clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Kentucky's football rebuild has not gone as planned. Is 2016 the breakthrough?

New, comments

Promising starts and disappointing finishes: that's been the theme of Mark Stoops' time so far. Now a hyped recruiting class takes over as upperclassmen.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.

1. A slippery hill to climb

Recruiting well out of the gates will earn you goodwill and buy you time, especially when you're in a rebuilding job.

But your grace period isn't particularly long; to keep recruiting well, you need to show improvement quickly. And the balance is always tricky -- the results need to come while most of your good recruiting classes are too young to make that big a difference.

Mark Stoops hit every right note when he started out at Kentucky. There was that moment in Summer 2013, for instance, when he had the top recruiting class in the country. While mid-summer recruiting rankings are only useful with many large grains of salt -- that top class ended up ranking 22nd in the 247Sports Composite, powered mostly by early commitments -- it was supposed to signify something. Kentucky isn't supposed to sign even top-25 classes unless the sport involves a round ball.

In the two seasons that followed, Kentucky has twice started quickly, then crumbled. The Wildcats were 5-1 in 2014 before losing six straight by an average score of 44-22. Last year, they were 4-1, then lost six of seven. (The only win was over Charlotte.)

In Stoops' three seasons, they are 4-20 in SEC play.

Struggling is common in the early stages of a rebuild. But 2015 was particularly disappointing.

It wasn't that UK didn't improve enough. The Wildcats regressed drastically. The record remained the same, but they fell from 58th to 95th in S&P+, worse than when they were at 2-10 in 2013. Under a new coordinator, the offense fell from 74th to 104th in Off. S&P+. The passing game was woefully inefficient, and while the run game had its explosive moments, there weren't enough to consistently move the chains.

Following the loss of a couple of difference-makers up front, the Wildcats were toothless on defense, ranking 122nd in Adj. Sack Rate and 121st in stuff rate. There was no havoc whatsoever. It felt like this was unintentionally a bend-don't-break defense, only it gave up too many big plays.

It just didn't feel like Kentucky had the talent necessary to do damage in the SEC.

Stoops hasn't found a set of offensive coaches he trusts yet (he brought in a couple more new ones this year), and while he was a successful defensive coordinator, he has not yet fielded even a top-50 defense, per Def. S&P+.

Recruiting has fallen into the mid-30s (still solid, considering the record), and UK's preseason S&P+ projection is the worst in the SEC. This has gone from hopeful to dire awfully quickly.

If that 2014 class begins to develop, however, Stoops could still right the ship. Of the six 247 four-star recruits he signed in 2014, five could become either starters or key contributors this year: quarterback Drew Barker, Williams (the only signee who has truly played like a four-star thus far), defensive linemen Denzil Ware and Matt Elam, and defensive back Darius West.

If the offense improves, it will likely be because Barker and a trio of 2014 receivers (Dorian Baker, Garrett Johnson, Blake Bone) developed a strong rapport to complement Williams. If the defense improves, odds are good that an improved line led by not only Elam and Ware but also 2014er Adrian Middleton (and maybe Tymere Dubose, too) led the way.

The 2014 class was the reason we all thought we Stoops was maybe onto something. And now the 2014 class will have to save a foundering program.

I don't want to call this a make-or-break year, because I don't think Stoops is in danger of getting fired (barring some 1-11 debacle), but UK fell off-track in a major way. It's hard to imagine things working out well for Stoops unless we begin to see some serious hints of progress this year.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 5-7 | Adj. Record: 4-8 | Final F/+ Rk: 91 | Final S&P+ Rk: 95
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep UL-Lafayette 104 40-33 W 68% 90% +0.2 -10.0
12-Sep at South Carolina 88 26-22 W 28% 23% +20.8 +11.5
19-Sep Florida 27 9-14 L 22% 4% -0.2 -2.0
26-Sep Missouri 75 21-13 W 70% 92% +15.4 +5.0
3-Oct Eastern Kentucky N/A 34-27 W 41% 69% -16.2
15-Oct Auburn 33 27-30 L 54% 58% -2.4 -1.0
24-Oct at Mississippi State 16 16-42 L 9% 0% -11.6 -14.5
31-Oct Tennessee 18 21-52 L 10% 0% -22.0 -22.0
7-Nov at Georgia 30 3-27 L 7% 0% -6.9 -10.0
14-Nov at Vanderbilt 83 17-21 L 48% 61% +6.6 -1.0
21-Nov Charlotte 124 58-10 W 90% 100% +34.4 +23.5
28-Nov Louisville 39 24-38 L 15% 1% -4.2 -10.0

