Obviously the state of Kentucky is known for three things: bourbon, horse racing and basketball. Offensively, the Wildcats have hired Hal Mumme disciple Shannon Dawson to bring in an up-tempo air raid attack that should have the offense running at a racehorse-esque pace. That doesn’t necessarily guarantee success though. If this team is to make its first bowl appearance since 2011, execution at a high speed will be critical.
Thanks in large part to the team he plays for, Patrick Towles is the most underrated passer in the conference. Opposing defenses need to respect Towles’ abilities as a passer for a couple of reasons. First, he is going to throw it all the time in Shannon Dawson’s offense. Second, and more importantly, if you can’t slow it down then you’re going to lose. Towles struggled with inconsistency last season, but when he was on his game Kentucky was a very difficult team to beat.
Boom Williams, Jojo Kemp, and Mikel Horton give Kentucky a solid trio of backs who I look to be utilized both as rushers and as pass catchers out of the backfield. Williams had over 600 yards from scrimmage last season and scored five touchdowns on the ground. He and Horton were both freshmen last season, and Horton chipped in just over 300 yards and a couple of touchdowns. Kemp, a junior, rushed for 340 yards and four touchdowns.
If this team is going to effectively install the Air Raid, then it will need to find some more playmakers at receiver. Leading receiver Ryan Timmons returns and should have a big year, but no other returning receiver managed to top 300 yards last season, and that won’t cut it in Dawson’s scheme. Look for Garrett Johnson and Dorian Baker too significantly up their production at receiver in their sophomore seasons.
One thing Towles will get the benefit of is four returning starters up front. Zach West, Jordan Swindle, Jon Toth and Ramsey Meyers all return up front with a combined 88 career starts. Sophomore Kyle Meadows is expected to join that group up front at one of the tackle spots. He has one career start. As of now, Nick Haynes is also listed ahead of Zach West on the depth chart, despite West having thirty career starts at guard to Haynes’s one. I’d be very surprised if West does not receive significant playing time even if he doesn’t start, however.
A.J. Stamps, Fred Tiller and Cody Quinn give the Wildcats a trio of veteran playmakers in the secondary, and will be expected to be the leaders of the entire defense. Junior Marcus McWilson will join these guys in the starting lineup at safety. He intercepted three passes last season. Stamps and Tiller were particularly tough to pass on too last season combining for six interceptions and 14 passes broken up.
The linebacking corps also returns its top four tacklers from last season, including team leader Josh Forrest who finished the season with 87 tackles. Ryan Flanigan and Jason Hatcher also return to their starting positions with Khalid Henderson being a “super sub” from the bench. He recorded 40 tackles in that role a season ago.
With first-round pick Bud Dupree gone, as well as Za’Darius Smith, this defensive line will need to find some new playmakers for 2015. Melvin Lewis does return at nose guard and Jabari Johnson is a senior expected to step into Dupree’s former hybrid “Rush” role. Behind these guys are several sophomores and freshman who will need to step up if this team is going to be up to scratch defending the run. Reggie Meant is expected to start at defensive tackle as a sophomore, and Adrian Middleton is a redshirt freshman to watch rotating in at defensive end.
The defense is going to hold this team back in conference play. Kentucky is probably still stuck in that position of being ahead of Vanderbilt, but behind everyone else. However, like I said in the offensive section, when things are clicking for Towles they can upset anyone. Florida and South Carolina both have to play the Wildcats in September and if Kentucky has one or both upsets in them, then there is a very good chance that the Wildcats get back to a bowl game. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if that happens, they do get Florida at home though and were an overtime and blown call away from upsetting the Gators last season in “The Swamp”.
With that, I am finally done with my College Football Preview Series. I hope you guys have enjoyed this, or at the very least found it informative. Now, let’s all look forward to a great year of football and my predictions being torn apart week by week. In the words of Rocco…