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Mark Stoops has the pieces in place for a special season

When Josh Allen and Mike Edwards announced their returns this week, there was an uncanny sense of “here we go” around the program. The football team was just a few crucial plays away from a historic season this past year, and with almost the entire roster back, both the fanbase and those within the program know the opportunity for a do-over is there.

The pieces are in place for a special season for the Kentucky Wildcats, and Mark Stoops has to capitalize on it.

The quarterback situation is interesting, as the starting job will either go to highly-touted newcomer Terry “Touchdown” Wilson, or Spring Game sensation Gunnar Hoak. Wilson is the fan-favorite, and the coaching staff said on National Signing Day that he had a major opportunity to start next year. Going into this past year, Darin Hinshaw said Hoak could have been a winning quarterback in the SEC. With an added year of experience and maturity, Hoak’s stable presence in the pocket could win out in the end. Regardless, there are two quarterbacks on the Kentucky roster with the ability to make an impact this season.

Dorian Baker, CJ Conrad, Benny Snell, and Lynn Bowden will be back for the offense, and the significance of that is obvious. Four incredible playmakers for the Cats, four guys that have the ability to put a ton of points on the board next season. The offense will be run by a new quarterback, and these four weapons alone will make life easier for him, regardless of who wins the job.

Baker was primed for a fantastic year before his season-ending injury, and he’s reportedly well ahead of schedule for next season. Conrad has the ability to be one of the best tight ends in college football, and Eddie Gran will almost certainly make him more of a focal point of the offense in his final year. Snell will continue to smash records at Kentucky and could find himself in the Heisman race with the national attention he received during the Music City Bowl. Bowden already showed signs of stardom in limited touches his freshman year, and that’s going to catapult forward next season.

Wide receivers Charles Walker, Garrett Johnson, Blake Bone, and Kayaune Ross are graduating, but the staff is extremely confident in freshmen Isaiah Epps, Josh Ali, and Clevan Thomas. They won’t be able to find the same level of success immediately, especially that of Walker and Johnson, but the potential is there. Tavin Richardson had a breakout game against Northwestern, and many think he could be a star on the outside for the Cats next season. Kentucky signee Marvin Alexander was praised on National Signing Day by the coaching staff as a guy that could play early, and surprise signee Bryce Oliver is a sleeper, as well. Baker, Richardson, and Bowden will be the core group, and the other pieces will likely fall in place beyond that. With Conrad’s usage rate increasing as well, the young guns won’t necessarily need to get an abundance of touches right away.

On the offensive line, four of five starters are returning, and seven key pieces of the rotation are back. USC transfer EJ Price will be eligible, and he’s expected to be a high-impact starter right away. Sebastien Dolcine and Naasir Watkins will be coming off a redshirt year, and early reports on them are impressive. The offensive line found a way to click without Jon Toth and Cole Mosier as the season progressed, and with little turnover, there’s no reason to believe we’ll see the unit take a step back.

Barring any surprises, 19 of 22 players from the Music City Bowl two-deep depth chart will be returning for the Kentucky defense. Kendall Randolph’s presence at Nickel will be missed, and Courtney Love’s impact both on and off the field is obvious, but both of those positions have capable replacements ready to see the field. Beyond those two departures, the Cats are absolutley stacked on the defensive side of the ball.

A pass rush of Josh Allen, Joshua Pachal, and Denzil Ware will be deadly, no questions asked. If Jamar “Boogie” Watson and TJ Carter continue to progress, and we see a few of the other redshirted prospects on the defensive line contribute solid reps, I’ll take my chances. The defensive line has been inconsistent in bringing the pressure, and they’ll have no option but to improve this offseason. Jordan Jones is an elite linebacker, and if he can clean up his on-field antics a bit, he could have a huge senior campaign. Quinton Bohanna has owned the nose guard position, taking the starting job from seniors Naquez Pringle and Matt Elam. Mike Edwards, Jordan Griffin, Chris Westry, Darius West, Derrick Baity, Lonnie Johnson, and Davonte Robinson all return for the Wildcat secondary, a unit that turned heads against Northwestern in the Music City Bowl. If they can build off of that performance and live up to the potential we all know they possess, the defense has a real opportunity to be Stoops’ best.

