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Kentucky ranked No. 107, Wildcats look to improve during coach Mark Stoops' second season

The Orlando Sentinel’s college insider Matt Murschel has ranked all 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country entering the 2014 season. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 128 to our projected No. 1 team.

Today at No. 107: Kentucky

Coach: Mark Stoops (2-10, entering 2nd season)

2013 record: 2-10 (0-8 in SEC, 7th in East Division)

Look back: Enthusiasm was high for Mark Stoops’ first season in Lexington. More than 50,000 showed up for the 2013 spring game and recruiting vastly exceeded expectations.

Once the season began, reality set in for Stoops, who came to Kentucky after serving as defensive coordinator at FSU. The Wildcats stumbled to a 2-10 record, going winless in the SEC for the second straight season. But Kentucky was more competitive than in 2012, losing by six to Mississippi State and seven to South Carolina.

The defensive-minded Stoops fielded an offense that averaged 14.8 points in conference games and was 109th of 125 team nationally with 351.2 yards per game, The Wildcats’ defense allowed an average of 427.2 yards per game (89th nationally, 13th in the SEC) and 6.26 yards per play.

Offensive starters returning: 6

Offensive starters lost: 5

Defensive starters returning: 8

Defensive starters lost: 4

Key losses: DT Donte Rumph , DT Mister Cobble, LB Avery Williamson, K Joe Mansour, RB Raymond Sanders, QB Jalen Whitlow

Top returnees: WR Javess Blue, RB JoJo Kemp, WR Ryan Timmons, DE Alvin Dupree, DB Blake McClain, S Eric Dixon

Strengths: Jojo Kemp (482 rushing yards in 2013)should form a solid running back tandem with Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard, while Josh Clemons and Mikel Horton provide quality depth.

The Wildcats return their top wide receivers Javess Blue (43 catches, 586 yards, 4 TDs) and Ryan Timmons (32, 338, 2 TDs), but Blue is nursing a shoulder injury.

On defense, ends Za’Darius Smith and Alvin Dupree totaled 120 tackles and 13 sacks last year. Dupree had 61 tackles, including 9.5 for loss and seven sacks. Defensive back Blake McClain, who hails from Winter Park, was a pleasant surprise as a freshman. Lining up mostly at nickel back, he had 59 tackles and five pass breakups.

Junior college transfer AJ Stamps has impressed during the spring and could be an impact player at free safety.

Weaknesses: The Wildcats’ biggest question is at quarterback.

Offseason shoulder surgery puts oft-injured Maxwell Smith’s future in doubt, while Whitlow decided to leave after being asked to move to receiver. Each player threw for more than 1,000 yards in 2013.

Coaches now are waiting for a starter to emerge among  Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips and Drew Barker. Towles, a sophomore, seems to have the edge, while Barker ranked as 2014’s No. 119 recruit in the 247Sports Composite ranking.

The Wildcats also have numerous shortcomings on defense. The team lost its best defensive lineman (Donte Rumph) and best linebacker (Avery Williamson). Williamson totaled 237 tackles the past two seasons.

Outlook: Stoops continues to impress on the recruiting trail and has new facilities – keys to the massive rebuilding projects he faces in Lexington. The Wildcats should be better, but the school’s first bowl game since 2009 remains far off.

Kentucky’s schedule does not help. The combined record of opponents is 98-55, making Kentucky’s schedue the sixth toughest in college football.

egthompson@tribune.com. To view teams previously revealed on the countdown, visit OrlandoSentinel.com/Top128. 

2014 schedule

Aug. 30 UT Martin

Sept. 6  Ohio University

Sept. 13 at Florida

Sept. 27 Vanderbilt

Oct. 4 South Carolina

Oct. 11 ULM

Oct. 18 at LSU

Oct. 25 Mississippi State

Nov. 1 at Missouri

Nov. 8 Georgia

Nov. 15 at Tennessee

Nov. 29 at Louisville

 

Previously revealed on the countdown:

No. 108 Idaho

No. 109 Tulsa

No. 110 Western Michigan

No. 111 New Mexico State

No. 112 Southern Miss

No. 113 Temple

No. 114 Army

No. 115 Purdue

No. 116 USF

No. 117 UAB

No. 118 Eastern Michigan

No. 119 Virginia

No. 120 Miami (Ohio) 

No. 121 Cal

No. 122 Kansas

No. 123 UMass

No. 124 Georgia Southern

No. 125 Hawaii

No. 126 Appalachian State

No. 127 FIU

No. 128 Georgia State

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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