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1. One brick at a time
The University of Kentucky is sinking more than $150 million into construction of better football facilities. Commonwealth Stadium has undergone a considerable facelift in advance of the season. A new football building, with better offices and practice areas, is up next.
The Wildcats are reinventing themselves from bottom to top. Yes, UK will always be a basketball school, but there's room for more than one pastime. Here's what head coach Mark Stoops told me in last year's "Blueprint for a Rebuild" piece:
'Where [Kentucky's love of basketball] would hurt you is if people didn't care as much [about football], but that's not the case here. That's evident by the overwhelming support that we've been given since we've been here. That's given me more and more optimism. People are showing up. We've had overwhelming numbers at the spring games.'
He is referring to the 51,000 or so in attendance in April 2013. He's also referring to the 60,418 average attendance during UK's six home games against FBS opponents. The Wildcats won only one of those, but results don't matter yet.
'Donations are up. We've got $120 million of stadium renovations going on. We're building a football-only building with private donations. We're designing it right now. More than half the money's raised already.'
'Dealing with expectations now is different. People are excited and believe in what you're doing. Recruits believe in it. A lot of people have high expectations. That's a balancing act because ... I don't want to talk negatively about anything or anybody,' -- no coach does -- 'but it's obvious we're in a rebuild here. And that requires a longer period of time.'
Heading into his third year in Lexington, Stoops is probably noticing the equation is changing a bit. You incrementally lose the benefit of the doubt with each losing season, even if you show promise. In last year's six home games against FBS competition, attendance was down to 58,767. And after his 2014 recruiting class ranked 22nd in the 247Sports Composite, his 2015 class ranked 39th. He signed six 247 four-stars in 2014 and two this past February.
This is to be expected. There are stages in a rebuilding gig, and while Stoops nailed the grace period stage, that ends after a couple of years. Time to get to the nitty gritty.
Kentucky undoubtedly improved in 2014. The Wildcats went 5-7 and ranked 68th in the F/+ ratings, 26 spots higher than in 2013. This was the best team UK fielded since 2010 (6-7, 52nd).
But the season featured a twinge of disappointment. Kentucky began 5-1, missing out on 6-0 by virtue of an overtime loss in Gainesville. But with six opportunities to lock down bowl eligibility, the Wildcats couldn't get the job done. A back-loaded schedule wrecked UK's plans -- trips to LSU and Tennessee ended in blowout losses, as did a visit from Georgia. And competitive losses to Mississippi State, Missouri, and Louisville meant UK would fall short of the six-win mark.
Kentucky headed into 2015 disappointed and encouraged. And while the most effective piece of the defense (the pass rush) must be rebuilt, every other facet might improve. The Wildcats' schedule features an obnoxious eight home games, and a bowl trip is a distinct possibility.
We're years from knowing the ceiling of Stoops' program -- 6-6? 8-4? An occasional SEC East title challenge? -- but UK should follow second-year progress with third-year progress. The remodeling continues.
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 5-7 | Adj. Record: 6-6 | Final F/+ Rk: 68|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|Points Per Game||29.2||63||31.3||95|
2. Three angles, same story
The single-game percentile data above is both useful and dangerous. It is designed to take a large load of variables and turn it into a single number -- you played like an X percentile team this week -- and it can be used to track trends, peaks, and valleys.
It can also tell you differing stories.
Looking at UK's 2014 from three angles, you get two narratives, both of which boil down to the Wildcats not quite being ready for success.
Angle No. 1:
- Average Percentile Performance (first 6 games): 80% (~top 25 | record: 5-1)
- Average Percentile Performance (last 6 games): 25% (~top 95 | record: 0-6)
That one's easy to decipher. Kentucky played like a strong team over the first half of the season, showing off a high-upside offense against UT Martin (10.8 yards per play!) and South Carolina (6.8) and an athletic defense against overwhelmed Ohio (3.7), Vanderbilt (3.0), and UL-Monroe (3.3). They manhandled weaker teams and showed resilience by charging past South Carolina. Despite a semi-impressive performance at Florida -- they managed a healthy 5.8 yards per play against a great defense but allowed 5.7 to a poor offense -- they were 5-1 and playing at a high level.
And then ... poof. The Wildcats were not ready for LSU's speedy defense or physical run game and got their doors blown off. With confidence appropriately damaged, they limped. The defense allowed fewer than 6.4 yards per play once in the last six games, and the offense averaged better than 4.7 once. The bottom dropped out for this young team.