Austin MacGinnis’ foot will certainly be missed, as he finished his Kentucky career as the best kicker in school history. Freshman Chance Poore was considered one of the top high school kickers in the nation, and like MacGinnis did out of high school, has the opportunity to start right away. If we see growing pains early, Miles Butler is a capable replacement. Dean Hood helped take the special teams unit to a new level this past year, and if anyone can figure out how to replace MacGinnis, it’s him.

All in all, this is one of the most talented rosters we’ve seen at Kentucky in quite some time. Mark Stoops has the senior leadership, talent, and depth to do something special. The pieces are there.

The Cats have had good seasons the past two years, but it’s time for a breakthrough.

Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

48 responses to “Mark Stoops has the pieces in place for a special season”

  1. notFromhere

    Still hoping Ross is granted another year of eligibility.

  2. fairweather

    I don’t see Lynn Bowden as a super talent. Hope I’m wrong, but seriously, how many touchdowns has he scored? He’s a step slow IMHO.

    1. Tony the Liger

      You’re handicapped.

    2. cats646

      Lynn Bowden has the potential to be a remarkable talent. He was a step slow this year but I believe he was playing a little bit timid. His vision might be the best I’ve ever seen and if he gets more aggressive then not only could he have a breakthrough season next year, but he could be a complete star.

    3. ClutchCargo

      Bowden got very little exposure to training camp and was relying almost completely on talent. He will be more than fine.

  3. timewilltell

    And so it begins! KSR writer planting optimism for football in Lexington. Read the posts last year and the year before that and……….. Have you looked at next season’s schedule?

    1. unbridled

      That’s my question as well. What constitutes “special” when you analyze next years schedule?

    2. cats646

      Winning more games than the year before

    3. unbridled

      That’s a tall order next year.

    4. Rembrandt

      I didn’t interpret the column as “planting optimism”. It was a review of our returning players for 2018. The return of nearly an entire bowl roster next year might lead to optimism for people who understand the importance of continuity. But if timewilltell wants to continue being negative, then knock yourself out. It won’t come as a surprise.

  4. Luether

    Ky needs a disciplined, focused, motivated, and under-control Jordan Jones to anchor the defense…

    1. kjd

      That ain’t gonna happen.

    2. cats646

      I believe it can happen and I hope it does. Jones could be our best defensive player of he puts his mind to it.

  5. jimmer

    Oh dear God- please stop the hype train already. Sheesh. For once under promise and over deliver.

    1. IAmTheDanger

      Well stated

    2. Rembrandt

      Do you actually think it matters? A KSR columnist underpromising or overprimising about football in January is about as irrelevant as anything I can think of.

      The schedule is what it is. Every year, the pessimists and Stoops haters point to the next schedule as their excuse for criticizing Stoops and expecting the program to regress. And, every year, Stoops’ program gradually gets stronger. With almost the entire starting lineup coming back, UK has a head start on most other SEC football teams. Make of that what you will.

    3. east-ky-boy

      Then don’t watch Ky football. For only a hand full of times in my life ( I am 38) that we do have a good team coming back. Oh dear God please believe or don’t watch lol

  6. luke_emberton

    said that last year too

  7. dylan121815

    We need to switch to a 3-4 , josh and Denzil outside ends. Tj carter in the middle, Jordan jones and Eli brown outside linebackers ,start Xavier peters right away along side kash Daniel in the middle. Our dbs are beast just need to get a little better mentally .

    1. ClutchCargo

      Been there and done that with 3-4. Need to go 4-3.

    2. USMC5150

      Peoples thoughts on a 5-2 defense?

    3. USMC5150

      What about a 4-4 option

  8. N-UR-i

    I am excited. The QB race will be fun to watch. Blitz brother 2.0 will terrorize fools.

  9. original slappy

    So who’s fault will it be when we finish (at best) 7-5 again? Hopefully Stoops will actually get some of the blame he deserves at that point.

    1. steve simpson

      How about some of the credit he deserves. UK football winning record 3 years in a row. Please tell me the last time that happened.

