Head Coach: Mark Stoops
2014 record: 5-7 overall, 2-6 SEC East
2014 Postseason results: None
2015 returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense
Odds to win 2016 College Football Championship game: 800/1
Odds to win 2015 SEC Championship Game: 105/1
Odds to Win 2015 SEC East Division: 17/1
Regular season wins: over 5 -130 /under 5 +100
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Last year, the Kentucky Wildcats began the season 5-1, needing only one win in the last six games to go to a bowl for the first time since 2010. However, the schedule was much tougher in the second half and Kentucky would lose six straight games to finish 5-7. The Wildcats did lose to Florida early in the season in triple overtime and to rival Louisville by 4 points in the season finale. Every other loss was by 10 points or more, including being outscored 154-50 combined by LSU, Georgia and Tennessee in ugly blowout losses.
Twelve starters are back for coach Mark Stoops now in his third season. He has gone 7-17 in two seasons as the head coach and a bowl berth is the goal in 2015.
Kentucky averaged 384 yards per game on offense, including 231 passing and 153 rushing yards. The Wildcats averaged 29 points a game.
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown left to become the head coach at Troy. Stoops hired Shannon Dawson who had been the offensive coordinator at West Virginia. Dawson will run the so called “Air Raid” offense just like Brown. Six starters are back on offense.
Junior quarterback Patrick Towles completed 57.4% of his passes for 2,718 yards with 14 touchdowns and 9 interceptions, and also rushed for 305 yards on 146 carries with six touchdowns. Still, he has to compete to keep his starting job with redshirt freshman Drew Barker. The competition started in the spring and will continue into fall camp. Both quarterbacks could see action once the season starts.
Sophomore running back Stanley “Boom” Williams is back after rushing for 486 yards on 74 carries with 5 touchdowns, and making 17 catches for 162 yards and a touchdown. He had 3 touchdown runs of 50 yards or more last year. Braylon Heard has graduated after rushing for 368 yards and 4 touchdowns, and also making 21 catches. Jojo Kemp will be the back-up after rushing for 323 yards on 70 carries with 4 touchdowns, and making 3 catches. Kemp rushed for 131 yards with 3 touchdowns in an upset over South Carolina last year. Mikel Horton will also get some carries after rushing for 306 yards on 59 carries with 2 touchdowns. Towles led the team in carries by a wide margin last year and could do so again in 2015.
Junior receiver Ryan Timmons had 45 catches for 536 yards and 2 touchdowns last year. The rest of the top receivers are freshman or sophomores. Garrett Johnson, Dorian Baker and Blake Bone combined for 55 catches and 5 touchdowns last year. All three should get more targets in 2015. True freshman tight end C.J. Conrad has the potential to be a star immediately.
Four starters are back on the offensive line. The line gave up 34 sacks last year and struggled in run blocking as well. Still, Stoops expects the line to be deeper and more physical in 2015.
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Kentucky gave up 407 yards per game on defense last year, including 216 passing and 192 rushing yards. The Wildcats allowed 31 points a game. Kentucky forced 23 turnovers last year and only had 15 of their own. Six starters are back for coordinator D.J. Eliot.
Kentucky moves to a 3-4 base defense full time in 2015. The Wildcats lose starting ends Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith, who were integral parts of the defense. Senior nose tackle Melvin Lewis will anchor the line.
Jason Hatcher and Ryan Flannigan will headline the linebackers. Josh Forrest is officially the only returning starter in the unit but some players are playing at different positions.
Three starters are back in the secondary, including corners Cody Quinn and Fred Tiller. The duo have combined for 47 starts in their careers. Safety A.J. Stamps is also back after making 4 interceptions last year.
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Sophomore kicker Austin MacGinnis made 21 of 27 field goals last year and was a Freshman All-American. Punter Landon Foster averaged 42.6 yards per punt and landed 27 inside the 20. Williams will return kicks again and Garrett Johnson will return punts.
Kentucky has a chance to get off to a strong start again in 2015, with three home games against Louisiana-Lafayette, Florida and Missouri, and a road trip to South Carolina. The latter three will be tough but all three are rebuilding. October brings three more home games against Eastern Kentucky, Auburn and Tennessee, and a road trip to Mississippi State. In November, Kentucky travels to Georgia and Vanderbilt before hosting Charlotte and Louisville to end the season.
Kentucky should be better on both sides of the ball, but will it be enough to have a winning season? It is tough to tell. Besides rival Louisville, the non-conference schedule is pretty soft. Three conference wins would get the Wildcats to 6-6 and that sounds reasonable.
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