Editor's note: In anticipation of SEC Media Days, which will be held July 16-18 in Hoover, Ala., the Red & Black will be profiling the other six teams in the SEC East.
2012 Record: (2-10)
2012 Conference Record: (0-8)
Head Coach: Mark Stoops
2012 Offense: 13th in the SEC in yards, last in the SEC in scoring
2012 Defense: 11th in the SEC in yards allowed, 13th in the SEC in scoring defense
Returning Starters: 14
Offseason Storylines: For the Wildcats, the 2013 offseason was centered primarily around revamping a tepid defense which allowed an average of 31 points per game last season. The largest indicator of this move was the firing of offensive-minded head coach Joker Phillips in favor of the defensive-minded Stoops. Kentucky believed Stoops, the man who in just three years vaulted Florida State’s defense from being ranked 109th in the nation to 2nd, to be the right coach to build a defense and attract high profile recruits. The move has seemed fruitful thus far, as Stoops’ first recruiting class ranked 29th in the nation, ahead of recent BCS bowl winners TCU and Oklahoma State, and brought in three 4-stars, all of which are on the defensive side of the ball.
Strengths: Across the board, experience may be Kentucky’s greatest asset in the upcoming season, as each side of the ball returns seven starters from last year. Offensively, the team’s two leading rushers, seniors Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George, will continue to platoon and look to improve upon their combined 1,173 rushing yards and nine touchdowns from a year ago in the Wildcats’ run-first offense. Defensively, the unit to look out for is the defensive line. In addition to returning both of last season’s defensive tackles, the team’s best defender Alvin Dupree will undoubtedly look to improve on his 91 tackle, 6.5 sacks, 12.5 TFL season which garnered him Third Team All-SEC honors.
Weaknesses: Though quarterback Max Smith is returning, Kentucky’s perennially inconsistent passing attack will once again be the team’s biggest area of concern. After gaining just a measly 176 passing yards per game last season, Kentucky lost their most reliable target, WR La’Rod King, who accounted for 23 percent of the team’s receiving yards last year. Additionally, the anchor of the team’s offensive line, guard Larry Warford, was drafted by the Detroit Lions, leaving a shaky offensive front even shakier. Without a reliable passing attack, Kentucky may once again be forced into uncomfortable deficits without a recovery plan, especially when their schedule includes Louisville, Mississippi State and Alabama in addition to the rest of a strong SEC East.
Matchup with UGA: Despite Kentucky’s relative weakness compared to the rest of the SEC, last year’s contest against Georgia proved that this team can match up well against the Bulldogs. George and Sanders slashed Georgia’s front seven for 159 yards as Kentucky rushed for 206 yards and came within five points of victory. Despite this, last season also showed that Kentucky’s slower, less-talented secondary didn't belong on the same field as Aaron Murray and the receiving corps. All said, Kentucky’s weak secondary will likely once again lead to their defeat at the hands of the Bulldogs.
Bottom Line: Improved defense and strong running game aside, playing six games against teams expected to be highly ranked is easy on no team, especially one coming off of a two-win season with a new head coach. Unless Stoops can work his magic at an even quicker pace than he did at Florida State, expect more rough sailing.