Of course, the makeup of the schedule also changed. Angle No. 2:
- Average Percentile Performance (home): 74% (~top 35 | record: 5-2)
- Average Percentile Performance (away): 23% (~top 100 | record: 0-5)
Young teams are more likely to end up with a wide range between home and road performances. Kentucky went 5-2 at home, beating Vanderbilt and South Carolina and remaining within striking distance (down seven points with 2:30 left) of a Mississippi State team that had just moved to No. 1 in the polls. On the road against SEC opponents, the average score was Opponent 37, UK 15.
UK's schedule got more road-heavy over the last half. Therefore UK "faded."
The schedule also got more challenging. Angle No. 3:
- Average Percentile Performance (vs. F/+ top 35): 29% (~top 90 | record: 0-7)
- Average Percentile Performance (vs. No. 36-plus): 86% (~top 20 | record: 5-0)
Some teams overachieve against good competition and underachieve against bad. Not UK. The Wildcats fared well against teams with similar or inferior levels of athleticism. Against teams with more weapons, they had no way of picking up the slack.
Whichever way, the story was the same: UK wasn't quite ready.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||38.4%||104||Succ. Rt. +||103.8||58|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||30.5||78||Def. FP+||99.0||77|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.4||71||Redzone S&P+||91.3||91|
|Q1 Rk||76||1st Down Rk||38|
|Q2 Rk||20||2nd Down Rk||51|
|Q3 Rk||66||3rd Down Rk||20|
3. Always be closing
If only the second quarter could last about 50 minutes. UK had one hell of a second-quarter offense -- the Wildcats scored 139 points in the first and third quarters combined and 129 in the second.
But the fourth quarter was generally a miserable experience. Quarterback Patrick Towles' rating fell from the 120s to 104.8 in the fourth. Running backs Stanley "Boom" Williams and Braylon Heard averaged 6.2 yards per carry in the first three quarters and 3.7 in the fourth.
Just as UK couldn't close the season strong, the Wildcats couldn't close games. Closing drives was an issue, too. UK was top-60 in efficiency (Success Rate+) and explosiveness (IsoPPP+) but 91st in the red zone, settling for 27 field goals and struggling to catch up to the chains.
I like for these previews to be prescriptive, so I hate saying "they were bad at this" and not diving into why. But aside from a lack of experience, it's hard to explain this. Towles was a sophomore, Williams a freshman, and leading receiver Ryan Timmons was a sophomore. With more weapons, perhaps this resolves itself.
For better or worse, there's a new play-caller. Coordinator Neal Brown left to become Troy's head coach, and Stoops replaced him with Dana Holgorsen's former O.C. at West Virginia, Shannon Dawson. WVU's run-pass rates were nearly identical to UK's, but the components differed -- WVU didn't have a mobile quarterback like Towles and had an All-American receiver in Kevin White instead of a grab bag of freshmen and sophomores. We'll see what changes Dawson makes.
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Patrick Towles||6'5, 240||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8902||225||393||2718||14||9||57.3%||36||8.4%||5.8|
|Reese Phillips||6'2, 225||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7991||2||9||45||0||1||22.2%||0||0.0%||5.0|
|Drew Barker||6'3, 225||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9425|
|Patrick Towles||QB||6'5, 240||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8902||109||537||6||4.9||4.7||39.4%||8||2|
|Boom Williams||RB||5'9, 196||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.8983||74||486||5||6.6||11.3||31.1%||1||0|
|Jojo Kemp||RB||5'10, 200||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8607||71||340||4||4.8||4.4||40.8%||2||0|
|Mikel Horton||RB||6'1, 226||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8812||59||306||2||5.2||5.0||42.4%||2||0|
|Ryan Timmons||WR||5'10, 192||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8668||5||-9||0||-1.8||N/A||0.0%||0||0|
|Reese Phillips||QB||6'2, 225||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.7991||4||18||0||4.5||5.7||25.0%||2||0|
|William Mahone||RB||5'9, 196||So.||NR||NR|
4. Get Boom in the open field
Kentucky boasts skill players who have had exciting moments.
Ryan Timmons showed hints of explosiveness as a sophomore, mainly in the Mississippi State game (five catches, 114 yards). Garrett Johnson caught six passes for 154 yards against Florida (and 16 for just 117 against everybody else). Blake Bone had five catches for 113 yards in the first three games of his career last September. Running back JoJo Kemp averaged 8.9 yards per carry through the first month of 2013 and torched South Carolina for 131 yards on 17 carries last October.
Among a lot of players who have shown flashes, none has shown more than Williams. His freshman season was all sorts of up-and-down as he battled a head injury and a crowded depth chart. His performances were randomly great and feckless. In even-numbered games, he carried 44 times for 415 yards (9.4) and five touchdowns. In odd-numbered games, 30 for 71 (2.4) and no pay dirt.
