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The big 2014 Kentucky football guide: Young Wildcats and real momentum

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Mark Stoops improved Kentucky on the field (from awful to bad) and in recruits' living rooms (top-20 recruiting class) in his first year on the job. His Wildcats won't be bowling in Year 2, but there's opportunity.

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. And now we wait

We rank things in college football. We rank teams, coaches, position players, units, the temperature of coaches' seats ...

It serves a purpose during the season, even if it gets tedious over the course of three to four months. But when the season ends and we enter our eight-month waiting period, we just keep ranking things. Teams before spring football. Heisman candidates before they've played a game.

It's silly. It's mostly harmless -- especially now that preseason polls don't have a direct impact on the national championship, since the Playoff committee doesn't do preseason polls -- and it keeps us talking about the sport for a full 12 months of the year. But it's still silly.

The silliest practice of all: ranking recruiting classes in June. It's eight months before Signing Day, some of your commits are quite possibly going to decommit, and a lot of the national recruiting powers have only begun to circle the wagons. A string of commitments and a high ranking can give your program some perceived momentum, but will that create a perceived backslide when the power schools reel you in and overtake you?

Take Kentucky, for instance. In mid-June 2013, Mark Stoops' Wildcats incredibly had the No. 1 class in the country according to Rivals.com. With 19 commitments, they also had more slots filled than most teams did. They made national headlines, then quietly slid back to 17th by Signing Day (and 22nd at 247 Sports). When you make a big deal of a team's recruiting rankings -- stars matter! this is the way to the top! -- then finish ninth in your own conference, how much of a perceptions win is that?

All that said ... Kentucky has gone 4-20 in the last two seasons and just inked, at worst, a top-25 recruiting class. Take perceived momentum and temporary No. 1 classes off of the table, and that's still awfully impressive. Stoops inherited a rather bare cupboard and has stocked it as well as he can in barely 18 months on the job. If he and his staff turn into impressive developers of talent, there's quite a bit of well-established talent to work with in his 2014 recruiting class.

And now comes the wait. Even if every four-star signee plays like a four-star signee, that probably isn't going to make much of a difference in 2014. Kentucky has ranked 112th and 97th in the F/+ rankings over the last two years; there's no quick rebound from that, at least not unless you're named Auburn.

Thus far, Stoops has remained publicly patient and understanding of the task at hand. He's already earned a raise because of his stellar recruiting, but the timeline is still a relatively long one. All he can hope is that Kentucky improves on the field enough in 2014 to give some "See? We're moving up!" ammunition for the 2015 class, and that probably isn't too much to ask.

At first glance, it's easy to assume that the Wildcats will be better at quarterback, running back, receiver, offensive line, defensive end, linebacker, and defensive back in 2014 -- basically everywhere but defensive tackle. The weaknesses will still be relatively weak, but Kentucky will be better in 2014 than it was in 2013. And barring some epic defections list, the Wildcats will probably be better in 2015, too. After a rapid three-year slide, that's reason to celebrate in and of itself.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 2-10 | Adj. Record: 3-9 | Final F/+ Rk: 97
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
31-Aug vs. Western Kentucky 77 26-35 L 38.1 - 34.0 W
7-Sep Miami (Ohio) 123 41-7 W 41.4 - 9.6 W
14-Sep Louisville 12 13-27 L 41.0 - 29.2 W
28-Sep Florida 48 7-24 L 22.9 - 46.5 L
5-Oct at South Carolina 10 28-35 L 32.3 - 35.1 L 4.3
12-Oct Alabama 2 7-48 L 17.5 - 37.3 L -0.5
24-Oct at Mississippi State 33 22-28 L 20.9 - 26.8 L -8.1
2-Nov Alabama State N/A 48-14 W 19.3 - 36.6 L -13.9
9-Nov Missouri 14 17-48 L 24.2 - 29.6 L -10.2
16-Nov at Vanderbilt 50 6-22 L 17.1 - 21.1 L -10.5
23-Nov at Georgia 22 17-59 L 17.2 - 39.2 L -10.9
30-Nov Tennessee 72 14-27 L 24.1 - 33.4 L -11.6
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ -3.3% 74 -12.0% 109 -0.8% 86
Points Per Game 20.5 109 31.2 90
Adj. Points Per Game 26.3 80 31.5 97

2. Three weeks of potential

For a brief time in September, it looked like the on-field rebuild was well on its way. Granted, in round-robin play, Kentucky finished last in the state of Kentucky. The Wildcats couldn't close drives as well as WKU and lost to Bobby Petrino's Hilltoppers, and while they were competitive against an excellent Louisville team, they still fell by 14 points. But the above adjusted scores show us that Kentucky was well above average overall in the first three games of the season.

