Mark Stoops is 7-17 entering his third season as Kentucky's head coach. Stoops was hired during an SEC overhaul which also introduced the likes of Bret Bielema, Butch Jones and Gus Malzahn. Unlike the aforementioned, Stoops' teams have not achieved much success on the field. The Wildcats jumped out to a 5-1 start in 2014, upsetting South Carolina in the process, but failed to maintain momentum, as they lost six straight to finish the year. With three consecutive top-40 recruiting classes and an experienced roster, can Stoops get the Wildcats to a bowl game in 2015? If he doesn't, his seat will heat up in a hurry.
Kentucky's Five Biggest Fall Camp Storylines
1. Is Patrick Towles for Real?
It all starts with the quarterback and Kentucky returns a field general that turned some heads in 2014. But despite throwing for 2,718 yards and 14 touchdowns, questions remain about Towles' reliability. His impressive numbers last season were accompanied by nine interceptions and only a 57 percent completion rate. Redshirt freshman Drew Barker could provide relief if Towles struggles early in the season. Towles also showed some ability to elude pressure in 2014 with 303 rushing yards.
2. Trouble on the O-line
Speaking of Towles eluding defenders, most of his rushing yards came when he was running for his life. Kentucky's offensive line struggled mightily to protect the passer in the second half of the season, and in fact, has given up 71 sacks in Stoops' first two seasons. The Wildcats' offensive tackles will need to show marked improvement to fight off some of the nation's best pass rushers in the SEC East. An offseason of weight lifting should certainly help improve the unit's run blocking ability. Kentucky returns four starters up front.
3. A Solid Backfield
Stanley “Boom” Williams emerged as one of the SEC's most electrifying running backs last season. Williams led the team in rushing with 488 yards, including five touchdowns. He also accounted for 511 return yards, showing glimpses of elite speed, even amongst the SEC. Returning junior Jojo Kemp will assist Williams in the running game. Kemp accounted for 323 yards and four touchdowns on the ground in 2014.
4. Absence of Pass Rushers
Kentucky will be without defensive ends Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith in 2015. Dupree was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, while Smith went in the fourth round. The impact made by Dupree and Smith last season leaves the Wildcats with glaring holes to fill. They should be strong on the interior of the defensive line, but the pass rush will likely take a step back in 2015. Jason Hatcher returns as the most experienced defensive end and could be the bright spot in a difficult situation.
5. Overall Depth
The 2015 Wildcats will be, without a doubt, the most experienced group of players Stoops has had so far. The roster is comprised of mainly Stoops' recruits, so it should also be the most familiar group he has had. Kentucky returns seven starters on both offense and defense. Despite some questions on the offensive and defensive lines, the Wildcats return significant depth at most positions and have few holes to fill in comparison to other SEC teams. If Kentucky is to achieve success under Stoops, 2015 could be the year.