CFN Preview 2013 - Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky RB Raymond Sanders
Kentucky RB Raymond Sanders
Posted Jul 6, 2013 2013 Preview - Kentucky Wildcats

Kentucky Wildcats

Preview 2013

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Mark Stoops
1st year
Returning Lettermen: 57
Off. 24, Def. 29, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 18
Ten Best Kentucky Players
1. DE Alvin "Bud" Dupree, Jr.
2. LB Avery Williamson, Sr.
3. DT Donte Rumph, Sr.
4. DT Mister Cobble, Sr.
5. LB Miles Simpson, Jr.
6. RB Raymond Sanders, Sr.
7. OT Darrian Miller, Jr.
8. DE Za'Darius Smith, Jr.
9. S Ashely Lowery, Jr.
10. OG Zach West, Soph.
2013 Schedule
8/31 WKU (in Nashville)
9/7 Miami University
9/14 Louisville
9/28 Florida
10/5 at South Carolina
10/12 Alabama
10/26 at Mississippi State
11/2 Alabama State
11/9 Missouri
11/16 at Vanderbilt
11/23 at Georgia
11/30 Tennessee
Okay, so Julius Randle, Aaron and Andrew Harrison, Marcus Lee, Dakari Johnson and James Young are the really big names generating a buzz in Lexington, but Mark Stoops is hoping to shift a little bit of the spotlight over to the football side. But it's not going to be easy.

It's hard to get much attention for the SEC's worst football team when the basketball program is about to win its second national title in three years, so Stoops has to bring something different and add more pizzazz to Wildcat football. Hal Mumme showed that high-octane offenses can make life fun on football Saturdays, and Rich Brooks proved that it's possible to go to bowl games on a regular basis, but things have changed, and Joker Phillips quickly found out that it's a new SEC.

After getting the team the 2011 BBVA Compass Bowl, Phillips and UK were hit with a perfect storm of problems.

First, the team had to be rebuilt. Phillips went young, fast, and it showed with major problems offensively in 2011 and even more issues last year. Second, the SEC got a lot better and Vanderbilt stopped being bad. An improved conference combined with a major youth movement equaled a 2-10 season. And yeah, third, a dominant basketball program that's becoming the Alabama football of college hoops – is Louisville's national title the equivalent of 2010 Auburn football? – hasn't helped.

So now, going forward, the big problem for Stoops will be to not only get over the hump personnel wise – this is still a young team – but he also has to deal with the SEC. It's a problem for every team in the league; you can be good, and your record might not reflect it.

Stoops will bring in a more exciting offensive style while hoping his skills as a defensive coach will pay off right away. If nothing else, he should benefit from the lumps taken under Phillips over the last few years and benefit from having more depth and experience across the board. While the Wildcats won't contend for the SEC title any time in the near future, there's a chance Stoops has the right mix of talent at the right time to get back to a bowl, but first, the team has to be competitive.

In his first season, okay, another 2-10 season might be allowed for now as long as there are signs of improvement. Go ahead and lose to South Carolina and Alabama, but don't get embarrassed.

The goal has to eventually be higher than simply not getting pantsed by the rest of the league, but being more fun and exciting is a good way to start. The coaching change should give that a boost.

What to watch for on offense: Pick up the pace. Offensive coordinator Neal Brown worked with both Texas Tech and Troy helping both offenses put up big numbers, and now the goal is to speed everything up, work at a faster tempo, and keep defenses on their heels. The problem, however, is that if the offense goes fast and fizzles, that three-and-out could take a minute and then the defense is back on the field. The young quarterbacks are in place to find one who can shine, and there's enough talent at running back and receiver to get things moving, but it might be rough at first before everything starts to click.

What to watch for on defense: The 4-3. The Cats needed help with the pass rush last year, and the old regime got it by focusing on getting more hits on the passer from all the spots on the defensive front. However, the linebackers didn't really do their part outside of Bud Dupree, who was more of a hybrid type. This year, under defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot, the ends should do even more of the heavy lifting and the good, veteran tackles have to generate a push from the interior. The pass rush was fine, but the tackles for loss against the run weren't. There was a big improvement made, but now the front seven in the 4-3 has to be even more disruptive.