And then came the next nine games.

  • Adj. Points Per Game (first 3 games): Kentucky 40.2, Opponent 24.3 (plus-15.9)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (last 9 games): Opponent 34.0, Kentucky 21.7 (minus-12.3)

After September 14, on-field progress was measured by a couple of good quarters or drives here and there. After an awful start, UK went on a 21-8 run in the fourth quarter to make the South Carolina game competitive. The Wildcats drove for a score and forced two punts to start the Missouri game. After falling behind Mississippi State by 14 points, they scored 12 straight to make it 21-19 late in the third quarter. They trailed Vandy by just three heading into the fourth quarter.

These are things most bad teams point to when looking for progress, but UK was just too young and banged up to do any more damage than that. In 2014, we'll find out if the experience that so many young players got was a good, developmental thing, or whether it was more akin to a triple-A pitcher getting promoted too early and stunting growth.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.17 47 IsoPPP+ 107.3 31
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 39.1% 95 Succ. Rt. + 95.0 79
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 29.7 61 Def. FP+ 101.4 41
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.0 82 Redzone S&P+ 110.9 25
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.3 ACTUAL 15 -6.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 109 68 80 55
RUSHING 86 54 76 52
PASSING 100 79 72 57
Standard Downs 52 64 31
Passing Downs 92 109 27
Q1 Rk 34 1st Down Rk 61
Q2 Rk 88 2nd Down Rk 40
Q3 Rk 80 3rd Down Rk 90
Q4 Rk 23

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Maxwell Smith 6'4, 238 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 105 183 1276 9 1 57.4% 18 9.0% 5.9
Jalen Whitlow 98 159 1035 5 5 61.6% 16 9.1% 5.3
Patrick Towles (2012) 6'5, 238 So. 4 stars (5.8) 19 40 233 1 1 47.5% 4 9.1% 4.5
Reese Phillips 6'2, 218 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Drew Barker 6'3, 216 Fr. 4 stars (5.9)

3. Lots of candidates, no standouts ... again

Last year, I used my only "Spinal Tap drummers" reference of the preview series -- it's too dated a reference to make more than once per year -- on Kentucky quarterbacks. The 2013 season didn't dissuade me from doing the same this year.

Indeed, through a toxic combination of poor performance and injury, Kentucky has gone through a Spinal Tappian number of quarterbacks in recent years. In 2011, Maxwell Smith (then a freshman) threw 153 passes in eight games while Morgan Newton threw 174 in 10. In 2012, Smith threw 150 in four, Jalen Whitlow (then a freshman) threw 161 in 10, Patrick Towles (freshman) threw 40 in five, and Newton threw 32 in seven. In 2013, with Towles out all season, Smith threw 183 in nine while Whitlow threw 159 in 12. Bouncing between the dual-threat Whitlow and the pass-first Smith, Kentucky managed to rank 79th in Passing S&P+ -- not good, but a drastic improvement over the 111th-place finish of 2012. Whitlow added a nice dimension on the ground but went nowhere with his passes, while Smith was more likely to get the ball downfield and less likely to throw picks. They both took far too many sacks.

So naturally, spring ended with Smith fourth on the depth chart, Whitlow gone (via transfer to Eastern Illinois), and Towles tied with a freshman (blue-chipper Drew Barker) and redshirt freshman (Reese Phillips) for the starting job. Smith missed spring with shoulder surgery and might or might not be a serious candidate at this point.

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown wants to throw the ball. He was a wide receiver for Hal Mumme and Mike Leach at Kentucky; he learned under Tony Franklin (Mumme's offensive coordinator at Kentucky after Leach left for Oklahoma) for a couple of years at Troy before taking over the Troy offense himself, then moving on to post-Leach Texas Tech. Mark Stoops hiring Brown was a nice nod (intentional or not) to both Kentucky's recent history and the successful hiring practices of Mark's brother Bob, who famously hired Leach as his first Oklahoma O.C.

