It’s easy for Kentucky fans to get caught up in the hype each year. That hype is usually a byproduct of being a Kentucky football fan, but this year it is being validated by those around the conference more than ever before.
When ranking each position ahead of the 2016 season, SEC blog Saturday Down South does not disregard Kentucky’s best offensive players. Sometimes a website will include a player from each school to attract clicks, but that’s not the case this time. A Kentucky player made the Top 10 in each category.
10. Dorian Baker/Garrett Johnson, Kentucky: The Wildcats have said goodbye to Patrick Towles and hello to Drew Barker under center. Both Baker and Johnson were productive pass catchers as sophomores last season, combining to reel in 101 balls for 1,302 yards and 5 touchdowns. Now juniors, they can help ease Barker’s transition to full-time starter.
Criticize all you want, but each player showed flashes of greatness as underclassmen. Now it all comes down to consistency. Marcus Spears told me at SEC Media Days that Juice could be the best receiver in the conference if he puts everything together. Can Lamar Thomas help them consistently put it together? Time will tell.
5. Stanley “Boom” Williams, Kentucky: If there’s a such thing as quietly averaging 7.1 yards per carry as a starting tailback in the SEC, then that’s what Williams did in 2015. Injuries limited him to 10 contests, which chipped away at what could have really been a monster season, so he had to settle for 855 yards on just 12.1 attempts per game. In addition to better health, Williams needs Drew Barker to upgrade UK’s passing attack to help open more running lanes.
In the most talented conference for running backs, Boom Williams is one of the best. If he can set the off-the-field issues aside, offensive coordinator and running backs coach Eddie Gran will not allow for his best backs to only get around 10 carries a game.
5. Jon Toth, C, Kentucky, Sr.: Toth is pretty underappreciated in SEC circles despite being solid in all aspects of his game. (How underappreciated? They mispronounced his last name at SEC Media Days.) He is well above average with his run blocking and his pass blocking. He makes clean snaps and is durable (35 consecutive starts). He’s athletic enough to be a center who can get out to the perimeter on the screens and dump passes that Kentucky likes to run.
This is preaching to the choir. If you don’t know how good Toth is, you haven’t been paying attention to Freddie Maggard for the last two years.
8. Drew Barker, Kentucky: Throw Patrick Towles into the purgatory of passers chewed up and permanently spit out by defenses in this conference, but at least Barker had a chance to redshirt for a season before taking over in Lexington. Formerly the No. 1 QB recruit in the Bluegrass State, he was a serviceable 16-of-29 for 129 yards in a 58-10 beatdown of Charlotte. The 6-of-22 he put together the following week vs. Louisville can’t be repeated, though.
You can not overstate the importance of quarterback play. “It goes as your quarterback goes,” Mark Stoops said of his team’s success last week’s Louisville kickoff luncheon.
There are three sophomore SEC quarterbacks that have been given the keys to the car this season. Missouri’s Drew Lock, Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur and Drew Barker. Of the three, SDS believes Barker is the best of the bunch. That needs to be the case if Kentucky wants to go bowling this fall.