Head Coach: Mark Stoops
2018 Record: 10-3, 5-3 SEC
Bowl: 27-24 Winn over Penn State at Citrus Bowl
O/U 6.5 wins (O -160, U +130)
To Make Final 4: +15000
Kentucky is more than a basketball school now. After spending most of 2018 ranked and achieving double-digit wins, the expectations are realistic. While Kentucky loses Josh Allen, Benny Snell, and 12 other starters, it will attempt to retain some of that momentum that made it one of the surprise stories of last season. There is some great young talent to rebuild with, but it is almost certain there will be a fall-off from last season’s triumphs.
All-American recruits Kash Daniel, Landon Young, and Drake Jackson ensure excitement will again be found in Lexington in 2019, even if the O/U on wins is set 3.5 lower than last season’s total according to NCAA football futures oddsmakers at Bovada.
Kentucky loses several key offensive starters, including the most dominant running back in school history in Snell. The Wildcats will hope to achieve better balance without that dominant back rushing most plays. That requires QB Terry Wilson to improve, as he ranked No. 14 in passing yards in the SEC last year with just 145 per game. The wide receiver position will have to grow with him, as it lacks consistency outside of the brilliance of Lynn Bowden Jr.
Kentucky will still rush plenty to attempt to regain last season’s magic and also to keep a balance with the offense. It has worked for three seasons of improvement, and this year it will be largely reliant on three or four backs, the headliner of which is Asim “AJ” Rose. The junior averaged 6.2 yards-per-carry as the No. 2 back last season. The OL loses three starters, including an All-American, but it should be helped by Landon Young. He is a five-star recruit starting at left tackle, and he was held out all of last season with a knee injury that is now fully recovered.
Kentucky lost seven from its outstanding defense last year. The Wildcats lost its entire secondary, too. After ranking No. 6 in scoring defense (allowing just 16.8 points per game), Kentucky is due to regress at least some. The middle and interior is the strongest part that remains from that unit, and the inside linebacker and safety positions are well-covered. Defensive coordinator Brad White will hope to maintain at least some of what worked with a more experienced group last year.
At nose guard, Quinton Bohanna is the anchor and he is joined by DE Josh Paschal, who missed most of 2018 with skin cancer on his foot. Kash Daniel is the team captain and middle linebacker. Now a senior, he is hoping two sophomores (Chris Oats and DeAndre Square) are ready to join him in propelling this defense to a top SEC ranking again. As for the secondary, Kentucky will need its entire 2019 recruiting class to be ready fast. The recruits include six defensive backs and five outside linebackers.
At safety, Davonte Robinson and Jordan Griffin will start, and despite the lacking experience, they could be at least competent and good. Backing that pair up are JUCO transfer Brandin Echols and Quandre Mosley. Both of them will be counted on as the secondary tries to build some chemistry and continuity with all new faces.
Max Duffy ranked No. 6 in the SEC in punts last year with a 44.8 yard-per-kick average. Bowden Jr is a dynamite return option and he had two TDs on punt returns in 2018. The placekicking will be handled by either redshirt freshman Chance Moore or Miles Butler, both of whom come with their pros and cons. Butler ranked just 12th of 14 in SEC kickers with his 63 percent accuracy on field goals.
Kentucky certainly was a special feel-good story and the program made a tremendous turnaround over the last three seasons, but the time to rebuild has come as so many talents left the program. For all the criticism Kentucky took for being a one-man team (Snell), this will be its chance to show its program was more than a fluke driven by a supremely talented running back.
Prediction: 8 wins (over)