The team will be far better if … the team could score. You can't win if you can't score, son, and points were next to impossible to come by last year. How bad was the UK attack? In SEC play it averaged just over 11 points per game, and out of the 215 points scored on the year, 122 of them came against Kent State, WKU and Samford. That means that in the other nine games, Kentucky averaged 10.3 points per outing, and that included the seven points against an Arkansas defense that couldn't stop you and ten friends from cranking out 415 yards of total offense. Okay, great – how do you score? This year's team needs to keep moving the chains and has to find more explosiveness at receiver. The running backs are deep and talented, and the quarterback play should be better, and now all the experience has to translate into production.

The schedule: After the problems of last year and with a new coaching staff, the Wildcats need wins and they need them fast. However, Western Kentucky and head coach Bobby Petrino won't be pushovers in the opener in Nashville, but it's a must win as is the follow-up with Miami University before the rivalry date against Louisville. Alabama State is the other non-conference game, but that's not until early November.

There's a week off before one of the nastiest three game stretches on any schedule – Florida, at South Carolina, Alabama. There's a break after the date with the Tide before having to go to Mississippi State. The Alabama State game will be a much-needed break, but beating Missouri at home the week after could turn out to be the key to the season – it's a winnable home game before having to go on the road to face Vanderbilt and Georgia. The year ends up with Tennessee at home.

Best offensive player: Junior OT Darrian Miller. The running backs should be the stars early on with four good ones to work in the rotation, and it would be nice if one of the sophomore quarterbacks turned into a stud, but Miller is the best offensive player on the lot, and he needs to be. The athletic 6-5, 288-pound left tackle has to deal with SEC speed rushers on a regular basis, and while he's not going to throw his man into the fifth row, he'll get physical from time to time. Combining with sophomore guard Zach West, the Cats have a solid left side of the line.

Best defensive player: Junior DE Alvin "Bud" Dupree. Linebacker Avery Williamson will be the statistical superstar in the middle making over 100 tackles again, but it's Dupree who should be the most disruptive force as more of an end in the 4-3 than a hybrid linebacker/end. Not just a pure pass rusher, he's also strong and sound against the run and holds up well when beaten on. There are other quick options on the line, so when he's not being double teamed he should be sensational.

Key player to a successful season: Junior WR Demarco Robinson. The quarterbacks have size and talent, and there are options between sophomores Jalen Whitlow, Maxwell Smith and Patrick Towles to make the offense go, but they need a receiver to throw to with leading target La'Rod King gone. Robinson is a smallish 5-10 and 159 pounds – and that might be generous – but he's ultra-quick with great hands and big play potential. Now he actually has to start coming up with big plays. The offense needs to be more dangerous, and Robinson will get his chances to make it that way.

The season will be a success if … the Cats get back to a bowl game. It won't be easy and it'll take at least two upsets, but it's not asking for too much to beat Western Kentucky, Miami University and Alabama State for a base of three wins, and then hope to get by teams like Missouri, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and this year, Tennessee. There's no chance of winning all four of those conference games, but if they can win two, not blow the non-conference layups, and shock the world with a win over Louisville or South Carolina, it'll be a major stepping-stone first year for Stoops.

Key game: Sept. 14 vs. Louisville. If Stoops wants to make his mark right away, this is the game to do it. If all goes according to plan, UK needs to beat WKU and Miami University to kick off the season, and then it has to ruin the in-state rival's dream campaign before it can even get off the ground. The Cardinals are far better than the Cats, but after losing two in a row, it's time to turn the tide. Do that, and with an open date before Florida, people will be talking about the football program – at least for a few minutes until Midnight Madness.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Time of Possession: Opponents 32:32 – Kentucky 25:48
- Completion Percentage: Opponents 67.3% - Kentucky 56.8%
- Fourth Down Conversions: Opponents 5-of-15 (33%) – Kentucky 3-of-22 (14%)
- 2013 Kentucky Preview | 2013 Kentucky Offense
- 2013 Kentucky Defense | 2013 Kentucky Depth Chart