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 23.2 104 30.1 80
Points Per Game 24.7 95 27.4 69

2. Winning on the road comes last

I'm writing a book. It's about 50 of the most interesting college football teams of all time; the 1993 Wisconsin Rose Bowl team made the list.

I bring this up not because the Badgers were, like UK, led by a successful former defensive coordinator (former Notre Dame DC Barry Alvarez), but because a) I recently finished this chapter and it's fresh in my mind, and b) in the early years under Alvarez, Wisconsin was dragged down by its road performances. The Badgers were 1-11 away from Camp Randall in Alvarez's first three seasons and fell just short of bowl bids in his second and third years (both 5-6 campaigns).

So ... Kentucky to the Rose Bowl this year then? Probably not. Wisconsin's third season under Alvarez was full of clear potential and close calls -- the 1992 Badgers beat Ohio State and lost three road games by a combined 10 points, while 2015 Kentucky's best win was against Missouri by eight points at home, and the only decent road performances were against South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

  • UK on the road:
    Record: 1-3 | Average percentile performance: 23% (~top 100) | Yards per play: Opp 6.2, UK 5.0 (-1.2)
  • UK at home:
    Record: 4-4 | Average percentile performance: 46% (~top 70) | Yards per play: UK 5.7, Opp 5.2 (+0.5)

Still, Alvarez's tenure is a reminder that a) it takes a while to build talent when you inherit a down program, and b) good road performances are often the last piece of the puzzle. Kentucky fans can hope, anyway.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.26 65 IsoPPP+ 100.2 66
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 37.4% 108 Succ. Rt. + 97.8 82
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 32.0 111 Def. FP+ 31.0 95
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.4 65 Redzone S&P+ 104.0 57
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.7 ACTUAL 22 +2.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 89 75 82 66
RUSHING 79 42 52 40
PASSING 79 91 96 89
Standard Downs 91 86 91
Passing Downs 43 68 43
Q1 Rk 40 1st Down Rk 61
Q2 Rk 110 2nd Down Rk 43
Q3 Rk 48 3rd Down Rk 75
Q4 Rk 28

3. A Cincinnati offense

After a one-year experiment with a spread-like offense that didn't really take, Stoops looked a little bit north for help in installing his third offense in three years. Now offensive coordinator Eddie Gran and quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw (also listed as co-coordinator), imports from the University of Cincinnati, will attempt to deliver Stoops his first decent offense.

Cincinnati's offense had quite a bit of upside. The Bearcats were dynamic at throwing, ranking 23rd in Passing S&P+ while balancing efficiency with explosiveness. The run game didn't produce enough big plays to be reliable, but with former blue-chipper Gunner Kiel, UC's offense was one of the better in the mid-major universe.

Kentucky has its own former blue-chipper in charge. Barker took the starting job from Patrick Towles last year, which resulted in Towles transferring to Boston College. The problem: Barker didn't have a chance to show much upside. Towles' battles with mistake throws got him replaced -- he was maddening in his ability to make a few consecutive great throws, then ruin the progress with an interception or a poor throw. But he was also able to occasionally deliver a big play or two. His 11.7 yards per completion weren't great, but they were better than Barker's 10.4.

