Georgia
Oct. 26 Missouri
Nov. 9 Tennessee
Nov. 16 at Vanderbilt
Nov. 23 UT-Martin
Nov. 30 Louisville
— Dennis Tymkiw