For the season, only 31 percent of Williams' carries gained at least five yards. The national average for players with at least 70 carries was more than 37 percent. But when he found space, he did pretty nasty things. Not surprisingly, he's also a dangerous kick returner.
Without last year's two most dangerous receivers (Demarco Robinson, Javess Blue), the pressure might be on Williams. Hem him in if you want to beat Kentucky. A lot of UK's weapons are intriguing; Williams is dangerous.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Ryan Timmons||WR||5'10, 192||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8668||71||45||536||63.4%||18.8%||53.5%||7.5||-9||7.7||76.0|
|Garrett Johnson||WR||5'11, 182||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8550||40||22||271||55.0%||10.6%||52.5%||6.8||-3||6.6||38.5|
|Dorian Baker||WR||6'3, 208||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8558||37||19||199||51.4%||9.8%||56.8%||5.4||-42||5.4||28.2|
|Jeff Badet (2013)||WR||6'0, 182||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8433||32||21||262||65.6%||9.6%||65.4%||8.2||10||6.9||36.2|
|Blake Bone||WR||6'5, 208||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8646||29||14||194||48.3%||7.7%||58.6%||6.7||14||6.7||27.5|
|Alexander Montgomery (2013)||WR||6'2, 210||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8313||25||16||137||64.0%||7.5%||57.9%||5.5||-57||5.4||18.9|
|Boom Williams||RB||5'9, 196||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.8983||22||17||162||77.3%||5.8%||54.5%||7.4||-37||7.3||23.0|
|Joey Herrick||WR||6'1, 203||Sr.||NR||NR||13||8||116||61.5%||3.4%||61.5%||8.9||18||9.3||16.4|
|T.V. Williams||WR||5'10, 155||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8554||9||4||64||44.4%||2.4%||11.1%||7.1||12||5.0||9.1|
|Thaddeus Snodgrass||WR||6'1, 190||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8922|
|Darryl Long||TE||6'4, 246||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8600|
|C.J. Conrad||TE||6'5, 245||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8988|
|Jabari Greenwood||WR||6'3, 195||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8681|
|Tavin Richardson||WR||6'3, 218||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8481|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Zach West||LG||6'4, 305||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8681||30|
|Jon Toth||C||6'5, 310||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8370||23|
|Jordan Swindle||RT||6'7, 309||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8122||23|
|Ramsey Meyers||RG||6'4, 320||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8351||12|
|Cole Mosier||RG||6'6, 335||So.||NR||NR||2|
|Nick Haynes||LG||6'3, 308||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8088||1|
|Zach Myers||C||6'3, 300||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8338||1|
|Kyle Meadows||RT||6'5, 298||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8631||1|
|Nick Richardson||LT||6'4, 285||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8723|
|Jarrett LaRubbio||RG||6'6, 297||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8600|
|Jervontius Stallings||LG||6'3, 335||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8206|
|George Asafo-Adjei||LT||6'5, 325||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8751|
|Logan Stenberg||OL||6'6, 330||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8587|
|Levon Livingston||OL||6'7, 250||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8539|
5. Too many glitches up front
UK's line was the most experienced unit of the offense, with four returning starters, a senior, and two juniors.
The Wildcats were decent in short-yardage but allowed a ton of defenders into the backfield for stuffs and sacks. Part of that had to do with those in the backfield. Towles is a nice runner but trusted his legs far too much, especially on passing downs, and a runner like Williams is going to run into trouble. Still, this line didn't get quite as much push as one might have expected.
It can't hurt that there's even more experience this year. Four starters return, and eight have combined for 93 career starts. If the Wildcats can figure out who replaces three-year starting tackle Darrian Miller (the early favorite: redshirt freshman and Rivals four-star Nick Richardson), the line will be fine, especially with everyone a year more experienced.
(This assumes Towles is the starter. He showed enough potential, but blue-chip redshirt freshman Drew Barker was listed as an "OR" starter in this summer's media guide. The smart money is probably Towles, but it's an ongoing battle.)
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||42.8%||84||Succ. Rt. +||96.0||84|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||30.6||58||Off. FP+||102.0||38|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.6||90||Redzone S&P+||90.0||106|
|Q1 Rk||43||1st Down Rk||69|
|Q2 Rk||94||2nd Down Rk||77|
|Q3 Rk||117||3rd Down Rk||86|
6. Improvement up front
The UK offense had its moments but achieved at the same level as 2013; the Wildcats ranked 77th in Off. S&P+ in 2013 and 74th in 2014. The defense, however, rebounded. After dropping to 89th in Def. S&P+ in Stoops' first season, he and coordinator D.J. Eliot utilized a nice pass rush in improving to 51st.
