Kentucky Football: 2018 Wildcats Preview and Prediction

The Wildcats rank No. 55 in Athlon's Top 130 for 2018

Kentucky was two plays away -- against Florida and Ole Miss -- from winning six SEC games in 2017. That's the good news. The bad news: The Wildcats were outgained by nearly 75 yards per game in league play and lost four of their final five games overall. Even worse news: UK enters the season without a QB on its roster who has taken a D-I snap. The hope in Lexington is that Terry Wilson, a former Oregon Duck, can replicate the production of departed QB Stephen Johnson and that Benny Snell can continue his assault on the school's rushing records. Still, there are concerns at wide receiver, where no returning player caught more than 30 passes last year. The defense, with eight starters back, should be improved. If the Cats get solid QB play, it's safe to pencil in at least six wins and a return to a bowl.

 

Previewing Kentucky Football's Offense for 2018

 

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Kentucky's biggest question entering the 2018 season lies at its most important position: No quarterback on the roster has ever played in an FBS game.

 

Junior college transfer Terry Wilson, who began his career at Oregon, and sophomore Gunnar Hoak ended the spring as the leaders for the starting job. Hoak, a more traditional pro-style quarterback, has the benefit of two years with the playbook even though he has yet to make his collegiate debut. Wilson might be the better fit for the Wildcats' read-option offense thanks to his running ability.

 

Whoever wins the quarterback job should be boosted by a strong rushing attack anchored by star junior Benny Snell, the first player in program history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons, and a veteran offensive line that returns four starters. Snell could break the program's career rushing record with a strong junior season.

 

An inconsistent group of wide receivers will need to make major strides. Senior Dorian Baker, who missed the 2017 season with an ankle injury, junior Tavin Richardson and sophomore Lynn Bowden will be counted on to carry much of the load alongside potential All-SEC tight end C.J. Conrad.

 

Previewing Kentucky Football's Defense for 2018

 

Kentucky returns eight starters on defense, offering hope for improvement for a unit that ranked 92nd nationally in yards allowed per game last season. Two of those returning starters, senior outside linebacker Josh Allen and senior safety Mike Edwards, both considered entering the NFL Draft before ultimately deciding to spend another year in Lexington.

 

With Allen returning, Kentucky moved Josh Paschal from outside backer to end this spring in an effort to get its best 11 defenders on the field at the same time. Paschal should add a much-needed pass-rushing presence to the defensive line alongside sophomore nose guard Quinton Bohanna, who seized the starting job over two seniors as a freshman late in the 2017 season. However, the front seven could be tweaked in fall practice. Senior Denzil Ware - a projected starter at outside linebacker - left the team following spring practice. 

 

Senior weak-side linebacker Jordan Jones returns after a tumultuous 2017 season marred by injury and multiple off-field incidents. Still, Jones is just a year removed from totaling 109 tackles and 15.5 tackles for a loss as a sophomore. Depth on the inside is a concern.

 

A veteran secondary has yet to fulfill the hype that had coach Mark Stoops call the group "superstars in the making" after their freshman season, but the four seniors who generated that excitement have one more year to prove worthy of that praise. Edwards has more than held his own, leading all SEC defensive backs in tackles the last two seasons. Now Darius West, Derrick Baity, Chris Westry and Lonnie Johnson must match that level of play.

 

Previewing Kentucky Football's Specialists for 2018

 

Kentucky will likely turn to two 2018 signees, Chance Poore and Max Duffy, to replace Austin MacGinnis, the best kicker in program history, and Matt Panton at the two specialist positions this fall. Behind quarterback, placekicker might be the biggest question on the roster.

 

Final Analysis

 

If Kentucky can find a competent quarterback, there is enough experienced talent at the other positions to envision the Wildcats breaking through the seven-win plateau for the first time in the Stoops era. If not, the Wildcats could be in danger of taking a step back by either falling to a lesser bowl than the last two seasons or missing postseason play altogether.

 

NATIONAL RANKING: 55

SEC EAST PREDICTION: 5

Event Date: 
Thursday, May 24, 2018 - 12:50

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