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Kentucky has had its chances to reach a bowl game the last couple years, starting off hot, but ultimately faltering in the second half of the season. Last year, the Wildcats closed the campaign losing six of their final seven games to finish with five wins. They were routinely blown out by the SEC's best with their only conference wins coming over South Carolina and Missouri. They'd like to change that trend this year.
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In an effort to get more consistency on the offensive end, Mark Stoops brought in a couple new faces to lead in Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw, who both have experience and success at a high level. To get things started, Stoops already announced that Drew Barker would be the starting quarterback out of the gates after leading the way in the spring scrimmage. QB play was a major issue last year as they tossed 10 TDs and 16 INTs as a team with Patrick Towles (326 pass attempts) and Barker (70 attempts) under center.
All signs point to the offense improving with Barker at the helm. Their top three receivers return in Garrett Johnson (694 yards), Dorian Baker (55 receptions) and Jeff Badet. Last year's running game was a highlight and the key names return in Stanley Williams (855 yards, 6 TDs), Jojo Kemp (6 TDs) and Sihiem King came out of nowhere in the scrimmage. To boost everything, UK will get four of its starting offensive linemen back. If the Wildcats don't improve on this side of the ball, it would be a major disappointment.
Defensively, there are bigger questions at hand with only four starters returning to an already mediocre group. The line looks to be fine with Matt Elam anchoring the center and Denzil Ware on the edges. Ware was unstoppable in the spring game with 12.5 tackles and four sacks. Linebacker is the biggest issue and the Wildcats are losing six of last year's top seven tacklers. That's not a recipe for success, but the secondary should be their best unit, so at the least they won't be completely gashed through the air.
Much like in previous years, it would be best for Kentucky to get off to a hot start before travelling to Alabama in early October. If they can win their first three home games, and give Florida a run for its money, the Wildcats will be in a decent position for a bowl invite. Of course, they'll need to pull off an upset somewhere, whether it's home to Mississippi State or on the road at Louisville in the finale.
Kentucky's offense will be improved, but the defense could be the major issue this season. The Wildcats will be right around the six-win mark again and will need an upset or two to reach that mark. A lot of that will fall on starting quarterback Drew Barker, who was just a redshirt freshman a year ago.
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2016 Kentucky Wildcats Football Schedule
Sept. 3 vs. Southern Miss
Sept 10 at Florida
Sept. 17 vs. New Mexico State
Sept. 24 vs. South Carolina
Oct. 1 at Alabama
Oct. 8 vs. Vanderbilt
Oct. 22 vs. Mississippi State
Oct. 29 at Missouri
Nov. 5 vs. Georgia
Nov. 12 at Tennessee
Nov. 19 vs. Austin Peay
Nov. 26 at Louisville
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