UK's run-pass ratios were a bit confused in 2013, thanks mostly to the mix of Smith (201 pass attempts including sacks, 12 rush attempts) and Whitlow (175 pass attempts, 91 rushes), but Brown wants to spread the ball around. He'll want to even more in 2014, considering he returns a lot more proven depth at receiver than running back.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Raymond Sanders III RB 107 464 3 4.3 3.2 42.1%
Jojo Kemp RB 5'10, 192 So. 3 stars (5.7) 100 482 3 4.8 4.2 41.0%
Jalen Whitlow QB 91 569 6 6.3 7.5 40.7%
Dyshawn Mobley RB 43 300 1 7.0 9.7 39.5%
Jonathan George RB 20 58 1 2.9 1.7 35.0%
Ryan Timmons WR 5'10, 195 So. 3 stars (5.7) 12 91 0 7.6 8.6 50.0%
Maxwell Smith QB 6'4, 238 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 5 0 0.4 5.6 8.3%
Javess Blue WR 6'0, 191 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 4 19 0 4.8 14.3 25.0%
Braylon Heard
(Nebraska 2012)
RB 5'11, 189 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 52 348 3 6.7 4.4 N/A
Josh Clemons RB 5'10, 223 Jr. 3 stars (5.6)
Stanley "Boom" Williams RB 5'9, 200 Fr. 4 stars (5.9)
Mikel Horton RB 6'1, 230 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Javess Blue WR 6'0, 191 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 67 43 586 64.2% 20.1% 70.0% 8.7 64 8.4 80.9
Ryan Timmons WR 5'10, 195 So. 3 stars (5.7) 49 32 338 65.3% 14.7% 75.0% 6.9 -47 6.9 46.7
Demarco Robinson WR 5'10, 158 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 33 20 213 60.6% 9.9% 44.0% 6.5 -37 7.2 29.4
Jeff Badet WR 6'0, 169 So. 3 stars (5.5) 32 21 262 65.6% 9.6% 65.4% 8.2 10 6.9 36.2
Raymond Sanders III RB 28 19 137 67.9% 8.4% 52.4% 4.9 -87 4.1 18.9
Alexander Montgomery WR 6'2, 210 So. 3 stars (5.7) 25 16 137 64.0% 7.5% 57.9% 5.5 -57 5.4 18.9
Jordan Aumiller TE 24 12 124 50.0% 7.2% 72.2% 5.2 -42 5.0 17.1
Anthony Kendrick TE 18 9 141 50.0% 5.4% 53.8% 7.8 16 5.8 19.5
Jojo Kemp RB 5'10, 192 So. 3 stars (5.7) 16 10 79 62.5% 4.8% 77.8% 4.9 -44 4.6 10.9
A.J. Legree WR 14 7 97 50.0% 4.2% 22.2% 6.9 0 5.0 13.4
Steven Borden TE 6'3, 246 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 5 3 63 60.0% 1.5% N/A 12.6 25 0.0 8.7
Daryl Collins WR 4 1 5 25.0% 1.2% N/A 1.3 -17 0.0 0.7
Ronnie Shields TE 6'6, 254 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 4 1 7 25.0% 1.2% N/A 1.8 -15 0.0 1.0
Joey Herrick WR 6'1, 197 Jr. NR 3 2 15 66.7% 0.9% N/A 5.0 -9 0.0 2.1
Rashad Cunningham WR 6'4, 225 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Cameron Fogle WR 5'11, 203 RSFr. NR
Dorian Baker WR 6'3, 197 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Blake Bone WR 6'5, 198 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Thaddeus Snodgrass WR 6'1, 178 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)

4. A hell of a skill position unit (in 2015 or 2016)

There's reason to believe that UK's backs and wideouts will be better in 2014 than they were last year.

Raymond Sanders III and Jojo Kemp were efficient runners but lacked in explosiveness; Kemp returns and is joined by a variety of interesting newcomers -- Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard (also more efficient than explosive at NU), junior Josh Clemons (technically not a newcomer, but he hasn't played since 2011 after a series of injuries), explosive blue-chip freshman Boom Williams, and big freshman Mikel Horton. You've got plenty of big, plenty of small, and plenty of options.

