|TideSports College Football Preview|
Kentucky finally broke through last season to make it to a bowl game under Mark Stoops, upending rival Louisville to earn a bid to the TaxSlayer Bowl.
Stoops returns for his fifth season as head coach of the Wildcats with higher expectations and confidence in his program.
The Wildcats started last season 0-2, then won five of their next six – with the only loss coming at Alabama – to bounce back.
“We feel like we have an experienced football team,” Stoops said this summer at SEC Media Days. “We’re returning 17 starters – nine on offense, eight on defense – and the maturity level of the team is getting better. They can handle more, so it will be much of the same this summer, push them harder and be more consistent.”
One of those 17 returning starters is quarterback Stephen Johnson, who stepped up to replace the previous season’s starter, Drew Baker, who went down with an injury. Johnson finished the season with a 5-2 record as primary quarterback.
“If you watched us evolve last year, we leaned heavier on the run game and play-action pass,” Stoops said. “I think Stephen was very efficient in throwing play-action pass and throwing the ball down the field.
“He’s made good decisions in the pocket with pulling the ball down, scrambling. If you watch some of our close games last year, some of our victories, he made critical plays by any means necessary. And that’s a winner.”
Kentucky will open at Southern Miss, followed by a home game against Eastern Kentucky before entering SEC play on the road at South Carolina.
Sept. 2; at Southern Miss
Sept. 9; Eastern Kentucky
Sept. 16; at South Carolina
Sept. 23; Florida
Sept. 30; Eastern Michigan
Oct. 7; Missouri
Oct. 21; at Mississippi State
Oct. 28; Tennessee
Nov. 4; Ole Miss
Nov. 11; at Vanderbilt
Nov. 18; at Georgia
Nov. 25; Louisville
Sept. 3; Southern Miss; L 35-44
Sept. 10; Florida; L 7-45
Sept. 17; New Mexico State; W 62-42
Sept. 24; South Carolina; W 17-10
Oct. 1; Alabama; L 34-6
Oct. 8; Vanderbilt; W 20-13
Oct. 22; Mississippi State; W 40-38
Oct. 29; Missouri; W 35-21
Nov. 5; Georgia; L 24-27
Nov. 12; Tennessee; L 36-49
Nov. 19; Austin Peay; W 49-13
Nov. 26; Louisville; W 41-38
Dec. 31; Georgia Tech; L 18-33
* TaxSlayer Bowl
Starters returning: 19
Starters lost: 5