Kentucky hit rock bottom with a 2-10 record last season. As a result of the dismal year, Joker Phillips was fired, and Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops was hired to take over the top spot in Lexington.
Stoops hired an excellent coaching staff, which includes former Texas Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown, as well as Florida State assistant D.J. Eliot.
Stoops has a stellar recruiting class on the way, but Kentucky still lags behind the rest of the conference in overall talent. The Wildcats return 10 starters from last year’s team, but only end Bud Dupree, tackle Donte Rumph and linebacker Avery Williamson have garnered preseason all-conference consideration.
Kentucky faces an uphill battle in 2013, and progress may not be noticeable in the win column. A non-conference game against Western Kentucky in the season opener isn’t a guaranteed win, while crossover games with SEC West opponents Alabama and Mississippi State are likely losses.
While the future is bright in Kentucky, the Wildcats may struggle just to get to three or four wins in 2013.
What will Kentucky's record at the end of the 2013 regular season? Athlon’s panel of experts debates:
Kentucky's 2013 Game-by-Game Predictions
8/31 Western Kentucky
9/7 Miami (Ohio)
10/5 at South Carolina
10/24 at Mississippi State
11/2 Alabama State
11/16 at Vanderbilt
11/23 at Georgia
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Mark Stoops has done everything right for Kentucky so far. But now comes the hard part. The Wildcats were outgained by 169 yards per game in SEC play last season and only one conference loss was by 10 points or less. Kentucky has some pieces to work with, including on defense with ends Bud Dupree, Jason Hatcher and Za’Darius Smith. But this unit doesn’t have the depth to consistently compete in the SEC in 2013. The offense will be better under the direction of new coordinator Neal Brown, and there are three promising candidates to start at quarterback. The biggest question mark on offense will be finding playmakers, especially at receiver where the top returning option is Demarco Robinson (28 catches). I have Kentucky finishing 3-9, but I could see this team winning one in SEC play. Stoops has an excellent recruiting class on the way, and it’s all about showing progress in 2013. Even if the Wildcats fail to win a game in the SEC, I expect this team will be more competitive against their conference brethren.
Do I think Kentucky is headed in the right direction under Mark Stoops? Yes, but let's not kid ourselves here, this Wildcats program has a long way to go to return to the days of five straight bowl games from 2006-10. It will take Stoops some time to mold this program to his liking and, more importantly, gather the necessary talent and depth to compete in the SEC on a consistent basis. That's what happens when you lose two of your best offensive players (guard Larry Warford, wide receiver LaRod King) from a team that went 2-10 and your starting quarterback (Jalen Whitlow) accounted for a grand total of six touchdowns last season. The games with in-state foes Western Kentucky and Louisville make the non-conference schedule challenging to begin with and then SEC play opens with Florida, South Carolina and Alabama? Simply surpassing last year's win total and clawing out a win in conference should be considered a moral victory for this season. Better days are ahead for UK's football team, just not in 2013.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
I’ll buy stock in Mark Stoops for his long-term prospects at Kentucky, but not for 2013. Who put together this schedule? From Sept. 14-Oct. 12, Kentucky faces the defending national champs, the Sugar Bowl participants and a top-10 team on the road. Kentucky’s just doesn’t have the talent to compete in the SEC, and the real problem is that the Wildcats are really the only ones in this category. Vanderbilt has distanced itself from Kentucky in a big way. Mississippi State and Ole Miss (the latter of which isn’t on UK’s schedule) aren’t doormats anymore. Kentucky’s real statements are going to have to be against Western Kentucky (who defeated UK in overtime last season) and Miami (Ohio). Lose those games and Kentucky runs the risk of losing to every FBS team on the schedule. After that, Kentucky has to hope it has enough pieces like Bud Dupree and Donte Rumph up front to put a scare into Missouri or Vandy late in the season. Other than that, the season is pretty bleak.
Josh Ward, (@Josh_Ward), Mr. SEC
It’s been a successful offseason for Kentucky, which has put together one of the nation’s top recruiting classes for 2014. Unfortunately, none of those players are available. It will likely be a difficult season for Kentucky, which has a promising coaching staff but a depleted roster. Still, Kentucky fans shouldn’t give up hope. What if the Wildcats force a few turnovers at home against Louisville? Road games against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt won’t be easy, but they’re winnable. Missouri and Tennessee are both coming off losing seasons and have to travel to Lexington. Kentucky’s defense will rely on a strong line and one of the league’s top linebackers in Avery Williamson. If the Wildcats get consistent (and healthy) play at quarterback, they might surprise a team or two.
SEC Logo (@SEC_Logo)
Good bye Joker. Hiring a defensive minded head coach like Mark Stoops is a step in the right direction for Kentucky. He is surprising on the recruiting trail for 2014, even giving the state of Ohio a run. Getting 50,000 people to your spring game, not too shabby. With all that said you are bringing back an offence that ranked 119th and a defense that was 86th in the nation last year. I don’t see success in Mark’s first year, but all the signs say he’s doing everything right. With four new head coaches in the SEC, someone has to rise to the top of the pile. Name to remember: Alvin Dupree, LB
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