The wideout position should benefit from 2013's crash course. Of last year's top five receivers, four were newcomers. JUCO transfer Javess Blue and freshmen Ryan Timmons, Jeff Badet, and Alexander Montgomery combined for 112 catches and 1,323 yards, and while only Blue and Badet really showed any serious per-target acuity, they all had moments. Blue caught six passes for 114 yards against Miami (Ohio) and five for 93 against Georgia. Timmons had three for 72 against Louisville and five for 69 against Mississippi State. Badet caught seven passes in the first seven games, then caught 15 in the last five. Returnee Demarco Robinson caught five for 69 in the season opener. Montgomery caught 10 passes in September.

None of these are mind-blowing moments, but all proved they could be decent AQ-conference receivers. They'll all get opportunities again this fall, though they could be pushed by a trio of exciting freshmen: Dorian Baker, Blake Bone, and Thad Snodgrass.

If the backs can average 5.0 yards per carry, and the top five wideouts (whoever they are) can average 7.8 to 8.0 yards per target, that won't make for a world-beating skill position unit, but it would represent clear improvement that, considering the youth of the unit as a whole, would mean very good things for 2015 and beyond.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 97.4 2.88 2.83 39.8% 70.2% 21.0% 73.7 5.2% 11.6%
Rank 82 76 106 62 54 87 103 79 114
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Darrian Miller LT 6'5, 292 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 26
Kevin Mitchell RG 25
Zach West LG 6'4, 318 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 21
Jordan Swindle RT 6'7, 306 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 12
Jon Toth C 6'5, 301 So. 2 stars (5.4) 11
Max Godby LG 6'4, 298 Sr. NR 2
Teven Eatmon-Nared LT 6'7, 339 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 1
Zach Myers C 6'3, 287 So. 3 stars (5.6) 1
Jack Gruenschlaeger RG 6'11, 363 Jr. NR 0
Shaquille Love RT 6'4, 323 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0
Kyle Meadows RT 6'5, 294 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)
Nick Haynes LG 6'3, 319 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Ramsey Meyers RG 6'4, 300 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Cole Mosier RG 6'6, 348 RSFr. NR
Nick Richardson OL 6'4, 272 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Jarrett LaRubbio OL 6'8, 282 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)

5. The line stats should come around

Last year, UK was not only changing systems but replacing two three-year starters up front: all-conference guard Larry Warford and center Matt Smith. An unseasoned line took its lumps last fall, especially with two indecisive (in different ways) quarterbacks making reads in (or out of) the pocket. The Wildcats' line stats fell from 24th in Adj. Line Yards and 67th in Adj. Sack Rate to 82nd and 103rd, respectively.

Kentucky has almost double the returning career starts (39 heading into 2013, 74 heading into 2014), a year in Brown's system, and almost all of last year's two-deep returning. The running backs should be pretty efficient, and the QBs won't be any worse at taking sacks. Only three of the seven players with starting experience are seniors, too, so good continuity in 2014 could lead to more good continuity in 2015.

(Now if you'll pardon me, I'm going to daydream about a line of tackles Jordan Swindle and Teven Eatmon-Nared, guards Jack Gruenschlaeger and Cole Mosier, and center Jon Toth -- an average size of 6'7, 331. Fun.)

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.12 50 IsoPPP+ 99.8 60
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 48.4% 113 Succ. Rt. + 91.1 98
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 27.6 106 Off. FP+ 97.5 88
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.6 99 Redzone S&P+ 85.9 98
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 18.1 ACTUAL 15.0 -3.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 92 95 98 86
RUSHING 94 97 83 91
PASSING 64 85 101 70
Standard Downs 80 74 59
Passing Downs 113 120 55
Q1 Rk 112 1st Down Rk 61
Q2 Rk 37 2nd Down Rk 113
Q3 Rk 96 3rd Down Rk 86
Q4 Rk 89

