NCAA Football Preview - Kentucky Wildcats

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2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: In an SEC that is generally strong from top to bottom, Kentucky was one of the few pushovers in 2012, finishing a mere 2-10 overall while going winless in eight league contests.

The Wildcats' season got off to a difficult start, as they traveled to nationally-ranked Louisville and fell, 32-14, but they bounced back nicely in game two by hammering out a 47-14 triumph over Kent State, a team which eventually finished with 11 wins. However, from there the squad fell into a tailspin with eight consecutive losses before salvaging the season somewhat with a win over FCS foe Samford (34-3).

After UK qualified for the Compass Bowl in 2010, the team had declined under Joke Phillips, who was fired at the end of last season. Supplanting Phillips in 2013 will be first-time head coach Mark Stoops, who has been an assistant in recent years at programs such as Florida State, Arizona and Miami-Florida.


OFFENSE: Kentucky's offense put up the fewest points in the SEC a season ago, scoring just 17.9 ppg on 315.0 ypg. Stoops brought in former Texas Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown to run the unit with the hopes of implementing a similar run-and-gun style that the Red Raiders employ.

The new regime is still assessing its situation under center, with Jalen Whitlow, Maxwell Smith and Patrick Towles -- all sophomores -- duking it out for the starting job. All three saw action last season, with Smith (.687 completion percentage, 975 yards, eight TDs, four interceptions) being the most impressive.

"We're not at any decision yet," Stoops said about the quarterback competition. "They're all good. They've worked extremely hard. They've all done some very good things in the spring. We're just going to have to continue to work through that process right now. If anybody emerges and just takes the reins and becomes the clear cut leader, well name 'em. Other than that, we'll continue to work through that process."

No returning receiver had more than 300 yards in 2012. Demarco Robinson will act as the No. 1 wideout on the depth chart and an increased number of targets should allow him to improve upon a lackluster 2012 campaign (28 rec, 297 yards).

Raymond Sanders made the most of his 125 carries a year ago, rushing for 669 yards and five touchdowns. Jonathan George (504 yards, four TDs) will also see plenty of action in the backfield this fall.

DEFENSE: Not surprisingly, the Wildcats' defense was also one of the worst in the SEC in 2012, allowing foes to score 31.0 ppg and gain 391.0 ypg while forcing just 13 turnovers in 12 games, but the return of seven starters should help the unit this time around.

All three top tacklers from last season -- Avery Williamson (135 tackles), Alvin Dupree (91) and Miles Simpson (70) -- return to the front seven. Dupree is a quality playmaker in the defensive backfield as well, adding 12.5 TFL and 6.5 sacks, both team-highs.

Donte Rumph (six TFL, four sacks) is a solid interior presence, and Ashely Lowery (43 tackles, one pick) will start at safety once again.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Joe Mansour will replace Craig McIntosh as the team's placekicker. Landon Foster was one of the most active punters in the nation in 2012, kicking it away 61 times with a 42.9 yard average.

DeMarcus Sweat contributed to special teams as a freshman with 25 kickoff returns, but averaged just over 20 yards.

OUTLOOK: These are dark times for the Kentucky football program, but with the hiring of Stoops and his staff, there's light at the end of the tunnel. In his first offseason, Stoops reeled in on of the top recruiting classes in the nation, leaving the program optimistic for the future.

"We understand there's a lot of hard work that lies ahead, but we're embracing that process and working hard each and every day to improve this team. There's a lot of work to be done, but we're excited."

Stoops may have what it takes to bring the Wildcats back to respectability in the SEC, but expecting a one-year turnaround would be unwise. They are clearly less-equipped than their conference brethren. Any improvement over their two- win season in 2012 should be considered a success.