Orlando Sentinel college insider Matt Murschel has ranked all 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 125 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 97: Kentucky
Coach: Mark Stoops (0-0, entering first season; 0-0 overall)
2012 record: 2-10 Overall (0-8 in Southeastern Conference, seventh in SEC Eastern Division)
Look back: Kentucky continues to search for ways to win as much on the football field as it does on the basketball court. Joker Phillips was the latest coach charged with delivering the team’s first bowl win since 2007. However, Phillips’ Wildcats struggled and posted a 13-24 record during the three seasons he led the program. During the 2012 season, the Wildcats were hit hard by injuries, Phillips was forced to play 26 freshmen and the team rarely was competitive. School officials announced Phillips would not return for the 2013 season following a 40-0 home loss to Vanderbilt Nov. 3, but Phillips coached the two remaining games of the season and was carried off the field by his players following the home finale win over Samford. Kentucky leaders hired FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, brother of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, to take over the program.
Offensive starters returning: 6
Offensive starters lost: 5
Defensive starters returning: 7
Defensive starters lost: 4
Key losses: C Matt Smith, RG Larry Warford, WR La’Rod King, S Martavius Neloms
Top returnees: DE Bud Dupree, WR Demarco Robinson, RB Raymond Sanders, RB Jonathan George, DT Mister Cobble, DT Donte Rumph, LB Avery Williamson, LB Miles Simpson
Strengths: Kentucky returns the top three tacklers from last season, including LB Avery Williamson, who ranked second in the SEC and seventh nationally with 135 tackles. DE Bud Dupree, who had 91 tackles, 12.5 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks, and LB Miles Simpson, who had 70 tackles, will also be back contributing to the defense. The team also should get a lift DT Mister Cobble and DT Donte Rumph. On the offensive side of the ball, the Wildcats can rely on a pair of strong rushers in Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George.
Weaknesses: Kentucky lost some key offensive leaders, including C Matt Smith, RG Larry Warford and WR La’Rod King. While it returns seven starters on the defensive side of the ball, it will be tough for a questionable secondary to offset the loss of S Martavius Neloms.
Stoops has yet to identify a starting quarterback. Sophomores Maxwell Smith, Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow are all battling for the job. It’s usually not a good sign when a quarterback battle stretches into the summer.
Outlook: Stoops faces an uphill battle turning around a Kentucky program. The Wildcats have to be patient and give him time to install his system before pulling the plug on his rebuilding effort.
To other teams already revealed on the countdown, visit OrlandoSentinel.com/collegegridiron365.
Aug. 31 vs. Western Kentucky in Nashville
Sept. 7 Miami (Ohio)
Sept. 14 Louisville
Sept. 28 Florida
Oct. 5 at South Carolina
Oct. 12 Alabama
Oct. 24 at Mississippi State
Nov. 2 Alabama State
Nov. 9 Missouri
Nov. 16 at Vanderbilt
Nov. 23 at Georgia
Nov. 30 Tennessee