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 92.7 3.31 3.47 42.2% 81.8% 16.7% 112.9 4.6% 9.2%
Rank 91 107 80 98 121 94 37 56 19
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Alvin Dupree DE 6'4, 264 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 11 47.5 7.0% 9.5 7.0 0 1 2 0
Za'Darius Smith DE 6'6, 263 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 12 41.5 6.1% 6.5 6.0 0 1 0 0
Donte Rumph DT 12 35.5 5.3% 6.0 2.0 0 0 1 0
Tristian Johnson DT 12 19.0 2.8% 2.5 0.0 0 2 2 0
Mike Douglas DT 6'4, 288 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 12 18.5 2.7% 1.5 1.0 0 2 0 0
Mister Cobble DT 12 17.5 2.6% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jason Hatcher DE 6'3, 242 So. 4 stars (5.8) 9 17.0 2.5% 3.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Farrington Huguenin DE 6'4, 275 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 12 12.0 1.8% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Alvin Davis Jr. DE 11 7.0 1.0% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Christian Coleman DT 6'3, 288 Sr. 3 stars (5.5)
Jabari Johnson DE 6'1, 276 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Melvin Lewis DT 6'4, 320 Jr. NR
Jacob Hyde DT 6'2, 333 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Regie Meant DT 6'4, 286 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3)
Cory Johnson DT 6'3, 299 Jr. 4 stars (5.8)







6. A pass rush can only take you so far

The Kentucky offense showed marked improvement, from bad to below average, in 2013. The defense, not so much. The Wildcats moved from 113th in Def. F/+ to just 109th and provided basically one distinct strength: the pass rush.

Now, a pass rush is important, and if Kentucky was able to leverage you into passing downs (a rarity), Wildcat ends were often able to tee off. Ends Alvin Dupree and Za'Darius Smith combined for 13 sacks and served as one of the league's better duos in that regard; in D.J. Eliot's 4-2-5 system, it's key to be able to generate pressure without blitzing too much. You can check that box.

Of course, a pass rush only matters if you have other strengths, too. Not only couldn't Kentucky actually force passing downs, but on the 90 percent of passing downs pass attempts that didn't result in sacks, chances are the opponent's quarterback was finding a wide open receiver. Even with a strong pass rush, Kentucky ranked 80th in Standard Downs S&P+ and a woeful 113th in Passing Downs S&P+. The Wildcats couldn't stop the run, and the only way they stopped the pass was by bringing down the QB.

In 2014, the end position should be as strong, or even stronger: Dupree and Smith are both back, as is four-star sophomore Jason Hatcher. The problem is that the tackle position has been severely depleted -- three of last year's top four are gone, including leader Donte Rumph -- and it doesn't yet appear that the linebacker position is ready to start making plays. UK probably won't be much better against the run this fall, so even if the pass defense improves overall, that will only matter so much.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Avery Williamson MLB 12 74.0 11.0% 4.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Khalid Henderson WLB 6'1, 228 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 37.5 5.6% 3.0 1.0 1 1 2 0
TraVaughn Paschal MLB 6'4, 257 Sr. NR 9 27.5 4.1% 4.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Josh Forrest MLB 6'3, 236 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 12 12.5 1.9% 0.5 0.0 1 0 0 0
Daron Blaylock WLB 6'1, 214 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 12.0 1.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Miles Simpson WLB 12 8.5 1.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kory Brown SLB 3 3.5 0.5% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tre' Dunn WLB 6'2, 225 Sr. NR 12 3.0 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Malcolm McDuffen SLB 10 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Dorian Hendrix LB 6'0, 230 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)
Kobie Walker LB 6'3, 201 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)

7. Wanted: play-makers under 260 pounds

So yeah, Dupree and Smith are keepers. What else might Kentucky bring to the table defensively? Hard to say. The top five returning linebackers combined for 7.5 tackles for loss and three passes defensed.

No, play-making stats are not the end-all, be-all for measuring player proficiency, especially when we're talking about linebackers in a 4-2-5 system. But Kentucky fell well short of the play-making bar overall in 2013, and while stellar recruiting could help the offense and the secondary (and perhaps the defensive tackle position), it's not immediately clear that it's going to help at linebacker, at least not without some developmental time. Big TraVaughn Paschal is intriguing at middle linebacker, and Khalid Henderson has two solid years of experience now, but this isn't a unit that will strike fear in opponents' hearts.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Blake McClain NB 5'11, 194 So. 3 stars (5.6) 12 48.0 7.1% 1 1 0 5 1 0
Eric Dixon NB 5'11, 193 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 12 44.0 6.5% 0.5 0.5 0 0 1 0
Fred Tiller CB 6'0, 170 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 12 43.0 6.4% 4 0 0 4 1 0
Ashely Lowery S 6'1, 220 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 12 35.5 5.3% 0.5 0 1 3 1 1
Nate Willis CB 6'0, 168 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 9 29.0 4.3% 2 0 0 5 0 0
Cody Quinn CB 5'10, 172 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 10 21.5 3.2% 1.5 0 0 3 0 0
J.D. Harmon (2012) CB 6'2, 201 So. NR 12 20.5 3.0% 0 0 2 4 0 0
Jaleel Hytchye CB 5'10, 167 So. 3 stars (5.7) 8 8.5 1.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Marcus McWilson S 6'0, 210 So. 4 stars (5.8) 8 6.0 0.9% 2 0.5 0 0 0 1
Glenn Faulkner S 6'2, 195 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 12 5.0 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Dakotah Tyler S 9 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Keron Wakefield CB 5'10, 161 RSFr. NR
A.J. Stamps S 6'0, 199 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Zack Blaylock S 6'0, 191 So. 3 stars (5.7)
Darius West S 6'0, 193 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Kendall Randolph CB 6'0, 168 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Jared Tucker CB 5'11, 159 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)

