The Kentucky Wildcats had a disappointing second year under head coach Joker Phillips going 5-7. One of the few bright spots during the season was ending a26 year losing streak to Tennessee. This year's Kentucky team will try to get back to the postseason but will have to navigate a moderately difficult schedule to do so. Joker Phillips enters his third year in Lexington with an 11-14 career record and a decent amount of starters returning from last year's squad. If the Wildcats can catch a few breaks, they definitely have a shot at getting to the magical 6 wins required for postseason play.
The Kentucky offense returns 6 starters on a unit that finished ranked 118th in total offense, 90th in rushing offense, and 114th in passing offense. Sophomore Maxwell Smith should get the starting job this year at quarterback after starting three games last year and playing in eight total. Smith threw for 819 yards, 4 touchdowns and 4 interceptions in his 8 games of experience as a freshman. Maxwell Smith looked to be the leader for the starting job coming out of spring training. If Smith is unable to get the job done, senior Morgan Newton will be able to step into the starting job. Newton threw for 793 yards, 8 touchdowns and 7 interceptions while running for 272 yards and 2 touchdowns. Senior running back CoShik Williams returns at starter for the Wildcats after running for 486 yards and 3 touchdowns last year. Williams emerged as a tough runner and started the final five games for the Wildcats after injuries decimated the running back position last year. Williams is joined by sophomore Josh Clemons who rushed for 279 yards and 2 touchdowns last year. If these two can stay healthy, they should help get the Kentucky running game out of the bottom third statistically in the nation. The Kentucky wide receiver corps sees La'Rod King and E.J. Fields return as starters with Gene McCaskill starting at the third slot. King led the team with 598 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns last year while Fields had 89 yards and 1 touchdown and McCaskill had 85 yards and 1 touchdown. It's obvious that the numbers are going to have to improve on the 114th ranked passing game if the Wildcats are going to improve their record but they do have the talent there to get it done. The offensive line returns two starters in senior center Matt Smith and senior right guard Larry Warford. These two will be helping redshirt freshman Zach West at left guard, junior Kevin Mitchell who moves from left guard to right tackle, and sophomore Darrian Miller at Left Tackle. This unit will need to come together quickly if the Wildcat offense is going to have any success.
The Kentucky defense returns 5 starters on a unit that was ranked 58th in total defense, 87th in rushing defense, and 21st in passing defense. The Wildcats return 3 out of 4 starters on their defensive line with senior defensive end Collins Ukwu, junior defensive tackle Mister Cobble, and junior defensive tackle Donte Rumph. These three combined for 92 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. Sophomore Alvin Dupree will start at the other defensive end position. Dupree had 21 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. If they can improve upon those numbers for last year and keep the linebackers clean from blocks it will tremendously help this defensive unit. The linebacking corps for the Wildcats will be a group of players that have had playing experience but no starting experience. Led by junior mike linebacker Avery Williamson, sophomore will linebacker Malcolm McDuffen and sophomore sam linebacker Miles Simpson will need to mature quickly to shore up the middle. Williamson was the fifth leading tackler on the team with 49 tackles. This young, inexperienced linebacking crew is going to rely heavily on the front four to open up holes for them to apply pressure to the opposition's quarterback and running backs. The Kentucky secondary will have two returning starters at the safety positions and two new startes at the corner positions. Senior safeties Martavius Neloms and Mikie Benton will direct traffic in the secondary. Neloms had 71 tackles last year and 1 interception whle Benton had 28 tackles. These two will make sure that redshirt freshman Marcus Caffey and senior Cartier Rice know where to be and what coverage to be in. Cartier had some playing time last year and recorded 9 tackles. This defensive unit has a great front four and will need them to help control the line of scrimmage while the linebackers and secondary break in new starters.
Kentucky's schedule for next year will be a moderately tough one. The opening game at Louisville will go a long way in determining the progress of the Wildcats. After the road trip to Louisville, home games against Kent State and Western Kentucky should have the Wildcats at least at 2-1. After that, the Wildcats play a brutal seven game SEC stretch. They go to Gainesville to play Florida on September 22nd. AFter that game, they are home for South Carolina and Mississippi State. On October 13th, they travel to Arkansas and then the following week come back home to play Georgia. On October 27th, they head up to Missouri to play the newest addition to the SEC East. They then finish their brutal stretch with a home game against Vanderbilt. I honestly do not see a win for them during that stretch. They may be able to catch a team that is looking ahead to the next game but I can see them going 0-7 during this stretch. They then get a bye week on November 10th before having a late homecoming against Samford and finally finishing up at Tennessee. I think that Tennessee is the only winnable SEC game on their schedule right now. I could be wrong and this Wildcat team could surprise a good number of folks but I see this Kentucky team going 4-8 with wins against Kent State, Western Kentucky, Samford, and Tennessee.