Kentucky finished with a respectable seven wins in 2017, but that was in large part due to an easy opening slate against weaker competition in both non-Conference and SEC play. The Wildcats closed with a home loss to Ole Miss, a demolition by a mediocre Louisville team and then fell to Northwestern in the bowl Game, a team that lost its starting quarterback early in the Game. OUtside of having to replace Stephen Johnson (10 TDs, 6 INTs) at quarterback, Kentucky has the pieces to reach another bowl even in what is expected to be an improved SEC East. That said, the Cats only have better spring odds than Vanderbilt in the division to win the National Championship (+75000 at 5Dimes Sportsbook).
Quarterback will likely be a question entering the fall with redshirt sophomore Gunnar Hoak and Oregon transfer Terry Wilson competing for the job. Neither did much to separate in the spring, which won’t make things easy on Mark Stoops. The good news for the offense is that Four starters return on the line and RB Benny Snell (1,333 yards, 19 TDs) is back for his junior season. In addition to Snell, Sihiem King should see more of the ball and A.J. Rose earned time after a solid spring. That may be enough to get the offense going, especially since Stephen Johnson didn’t really have many positives last year, meaning the new QBs can’t be much worse. Kentucky lost its top receivers, but Lynn Bowden is expected to make a jump after 17 receptions in his freshman season.
The offense should at least reach last season’s levels, which isn’t saying much, but to reach a bowl, the defense may have to be better after getting gashed for 263 yards per Game through the air. The secondary was destroyed by anyone that wanted to throw and that will have to change if this team wants to reach seven wins or more again.
To help, the Wildcats return their Four starters in the secondary with all of them seniors. While that group was exploited often last year, it helps that all of them have experience together. If that unit can improve, it’d take a weight off the front seven with Kash Daniel expected to takeover for COurtney Love at middle linebacker. The line returns most of its players in a 3-4 scheme that got to the quarterback plenty, partly because teams were pass-heavy against them. Senior Adrian Middleton is at the top of that list and could be in for a big season.
Kentucky starts with a mostly favorable Schedule outside of the trip to Florida. The Wildcats get two winnable non-Conference Games to go with home SEC contests against Miss. State and South Carolina. If all goes well, the Wildcats will have Four wins going into October. If not, they’ll likely be headed for five or six wins unless they can grab an upset either at home against Georgia or on the road at Texas A&M or Tennessee. With a new quarterback, it’s usually best to assume the worst, but with Snell still around to carry the offense, Kentucky should at least make a bowl Game again.
2018 Kentucky Wildcats Football Schedule
Sept. 1 vs. Central Michigan
Sept. 8 at Florida
Sept. 15 vs. Murray State
Sept. 22 vs. Mississippi State
Sept. 29 vs. South Carolina
Oct. 6 at Texas A&M
Oct. 20 vs. Vanderbilt
Oct. 27 at Missouri
Nov. 3 vs. Georgia
Nov. 10 at Tennessee
Nov. 17 vs. Middle Tennessee
Nov. 24 at Louisville