8. A passing-downs horror show

Hey, we finally joined Facebook!

Good news: Kentucky returns its top nine defensive backs from 2013.

Bad news: These nine are returning from one of the nation's worst secondaries.

Despite a top-40 pass rush, UK ranked 85th in Passing S&P+ and 113th on passing downs. It is perhaps exciting that the four most intriguing returnees from a pure play-maker perspective -- nickel back Blake McClain, corner Fred Tiller, corner J.D. Harmon, and safety Marcus McWilson -- were all either freshmen or sophomores last year. (Harmon redshirted in 2013.) Only McClain and Tiller project as starters this year, but maybe there's hope there. And maybe the addition of a pair of JUCO transfers (A.J. Stamps, Zack Blaylock) and two four-star freshmen (Darius West, Kendall Randolph) can plump up the overall quality a bit.

They better, at least, because the secondary is the cornerstone of the 4-2-5, and Kentucky's just wasn't good enough last year.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Landon Foster 6'1, 198 Jr. 68 41.3 6 16 15 45.6%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Joe Mansour 51 59.6 8 1 15.7%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Joe Mansour 28-30 10-10 100.0% 2-4 50.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Javess Blue KR 6'0, 191 Sr. 25 20.4 0
Demarco Robinson KR 5'10, 158 Sr. 5 25.6 0
Demarco Robinson PR 5'10, 158 Sr. 11 10.4 0
Javess Blue PR 6'0, 191 Sr. 7 2.9 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 86
Field Goal Efficiency 30
Punt Return Efficiency 124
Kick Return Efficiency 62
Punt Efficiency 85
Kickoff Efficiency 19
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 22

9. Punts were not Kentucky's friend

Joe Mansour was quite solid in 2013, both in booting high, unreturnable kickoffs and in making 10 of 10 field goals under 40 yards. And in Javess Blue and Demarco Robinson, the Wildcats had a couple of reasonably consistent return men. But punting and punt returns did not go well from a consistency persepctive; the per-punt and per-return numbers were decent, but both units were quite all-or-nothing and created field position disadvantages that Kentucky really did not need.

Mansour is gone, but punter Landon Foster and all return men return. We'll see if that's a particularly good thing.

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug UT Martin NR
6-Sep Ohio 103
13-Sep at Florida 29
27-Sep Vanderbilt 61
4-Oct South Carolina 7
11-Oct UL-Monroe 106
18-Oct at LSU 12
25-Oct Mississippi State 26
1-Nov at Missouri 22
8-Nov Georgia 10
15-Nov at Tennessee 55
29-Nov at Louisville 16
Five-Year F/+ Rk -8.8% (84)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 19
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* 0 / -3.2
TO Luck/Game +1.3
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 16 (8, 8)

10. A good September is key

When you've won four games in two years, you "improved" to 97th overall last year (in what is either the best or second-best conference in the country), and you're probably going to be leaning on quite a few freshmen and sophomores, you probably shouldn't set the bar too high.

I do see Kentucky improving on paper in 2014, but what that means for expectations will depend on how September goes. If UK avoids upset against Ohio and beats Vanderbilt at home, they could start the season 3-1 (4-2 by mid-October), and if you're looking for "They've got momentum!" storylines, that's a good way to generate some.

A backloaded schedule should prevent UK from getting too far beyond four wins, of course, but 2014 is all about confidence and momentum -- real momentum, not recruiting-rankings-in-June momentum -- and the Wildcats could absolutely generate some this fall.