UK ranked third in the country in passing downs sack rate, but opponents came to realize passing was a less dangerous option than running on base downs. The Wildcats may have been able to pin their ears back on passing downs, but they were passive on standard downs, recording almost no sacks and making almost no run stops behind the line.
And whereas opponents had a meager 109.3 passer rating on third downs, it was 134.3 on first downs.
Youth was a less viable excuse last year. The line was populated by juniors and seniors, the linebacking corps was mostly juniors, and the secondary was mostly sophomores and juniors. The D simply didn't have enough weapons to be effectively aggressive.
The Wildcats were still young enough that they return seven starters and most of last year's second string, though.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Melvin Lewis||NG||6'4, 332||Sr.||NR||NR||12||25.5||3.6%||2.5||0.5||0||0||1||0|
|Jabari Johnson||RUSH||6'1, 272||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8229||12||15.0||2.1%||4.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Farrington Huguenin||DE||6'4, 282||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7889||12||14.0||2.0%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Regie Meant||DT||6'4, 302||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8181||11||13.5||1.9%||2.0||2.0||0||0||1||1|
|Matt Elam||NG||6'7, 360||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.9272||12||8.5||1.2%||0.0||0.0||0||2||0||0|
|Cory Johnson||DT||6'3, 300||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8786||12||7.0||1.0%||4.0||2.5||0||1||1||0|
|Daron Blaylock||RUSH||6'1, 226||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8367||10||6.0||0.8%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jacob Hyde||NG||6'2, 320||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8544|
|Denzil Ware||RUSH||6'2, 255||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.9051|
|Adrian Middleton||DE||6'3, 295||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8635|
|Tymere Dubose||DT||6'5, 315||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8322|
|Alvonte Bell||DE||6'5, 260||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8107|
|Cortney Miggins||DT||6'5, 285||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8800|
|Kengera Daniel||DE||6'5, 260||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8575|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Josh Forrest||MLB||6'3, 255||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8346||12||87.0||12.3%||8.5||1.0||2||2||1||0|
|Ryan Flannigan||WLB||6'2, 225||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8377||12||42.5||6.0%||1.5||0.5||0||1||0||0|
|Khalid Henderson||WLB||6'1, 235||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8510||12||40.0||5.6%||3.5||0.0||0||2||1||1|
|Jason Hatcher||SLB||6'3, 252||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9222||11||24.0||3.4%||5.5||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Kobie Walker||SLB||6'3, 210||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8690|
|Nico Firios||MLB||6'2, 230||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8541|
|Dorian Hendrix||MLB||6'0, 232||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8515|
|Eli Brown||LB||6'2, 206||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9006|
|Jordan Jones||WLB||6'2, 215||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8782|
7. Wanted: pass rushers
It's easy to see the offense taking a nice step forward, but the defense will be without last year's most proven weapons.
Ends Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith combined for 12 sacks. They didn't do much damage unless opponents were in must-pass situations, and they didn't have much of a run presence (combined: 7.5 non-sack tackles for loss), but they were a nice situational duo, and UK is without them and starting tackle Mike Douglas.
It's hard to worry too much about the run defense. Middle linebacker Josh Forrest was easily the Wildcats' best run stuffer, and he's back, as are seniors Ryan Flannigan and Khalid Henderson and part-time end Jason Hatcher, who will provide a large presence on the strong side [Update: Hatcher's suspended against UL-Lafayette and South Carolina]. The linebacking corps should be solid, and goodness knows thetackles have plenty of size -- nose guards Melvin Lewis, Matt Elam, and Jacob Hyde average 6'4, 337.
I would expect UK's run defense to improve beyond last year's No. 73 Rushing S&P+ ranking, but it's hard to know where the pass rush might come from. Wildcats not named Alvin or Za'Darius made just 15 sacks, and only one returnee (backup tackle Cory Johnson) had more than two. (He had all of 2.5.)