No matter. It's Barker's job now, and he's still only a sophomore. Maybe Hinshaw's the guy to tap into the potential.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Patrick Towles 183 326 2148 9 14 56.1% 25 7.1% 5.7
Drew Barker 6'3, 225 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9425 35 70 364 1 2 50.0% 5 6.7% 4.4
Stephen Johnson 6'2, 183 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8115
Gunnar Hoak 6'4, 200 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8485

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Stanley Boom Williams RB 5'9, 196 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.8983 121 855 6 7.1 10.6 41.3% 3 1
Jojo Kemp RB 5'10, 200 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8607 98 555 6 5.7 5.5 42.9% 1 0
Mikel Horton RB 6'1, 230 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8812 82 318 3 3.9 3.8 30.5% 3 2
Patrick Towles QB 46 223 5 4.8 4.2 39.1% 1 0
Drew Barker QB 6'3, 225 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9425 20 77 1 3.9 3.1 35.0% 0 0
Sihiem King RB 5'9, 172 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8439 11 127 1 11.5 12.5 54.5% 0 0
Will Thomas Collins FB 5'11, 241 Sr. NR NR
Benjamin Snell, Jr. RB 5'11, 211 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8482







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Dorian Baker WR 6'3, 208 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8558 96 55 608 57.3% 26.6% 6.3 57.3% 41.7% 1.29
Garrett Johnson WR 5'11, 175 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8550 80 46 694 57.5% 22.2% 8.7 53.8% 43.8% 1.76
Jeff Badet WR 6'0, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8433 49 29 430 59.2% 13.6% 8.8 57.1% 42.9% 1.91
Blake Bone WR 6'5, 213 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8646 28 20 210 71.4% 7.8% 7.5 50.0% 60.7% 1.05
Ryan Timmons WR 5'10, 198 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8668 24 12 114 50.0% 6.6% 4.8 50.0% 25.0% 1.69
Stanley Boom Williams RB 5'9, 196 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.8983 22 13 74 59.1% 6.1% 3.4 45.5% 27.3% 0.95
C.J. Conrad TE 6'5, 245 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8988 21 15 149 71.4% 5.8% 7.1 57.1% 47.6% 1.38
Mikel Horton RB 6'1, 230 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8812 10 10 140 100.0% 2.8% 14.0 40.0% 70.0% 1.76
Charles Walker WR 5'11, 203 Jr. NR NR 10 5 61 50.0% 2.8% 6.1 20.0% 40.0% 1.24
Jojo Kemp RB 5'10, 200 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8607 7 4 12 57.1% 1.9% 1.7 42.9% 14.3% 1.29
Sihiem King RB 5'9, 172 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8439 5 4 6 80.0% 1.4% 1.2 60.0% 0.0% 0.00
Alexander Montgomery WR 6'2, 210 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8313 4 3 18 75.0% 1.1% 4.5 75.0% 50.0% 0.96
Greg Hart (Nebraska) TE 6'5, 245 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8503
Darryl Long TE 6'4, 246 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8600
Jabari Greenwood WR 6'3, 195 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8681
Tavin Richardson WR 6'3, 216 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8481
Dakota Holtzclaw WR 6'7, 216 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8518








4. Continuity where you need it

59.4 percent, 57.1 percent, 61.4 percent. Those are the success rates for Kiel's top three targets (Shaq Washington, Chris Moore, Max Morrison) last year at UC. Kentucky's top three targets last year: 41.7, 43.8, 42.9.

Because of Towles' inconsistency, the quarterback change, etc., the passing game was woefully inefficient, which is a problem when you've got at least a slight pass-first offense. It's also a problem when you've got a weapon like Boom Williams but can't free him much because opponents don't respect your other weapons.

The goal for Gran is simple: Deliver just enough efficiency with your passing game that you can take advantage of Williams' immense upside. He is one of the best in the country when he gets to the second level of a defense, and success elsewhere will open up that many more second-level chances. (Williams' backup, senior JoJo Kemp also has wheels. And sophomore Sihiem King, too.)

If nothing else, continuity will be a boon here. The receiving corps loses no one of consequence, and the top seven returning wideouts are all juniors and seniors. Speedy Garrett Johnson has big-play potential, and there is nice diversity in this unit -- Dorian Baker and Blake Bone are big possession types, while Johnson, Jeff Badet, and Ryan Timmons are all smaller speedster types. And tight end C.J. Conrad is only a sophomore -- as with Barker, there's plenty of time for him to develop the four-star potential he was supposed to have.

UK's passing game doesn't have to produce Cincinnati numbers for this offense to do some damage, but if it can improve from 91st in Passing S&P+ into at least the 50s or 60s, it could stretch defenses out just enough to unleash Williams and his compadres in the backfield.

