While football is clearly king in the SEC (except in the case of schools like Florida, where both basketball and football have enjoyed concurrent success), it’s quite the reverse for the Kentucky Wildcats: basketball rules the roost in Lexington while football has see-sawed between mediocre and downright bad (back-to-back 2-10 seasons in 2012 and 2013). Our SEC East scouting report takes us to the Bluegrass State and a team that has finished better than fourth in the division only once (3rd in 1993) since divisional play began in 1992. The South Carolina Gamecocks travel up to take on the Cats at Commonwealth Stadium on October 4.
Last Year: 2-10 (0-8 SEC)
Head C0ach: Mark Stoops (2nd season)
Key returnees: QB Maxwell Smith, RB Jojo Kemp; WRs Jeff Badet, Javess Blue, Ryan Timmons; DE Alvin Dupree and Za’Darius Smith; DB Blake McClain; LB Khalid Henderson; CBs Fred Tiller and Nate Willis (injured but could return before season); S Ashely Lowery (injured but could return before season) and Eric Dixon
Key departures: QB Jalen Whitlow (transfer); RB Raymond Sanders (graduated); RB Dyshawn Mobley (transfer); LB Avery Williamson (graduated, then drafted); DTs Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph (both graduated, then drafted); K Joe Mansour (graduated)
Why they’ll win the SEC East
Smith, though recovering from a shoulder injury, looks to be back in the fold as the full-time starter in 2014, and will have many of the team’s top targets to throw to as well. Also back is rising sophomore Jojo Kemp, who burst onto the scene as a freshman and should get more touches with Sanders and Mobley gone, along with most of the offensive line. Dupree, an All-SEC second team pick, and senior classmate Smith man the ends and look to go out strong in their final years in Big Blue Nation. Kentucky’s also pretty deep at DT with Mike Douglas and Christian Coleman battle-tested and ready to take the mantle from the departed Cobble and Rumph. The freshmen and incoming players should actively compete for spots in the lineup as Stoops brings in the 17th ranked recruiting class in the country.
Why they won’t win the SEC East
Smith, while a better quarterback statistically than Whitlow, is far from the most talented signal-caller in the conference, and when you have so many teams priding themselves on who’s throwing the ball, that’s a problem. Kentucky had the fourth-worst passing output in the SEC in 2013. The same can be said for their running-back corps (second-worst rushing yards in the conference) and their defensive production: just three interceptions and twelve forced fumbles all year. They may win a couple more games this time around and improve on those numbers if they’re able to dodge the injury bug, but the Wildcats aren’t ready to take the division yet.