UK might need the excellent 2014 class to quickly bear fruit if it wants to improve on pass defense. Ends Denzil Ware and Adrian Middleton and linebackers Kobie Walker, Nico Firios, and Dorian Hendrix could all carve out niches if they can reach the quarterback.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|A.J. Stamps||S||6'0, 205||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8022||12||48.5||6.8%||1||0||4||5||0||0|
|Fred Tiller||CB||6'0, 180||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8419||12||38.5||5.4%||1||0.5||2||9||0||0|
|Cody Quinn||CB||5'10, 180||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8357||12||29.5||4.2%||0||0||0||5||0||0|
|Marcus McWilson||S||6'0, 208||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8999||12||24.0||3.4%||1||0||3||1||0||0|
|J.D. Harmon||CB||6'2, 197||Jr.||NR||NR||12||23.0||3.2%||2||0||0||0||2||0|
|Blake McClain||S||5'11, 195||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8181||11||21.0||3.0%||2||2||0||6||0||0|
|Kendall Randolph||CB||6'0, 180||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8768||12||13.5||1.9%||2||1||0||1||1||0|
|Glenn Faulkner||CB||6'2, 208||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9094||10||6.5||0.9%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Jaleel Hytchye||CB||5'10, 175||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8526|
|Zack Blaylock||S||6'0, 193||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8453|
|Darius West||S||6'0, 206||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9067|
|Mike Edwards||S||6'0, 200||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8888|
|Jared Tucker||CB||5'11, 175||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8487|
|Marcus Walker||S||6'1, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8764|
|Kei Beckham||CB||5'11, 170||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8634|
|Chris Westry||S||6'4, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8469|
8. Experience, at least
The secondary returns plenty of experience and playmaking potential. Senior corners Fred Tiller and Cody Quinn combined for 16 passes defensed, safeties A.J. Stamps, Marcus McWilson, and Blake McClain combined for four tackles for loss, seven picks, and 12 break-ups. Not bad!
But while the sum of the parts seemed decent, the whole was awful -- UK ranked 109th in Passing Success Rate+ and 91st in overall Passing S&P+. Yuck.
Last year's struggles, combined with solid recruiting, could mean younger guys get opportunities to pass upperclassmen. Four-star sophomore Kendall Randolph made plays in limited opportunities, and two Rivals four-stars, safeties Darius West and Mike Edwards, are available after redshirt years.
UK wasn't awful in the big-play department, but the Wildcats were hindered by being unable to force mundane plays. If the defense is to improve again without Dupree and Smith, growth in the secondary will be why.
|Landon Foster||6'1, 178||Sr.||66||42.6||4||22||27||74.2%|
|Austin MacGinnis||5'10, 175||So.||67||59.1||25||1||37.3%|
|Austin MacGinnis||5'10, 175||So.||41-41||13-15||86.7%||8-12||66.7%|
|Boom Williams||KR||5'9, 196||So.||19||26.9||0|
|Special Teams F/+||107|
|Field Goal Efficiency||8|
|Punt Return Efficiency||87|
|Kick Return Efficiency||86|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||46|
9. Worst. Coverage unit. Ever.
Austin MacGinnis proved powerful and reliable for a freshman place-kicker. Punter Landon Foster was a fair catch machine. Boom Williams proved scary, if inefficient, in kick returns.
Special teams had assets, but the Wildcats ranked 107th in special teams efficiency, mainly because of heinous coverage. UK allowed 22.5 yards per kick return (100th in FBS), 12.7 yards per punt return (114th), and four combined return touchdowns.
Improved young depth in the receiving corps and secondary could help. Actually, let's rephrase; it better help. Special teams cost UK points and field position.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk|
|12-Sep||at South Carolina||31|
|24-Oct||at Mississippi State||21|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-11.8% (80)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||27 / 31|
|2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||8 / -0.3|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||+3.4|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||14 (7, 7)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||5.2 (-0.2)|
10. If you can't make a bowl with this schedule...
I'm guessing Kentucky improves again. The offense, more experienced at every level, should take a step forward after stagnation, and while the pass defense is a mystery, the run defense should be solid. After a No. 68 ranking in 2014 F/+, I could easily see a rise into the No. 50 range.
That type of rating doesn't guarantee you a bowl in the SEC, but the schedule does UK all sorts of favors. The non-conference slate features home games against UL-Lafayette, Eastern Kentucky, and FBS newcomer Charlotte, and the Wildcats will likely be favored when they travel to Vanderbilt in mid-November. Those four games should mean that they need to only go 2-6 against the rest to reach the postseason for the first time in five years. Beat Florida on September 19, and they need to win one of seven.
Of course, those seven are brutal: visits from four potentially ranked teams, plus visits to Mississippi State, Georgia, and South Carolina.
The upcoming Football Outsiders Almanac 2015 projects UK 73rd and gives the Wildcats a win expectancy of 4.1 wins. I expect more, but 6-6 might be the ceiling.
But hey, that would represent growth, one more layer for the foundation. Stoops and UK are building steadily, and the Wildcats have enough potential to take another step.