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 96 2.6 2.82 38.8% 62.2% 23.9% 86.8 6.2% 8.2%
Rank 91 109 103 71 89 113 82 88 84
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Jon Toth C 6'5, 310 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8370 12 35
Jordan Swindle LT 11 34
Zach West LG 3 33
Ramsey Meyers RG 6'4, 305 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8351 12 24
Nick Haynes LG 6'3, 316 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8088 9 10
Kyle Meadows RT 6'5, 300 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8631 9 10
George Asafo-Adjei RG 6'5, 315 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8751 3 3
Cole Mosier LT 6'6, 335 Jr. NR NR 1 3
Zach Myers RG 6'3, 305 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8338 0 1
Jervontius Stallings RG 6'3, 318 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8206 0 0
Logan Stenberg LG 6'6, 318 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8587

Mason Wolfe RT 6'6, 305 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8160

Tate Leavitt LT 6'6, 310 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.8833

Landon Young LT 6'7, 305 Fr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9609

Luke Fortner LG 6'6, 305 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8274

Drake Jackson C 6'2, 302 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9331

5. Recruiting? [ x ] Improvement? [    ]

The line protected its quarterbacks better in 2015, or at least benefited from quicker passing. After ranking 106th in Adj. Sack Rate, the Wildcats improved to a still-shaky 82nd.

The run blocking, however, cratered. Injuries had a role -- only two players started all 12 games, and three-year starter Zach West only appeared in the starting lineup three times. Five freshmen and sophomores started in at least one game.

In theory, the line could improve dramatically this fall. Six of the eight players who started at least one game last year are back. Second, in come the reinforcements: four-star JUCO Tate Leavitt, blue-chip freshman Landon Young, and four-star freshman Drake Jackson all could join the rotation, giving UK a nice balance between upside and experience.

The main problem: UK could improve into the 70s in both primary line categories (Adj. Line Yards, Adj. Sack Rate), and that would represent significant improvement. The bar's pretty low here, but hey, that means UK will almost certainly clear it.

SIGN UP FOR OUR COLLEGE FOOTBALL NEWSLETTER

Get all kinds of college football stories, rumors, game coverage, and Jim Harbaugh oddity in your inbox every day.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.18 27 IsoPPP+ 89.2 101
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 44.2% 94 Succ. Rt. + 86.8 113
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 27.6 113 Off. FP+ 27.9 103
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.0 29 Redzone S&P+ 91.1 104
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.2 ACTUAL 20.0 -1.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 59 109 113 101
RUSHING 97 99 109 87
PASSING 28 109 107 109
Standard Downs 115 113 112
Passing Downs 98 113 85
Q1 Rk 49 1st Down Rk 95
Q2 Rk 116 2nd Down Rk 104
Q3 Rk 111 3rd Down Rk 94
Q4 Rk 95

6. Why does the defense still stink?

Stoops was a strong coordinator, albeit in defense-friendly situations. Under brother Mike (himself a successful DC) at Arizona, he produced a No. 15 ranking in Def. S&P+ in 2006 and No. 26 in 2009. In three years as Florida State's DC (2010-12), his Seminole attack was in the top 10 each year.

At Kentucky thus far, his Wildcat defense has ranked 89th, 51st, and 80th. The 2014 defense was able to exploit a nice passing downs pass rush, though if the opposing quarterback was able to stay upright, the pass was probably going to be successful.

Without 2014's ace pass rushers, Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith, UK went back to square one. The line was one of the least disruptive in the country, and with a new batch of youngsters in the secondary, the Wildcats really weren't good at anything.

If that's going to change, we'll see signs this year. The secondary now features four sophomores who made at least 14.5 tackles last year, and one of them (big corner Chris Westry) showed potential, albeit while getting burned a lot too. But sophomore safety Mike Edwards underwent trial by fire, and it's certainly not too late for Edwards and fellow sophomore Darius West to prove recruiting services right.

The front seven, though, could tamp down the upside. Injuries didn't help this unit, but it was dreadful regardless, and now the line must replace three of last year's top five tacklers while the linebacking corps replaces its top four.

