Mark Stoops enters his fourth season in Lexington, KY squarely on the hot seat. With an overall record of 12-24 and no bowl appearances in three seasons in charge, there is a sense among some Kentucky fans that Stoops is not doing as well as he should and is failing to live up to his family name. He has recruited very well for the Wildcats and gotten them very close to bowl eligibility each of the last two seasons, but can’t seem to get over the hump. This year, it’s bowl game or bust for Stoops.
As mentioned above, Kentucky has come very close to getting to a bowl game each of the last two seasons. However, in both years, the Wildcats started hot before completely falling apart during the second half of the season (losing their last six games in 2014 and five of their last six in 2015). They still haven’t beaten Florida in what seems like forever and worst of all, have lost five in a row to arch-rival Louisville (including blowing big leads each of the last two meetings). Stoops’s record in SEC play is an appalling 4-20 and he’s just 1-8 against ranked teams (an 8-point win over #25 Missouri last year). Last year expectations were as high as they’d ever been in Lexington and Stoops failed to deliver going 5-7 for the second straight year (though in a hilarious move, they did recently lay claim to the 1950 National Championship).
Offensively Kentucky loses QB Patrick Towles, as he transfers to Boston College. Sophomore Drew Barker got the most reps behind Towles last year and figures to be the guy moving forward. Last year Barker completed 35 of 70 passes for 364 yards and 1 TD but threw 2 INT’s. The good news for the Wildcats is that they get both Stanley Williams and Jojo Kemp back for their junior and senior seasons respectively. Williams led the team in rushing last year, carrying the ball 121 times for 855 yards and 6 TD’s while Kemp added 98 carries for 55 yards and he too rushed for 6 TD’s. They also get their top receiver, Garrett Johnson, back for his junior season. Johnson had 46 catches for 694 yards and 2 TD’s last year.
On the defensive side of the ball there is not a ton of experience but there should be enough to make it a serviceable unit. The heart and soul of the defense is defensive tackle Matt Elam. Last year he had 23 tackles despite missing four games. The other seniors on defense include defensive linemen Courtney Miggins and Zane Williams. In the secondary, juniors Kendall Randolph and JD Harmon are a pair of solid corners while Marcus McWilson is the most experienced safety. Defensive coordinator DJ Eliot is in his fourth year on the job and needs to do a better job of shoring up a Wildcat defense that gave up 28 points per game last year if they want to make it to a bowl game.
If Kentucky does indeed make it to a bowl game this year, it would be their first one since the 2010 season when they lost in the BBVA Compass Bowl to Pitt. Kentucky is also looking for their first winning season since 2009 when they went 7-6. Mark Stoops has raised the excitement level in Lexington and with raised excitement comes raised expectations. So far he has failed to meet those elevated expectations and should the Wildcats fail to meet them again this year, it could mean Stoops is out of a job.
2016 Kentucky Wildcats Schedule
9/3 – Kentucky vs. Southern Miss – Commonwealth Stadium
9/10 – Kentucky @ Florida – Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
9/17 – Kentucky vs. New Mexico State – Commonwealth Stadium
9/24 – Kentucky vs. South Carolina – Commonwealth Stadium
10/1 – Kentucky @ Alabama – Bryant-Denny Stadium
10/8 – Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt – Commonwealth Stadium
10/22 – Kentucky vs. Mississippi State – Commonwealth Stadium
10/29 – Kentucky @ Missouri – Faurot Field
11/5 – Kentucky vs. Georgia – Commonwealth Stadium
11/12 – Kentucky @ Tennessee – Neyland Stadium
11/19 – Kentucky vs. Austin Peay – Commonwealth Stadium
11/26 – Kentucky @ Louisville – Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium