So my headline is misleading because it would take me a week to think of 200 things on the upcoming season to be excited about. I could be clever and do a little thing where I play on numbers to add up to 200, but I’m no mathmagician. Instead I’ll give you two dozen story-lines that will make Mark Stoops’ fourth season an exciting one to watch.
— The Beginning of the Drew Barker Era. Nobody’s more popular than the backup quarterback, especially if they’re a former 4-Star Elite 11 quarterback from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Barker doesn’t have a ton of game experience, but he has a prior relationship with Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw, and JuCo quarterback Stephen Johnson is there to push him to ensure he brings his A-Game every single day.
— Kentucky gets to open the season against Shannon Dawson. It will certainly be interesting. Here’s what Freddie thinks will happen.
— No more, “It would’ve worked, it would’ve been great.” His snide response annoyed the BBN. The smart-ass responses were common, but that won’t be the case with Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw leading the offense. They are no-nonsense, structured coordinators. Instead of willy-nilly play-calling on the fly, this offense will be scripted, with the two acting as checks and balances on one another when in-game adjustments are necessary.
— A Trip to Tuscaloosa. Sure, it’ll probably be a bloodbath, but I cannot wait to see the defending National Champions in Bryant-Denny Stadium on gameday. It’s a shame we’ll have to see Derrick Ansley on the other team’s sidelines, so I hope UK’s defensive backs are incredible. Speaking of UK’s defensive backs…
— A Kick-Ass Secondary. Once the Cats’ biggest weakness will arguably be the team’s strength. Marcus McWilson is a veteran at strong safety, with a formidable backup (Darius West) to push for playing time. Mike Edwards had his moments as a back-up last year, and has a massive Marcus Walker with a year of redshirt experience to compete. All-Freshman SEC cornerback Chris Westry is a superstar in the making, Derrick Baity was starting by the end of last season, and there’s a plethora of incoming true freshman that have the potential to play.
Mark Stoops’ made his name coaching Miami’s DB’s in the early 00’s. He finally has a unit that can live up to his self-imposed standards.
— Badasses on the Offensive Line. New additions Tate Leavitt, Landon Young and Drake Jackson all have the mentality you want from your offensive linemen — mean. Put that together with Jon Toth and a sophomore-version of Big Georga ASafo-Adjei, and you’ve got a stout unit.
— Another Shot at Muschamp. The Cats narrowly missed victory over Muschamp at Florida two years and vs. Auburn on a Thursday Night last fall, but as the cliche goes, “the third time’s a charm.” Now at South Carolina, his third different SEC school in three years, I’m sure he hopes that saying holds true too.
— A Mid-October Open Date. Not only does it provide the perfect opportunity to rest, effectively splitting the season in half, it gives the BBN a free Keeneland Saturday.
— Kash Daniel’s Story-Telling. It’s not even the topic of conversation that makes Kash so entertaining, it’s how he says it and what he says. With the spotlight growing brighter, he will become one of the most beloved UK football players to ever wear the blue and white.
— All of Joker’s Recruiting Classes are Gone. Well, not all of them. Jon Toth and Taco Meat Collins are two fifth-year Seniors, the last two from Joker’s 29-man 2012 recruiting class. The “we’re young” and “they’re Joker’s players” excuses are no longer viable.
— But they’re still pretty young. To be fair, most of the guys only have one year playing full-time, which is the case for most of the playmakers on offense. Defensively, Seniors carried the load last year, leaving much of the responsibilities to the redshirts and transfers.
— Freddie’s Farewell to Jon Toth. I’m already preparing the tissues. Waterworks are inevitable for Freddie’s favorite player. I just hope Toth doesn’t get weirded-out by Freddie’s reaction on Senior Day.
— More Tailgates. “Win or Lose, We’re Here to Booze.”
— New Uniforms. I like them, but I will like it even more when the fanbase collectively looses its mind when the new Wildcat is worn on a helmet for a game.
— A New Practice Facility. It’s something that won’t receive as much attention because it’s something the fans won’t get to directly experience, but this development will probably mean more to the team than the stadium. It’s where they will see each other on a daily basis, it’s where they will become bigger, faster, stronger, and it will become a centerpiece in the recruiting process.
— More KSR Football Podcasts. Once a month just isn’t cutting it anymore. I know you’re ready for weekly updates on Freddie’s diet and hopefully a few less rants from Jared Lorenzen.
— What Jason Hatcher are we going to see? Poised for a breakout season in 2015 after the Cats lost Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith to graduation, Hatch’s presence was non-existent, off the field more than he was on it. He plays an important position in the 3/4 defense. They need him to be a leader to help a team that struggled to rush the passer in 2015.
— Lamar Thomas at Press Conferences. Fans will love to hear Kash Daniel talk, but the media will love to hear what Lamar Thomas has to say in press conferences, because you never know when a potential controversy could be ignited. The former Miami trash-talker also has a tough task ahead of him. If they’re bad, he won’t hold back, and if they’re good, you’ll see swag unlike anything you’ve ever seen from a Kentucky football coach.
— Less Drops from the Wide Receivers (Maybe). All we can do is hope that the flashes of greatness become consistencies and that Lamar Thomas was the missing piece to put together the puzzling group of athletes. If things don’t improve, at least it’ll be fun to hear what Jared has to say about it.
— Passes to C.J. Conrad. It’s hard to guarantee what the new offense will look like under Gran and Hinshaw, but I think it’s safe to guarantee that Conrad’s numbers will be infinitely better than last year. Tight ends always play an important role for them, and with Travis Kielce on their resume, it’s safe to say that C.J. is in good hands.
— The Final Year for Jojo Kemp AND Boom Williams. Jojo has been a wonderful Wildcat, putting the team on his back in the Wildcat to beat South Carolina at home. He also steadily improved last year, and will be a leader for the offense this fall.
I know Boom Williams will only be a junior this fall, but with running backs’ life expectancy continually shrinking, I would not be surprised at all if this is the last season for the most explosive playmaker in the Mark Stoops era.
— Will the 2014 Recruiting Class live up to the Hype? If this was a poker game, the fans (and maybe Mark Stoops) went all in on the star-power in the 2014 recruiting class. So far, Boom Williams is the only player that has provided enough production to receive a tip of the cap. Matt Elam, Drew Barker, Dorian Baker, Juice, Blake Bone, Denzil Ware and Kendall Randolph are all now in their third year. It’s now or never.
— Mark Stoops’ Best Recruiting Class. The Class of 2017 is currently ranked #11 in the nation, second in the SEC to Alabama. If they can build some momentum, next year’s Signing Day could take the program to new heights.
— A Bowl Game.
The schedule is unforgiving, but it’s gotta happen sooner or later. The talent is there, but the execution can’t be a “some of the time” kind of thing anymore. This team should finally have the balance to be successful, but to use Jared Lorenzen’s words, “Show Me.”