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 88.2 3.10 3.69 35.8% 78.3% 14.2% 59.3 2.6% 6.1%
Rank 114 96 112 36 117 121 122 116 88
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Cory Johnson DT 11 47.0 6.7% 8.0 2.0 1 1 1 1
Farrington Huguenin DE 12 38.5 5.5% 4.0 1.5 0 2 0 0
Denzil Ware RUSH 6'2, 255 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.9051 12 30.5 4.4% 5.5 1.0 0 0 1 0
Regie Meant DT 6'4, 302 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8181 10 22.5 3.2% 1.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Jabari Johnson RUSH 12 19.0 2.7% 2.0 0.5 0 0 0 0
Matt Elam NG 6'7, 360 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.9272 12 16.5 2.4% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Melvin Lewis DT 6 14.0 2.0% 2.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Courtney Miggins DE 6'5, 285 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8800 11 8.5 1.2% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Adrian Middleton DT 6'3, 303 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8635 4 5.5 0.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Daron Blaylock RUSH 11 5.0 0.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jacob Hyde NG 6'2, 320 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8544
Alvonte Bell DE 6'5, 260 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8107
Kengera Daniel DE 6'5, 260 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8575
Tymere Dubose NG 6'5, 320 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8322
De'Niro Laster RUSH 6'4, 241 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8487
Naquez Pringle DT 6'3, 330 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8056
Jordan Bonner RUSH 6'5, 220 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8606
Kordell Looney DT 6'3, 285 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8462

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Josh Forrest MLB 12 66.0 9.5% 6.0 3.5 2 5 1 0
Khalid Henderson WLB 11 48.0 6.9% 6.5 2.0 1 2 1 0
Ryan Flannigan WLB 9 39.0 5.6% 0.5 0.0 0 2 0 0
Jason Hatcher SLB
9 28.0 4.0% 5.5 2.0 0 3 0 0
Jordan Jones WLB 6'2, 220 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8782 8 6.5 0.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Courtney Love
(Nebraska)
MLB 6'2, 242 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8762 12 5.0 0.7% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Josh Allen SLB 6'5, 230 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7967 12 2.5 0.4% 1.5 0.5 0 1 0 0
Kobie Walker SLB 6'3, 215 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8690
Nico Firios MLB 6'2, 242 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8541
Eli Brown WLB 6'2, 215 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9006
Kash Daniel MLB 6'1, 241 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8948
Jaylin Bannerman LB 6'5, 218 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8487
Roland Walder WLB 6'3, 215 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8465
Jamar "Boogie" Watson SLB 6'3, 234 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8182








7. Another front-seven reset

Sophomore rush end Denzil Ware managed 5.5 tackles for loss as a freshman. Sophomore linebacker Josh Allen was only on the field long enough to make 2.5 tackles but made 1.5 behind the line and broke up a pass. Sophomore tackle Adrian Middleton saw decent rotation time in the middle of the season.

You have to squint, but you can find at least a little bit of potential in certain young members of the front seven. Plus, this has been a recruiting priority, so there might be plenty of newcomers with upside. But it's been a double-dip recession of sorts up front, with the only known difference-makers departing for the second straight year. Though some of these pieces could become useful, depth is an obvious issue, bordering on either problematic or terrifying.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
A.J. Stamps FS 12 52.0 7.5% 0.5 0 1 8 0 0
Marcus McWilson SS 6'0, 210 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8999 11 49.0 7.0% 1.5 1 0 2 1 0
Mike Edwards SS 6'0, 200 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8888 12 32.0 4.6% 2 0 1 2 1 0
Chris Westry CB 6'4, 195 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8469 12 29.5 4.2% 1.5 1 2 8 0 0
Blake McClain FS 5'11, 200 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8181 12 25.0 3.6% 1 0 0 5 1 0
J.D. Harmon CB 6'2, 200 Sr. NR NR 12 20.5 2.9% 0 0 3 2 1 0
Derrick Baity CB 6'3, 182 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8432 12 16.5 2.4% 1 0 0 2 0 0
Cody Quinn CB 10 16.0 2.3% 1 0 0 2 0 0
Darius West FS 6'0, 206 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9067 10 14.5 2.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Kendall Randolph CB 6'0, 182 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8768 9 8.5 1.2% 0.5 0 0 1 0 0
Fred Tiller CB 7 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jared Tucker CB 5'11, 175 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8487
Marcus Walker FS 6'1, 202 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8764
Kei Beckham DB 5'11, 175 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8634
Jordan Griffin CB 6'0, 177 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8811
Tobias Gilliam CB 5'11, 185 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8543
Davonte Robinson CB 6'2, 187 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8440








8. Fewer worries, relatively speaking

Granted, for the number of four-star DBs Stoops has signed, this has been quite the two-star secondary during his tenure. But it really was a young unit last year, and unlike the front seven, it had quite a few youngsters who showed more than simple hints of potential.

