Coach: Mark Stoops, seventh season (36-39 overall, all at Kentucky).
Last season: 10-3 overall, 5-3 in the SEC (T-2nd in the East). Defeated Penn State 27-24 in the Citrus Bowl.
Last year’s game: The losing (or winning) streak had to end at some point, and this turned out to be the night. Physically dominated up front on both sides of the ball, the Gators were pushed around in a 27-16 loss that snapped their 31-game winning streak against the Wildcats. Running back Benny Snell led the way for the ’Cats, rushing for 175 yards as UK piled up 451 total yards.
Starters returning: 10 (6 offense, 4 defense).
Strengths: UK has an experienced quarterback now in the dual-threat Terry Wilson, who rushed for 547 yards and passed for 1,889 last season. He has a potential big-time playmaker at receiver to go to in Lynn Bowden, who caught 67 passes last season for 745 yards and five touchdowns. Wilson will be operating behind a solid line that has 57 career starts returning.
Possible problem areas: The Wildcats must replace their most dynamic players on offense and defense — running back Benny Snell and defensive end Josh Allen — and that’s not going to be easy. Only two starters return on the defensive line and just one at linebacker, so the Wildcats are going to be green up front. Same for the back end. The Wildcats have no cornerbacks on the roster who played a single snap last season, and there is only one member of the secondary with starting experience. There are questions across the board on defense, but the secondary is the biggest.
The schedule: The Wildcats get to ease into the season with back-to-back games against Toledo and Eastern Michigan. Then it’s on to SEC play against Florida at home. UK adds Mississippi State from the West, which will be a difficult road test a week after the UF game. The Wildcats travel to Georgia, but get Tennessee at home.
Quotable: “Coming off the first ten-win season we’ve had in 41 years, we want to continue to do the good things we’re doing, continue to build on the principles, practices, and systems that we’ve done to get us to that point. We’re not interested in just having one good team or one good year. We’re interested in building a program. And that’s what we’re doing.” — Mark Stoops