    2. Yoda

      Steve – Beating who…a historically bad-to-mediocre SEC East opponent every now and then? When your winning record is padded with directional schools from non-Power 5 conferences, where is need to boast?

    3. steve simpson

      Boasting and admitting improvement are big differences. We are greatly improved than we were prior to Stoops and no matter what you say we are better than we’ve been in your life time.

    4. east-ky-boy

      We finish 7-5 next year then I’m happy. Dear lord y’all think stoops inherited Alabama or something lol

  10. neilbert

    Offense should be pretty good. These are the same defensive guys that got their arses handed to them by every good team we played. 2nd half of the bowl game gives us some hope, but where were these so called pro prospects against Miss St, Georgia and Louisville?

    1. ThankfulCat

      Yeah seriously

      This write up sounds like a UGA write up. UGA is going to win the East again. USC will be better. Florida and UT are going to struggle. Mizzou hired Derek Dooley to call plays. KY might win 8.

    2. steve simpson

      And 8 isn’t special??? Are you new to UK football???

    3. bluegrassstu

      Maybe 8 wins this year regular season? Okay.

  11. kjd

    What pieces? Our defense was torched all year long. The same guys returning will automatically result in a drastic turnaround?
    Offensive numbers weren’t anything to write home about. We trailed Eastern at halftime.
    Lynn Bowden has not shown me elite speed. I saw elite speed Monday night between Georgia and Bama.
    I will not buy into the hype train anymore. I’ll be in my seat at Kroger Field, and I’ll witness the season as it unfolds, be it special or not.

  12. UKCatAttack

    Hold the horses. We will be as good or as bad as our QB1. I’m not holding my breath considering none of our QBs have ever touched the field. Plus the schedule is stacking up a lot more difficult this season than last And the SEC is going to be better.

  13. davis2319

    Lol if Gunnar Hoak was anything he would’ve been Stephen Johnson’s back up this season. I am tired of hearing about him to be honest. It’s Terry Wilson’s job to lose. I will say it again, if anyone thinks otherwise they are delusional.

    1. east-ky-boy

      I take it you was not at the spring game. Yes I’m delusional then. The kid is a good quarterback

  14. peaches76

    Let the nay-sayers start. Front runners that ride the basketball gravy train. We SHOULD be better. But how will that shake out with the schedule we have. Appreciate the optimism, but baby steps will be appreciated. It’s SEC FOOTBALL we’re talking about, not basketball. Our emphasis on football has not matched the huge majority of schools in our league until just recently.

    1. east-ky-boy

      Finally someone that believes

  15. My Dixie Wrecked

    Fool me once, shame on KSR. Fool me 37 times, shame on me.

  16. vicvinegar

    UK fans truly are THE WORST! Go to another fan bases forum, and they’re overly optimistic. Not UK fans though… nothing but a bunch of pessimistic losers. What was the stat they showed during the bowl game? UK and New Mexico were the only schools to equal or improve their record the last four years. Does that satisfy a fan base that has no real tradition of winning? Of course not. If you can’t be positive for a program that continues to improve, then go root for someone else.

    1. timewilltell

      In order to have a winning tradition you must first win!!

  17. kycats13


  18. rockatao

    Have KSR writers actually watched the defense, especially the defensive lines, of good teams? Until UK can play at that level, don’t feed us this continual hype.

    1. classof68

      Amen. “A few crucial plays away from having a historic season”? Last year’s team was no where close to having seasons like 1977 and 1976.

    2. steve simpson

      Historic is sadly based on age 68. Lol. I agree with you but most people on here weren’t born in 78 so what they are witnessing is the best UK football of their lifetime.

  19. UKFootballYall

    I’ll be happy next season as long as Stoopie & crew utilize our talent and play to win rather than playing not to lose. It can’t just be the last play of the bowl game either, it’s got to be every play of every game. Play to win!

    For a great example, rewatch the second half of the National Championship game – the prevent offense for UGA was a total bust. By the way, how’d they make out in that game?

  20. east-ky-boy

    For all the people being negative…… sale your tickets!!!! Dear lord y’all think stoops inherited Alabama or something! Last I checked we ain’t won 8 regular season games since like Carter was president. I bet y’all are the same IDIOTS that leave early at games too huh?