Westry could be a tough nut for offenses to crack in the coming years, and with eight of last year's top 10 back, continuity should be Kentucky's friend here, just as it will be at WR. Kentucky's pass defense was woeful last year, but while one of the two reasons for that (an awful pass rush) won't be any better, at least youth will be less of an issue. Probably.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Landon Foster 61 40.3 2 16 10 42.6%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Austin MacGinnis 5'10, 180 Jr. 37 61.5 14 0 37.8%
Miles Butler 5'9, 171 So. 25 59.6 2 0 8.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Austin MacGinnis 5'10, 180 Jr. 22-23 9-10 90.0% 4-7 57.1%
Miles Butler 5'9, 171 So. 11-12 3-3 100.0% 1-1 100.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Sihiem King KR 5'9, 172 So. 23 21.7 0
J.D. Harmon KR 6'2, 200 Sr. 4 32.0 0
Ryan Timmons PR 5'10, 198 Sr. 8 7.4 0
Charles Walker PR 5'11, 203 Jr. 3 7.3 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 40
Field Goal Efficiency 34
Punt Return Success Rate 48
Kick Return Success Rate 83
Punt Success Rate 59
Kickoff Success Rate 85

9. When decent isn't enough

Kentucky had the worst field position margin in the SEC (minus-4.4 yards per possession) and one of the worst in the country (113th), but that was mostly because of offensive mistakes and defensive misery. Special teams did its best to make up some of the difference; UK was decent in both punts and punt returns, and Austin MacGinnis and Mile Butler were perfectly solid in the place-kicking department.

Of course, kickoff returns were poor (which is a problem when you're allowing a lot of scores), and kickoffs weren't particularly impressive either.

Punter Landon Foster is gone, which could hurt a little since he was better than average, but at the very least the return of MacGinnis/Butler and a decent punt returner in Ryan Timmons should make sure this remains a decent unit. But unless the defense improves, "decent" won't do much.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep Southern Miss 72 0.3 51%
10-Sep at Florida 19 -20.4 12%
17-Sep New Mexico State 117 14.5 80%
24-Sep South Carolina 63 -1.7 46%
1-Oct at Alabama 1 -32.7 3%
8-Oct Vanderbilt 69 -0.7 48%
22-Oct Mississippi State 21 -12.5 24%
29-Oct at Missouri 47 -11.0 26%
5-Nov Georgia 15 -15.1 19%
12-Nov at Tennessee 9 -22.9 9%
19-Nov Austin Peay NR 40.6 99%
26-Nov at Louisville 20 -20.3 12%
Projected wins: 4.3
Five-Year F/+ Rk -15.6% (92)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 36 / 32
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -2 / 1.5
2015 TO Luck/Game -1.5
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 62% (62%, 61%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 5.0 (0.0)

10. This would be a good time to exceed your projections

Last year wrecked whatever upward trajectory Kentucky had developed. That might seem like a strange thing to say after a second straight 5-7 finish, but the Wildcats were more tenuous and less impressive last year, especially after the first month of the season.

Now things look like 2014 was a happy blip. And it's up to Stoops, his new hires, and his 2014 class to rectify things.

If they don't, 2016 will be awfully long. The first half of the season does feature three tossups among a likely win and two likely losses, so it's possible that UK will again post a decent early record. But after Vanderbilt leaves town on October 8, the Wildcats will face five games as a double-digit underdog in their last six contests. Yikes.

Winning tossups won't be enough, in other words. Kentucky's simply going to have to be a much better program than the numbers suggest. If Stoops' new offensive hires hit their mark, and if the passing game clicks like it seems it could on paper, then maybe things will be fine. But UK lost the statistical benefit of the doubt last year.