Three Things We Know and Don't Know About Kentucky | SEC 2013

USA Today Sports

Questions about the offense, the defensive front and Mark Stoops could decide just how good a season the Wildcats will have

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

1. The offense will look different.
There are various kinds of "Air Raid" offenses just like there are various kinds of any offensive scheme or philosophy. But we know one thing: Whatever Neal Brown is doing at Kentucky, it ain't going to resemble whatever Joker Phillips was doing at Kentucky. (One could argue that Joker Phillips didn't really know what he was doing at Kentucky, and that would be an argument I would probably grant you.) There's a hint of that in the numbers alone: About 49 percent of Kentucky's 790 offensive snaps in 2012 were passing plays, compared to about 59.8 percent of Texas Tech's offensive snaps under Brown. (And that was when he had to deal with Tommy Tuberville as head coach.) One way or the other, it's going to be fun to watch a game when Kentucky is on offense.

2. The last half of the season will decide whether the Wildcats go bowling.
Assume for a moment that Kentucky beats Western Kentucky (no sure thing), Miami (OH) (probably) and Alabama State (yes). The Louisville-Florida-at South Carolina-Alabama stretch of the slate that spans from mid-September to late October is probably not going to be kind to the Wildcats. But there are some long-shot winnable games after that. Mississippi State is an uphill climb, but after that and the Alabama State game, the Wildcats get Missouri at home before going to Vanderbilt and Georgia and then playing Tennessee. If Kentucky can steal an upset in the first half of the season or knock off Mississippi State, it "only" needs to beat Missouri and Tennessee to get to a bowl game. That's a tall order on all counts, but that's how it would need to go for the Wildcats to reach the postseason.

3. The front seven has a chance to be pretty good.
The Wildcats return four of their top five tacklers, and the top three are all in the front seven. That includes Avery Williamson, who had 135 tackles and three sacks as a linebacker; Alvin Dupree, a defensive end / linebacker who led the team with 12.5 tackles for loss, including a team-leading 6.5 sacks; and linebacker Miles Simpson. In all, Kentucky basically has five of last year's regular starters on the front seven back, though some of them might have moved around or migrated toward one position after playing a variety.

THREE THINGS WE DON'T KNOW

1. Whether the offense will work.
As we said before, it will be fun to watch a game when Kentucky is on offense -- "one way or the other." The other could include a record-setting pace for interceptions, and balls bouncing on the turf with regularity. It's simply too early to say whether the players will be able to adapt to the Air Raid soon enough for Kentucky to resemble a functioning offense for the first year or two. Joker Phillips wasn't running a bombs-away passing attack, which means he also wasn't recruiting for a bombs-away passing attack. If it clicks, the Air Raid could be a thing of beauty and turn Kentucky into a surprise team. If it doesn't, then the Wildcats could bottom out until the recruits needed to make the system work are ready to take the reins.

2. Whether the SEC losing streak will end.
Kentucky enters the season on an eight-game SEC losing streak, and the prospects for a win in the first three games on the conference schedule are particularly bleak. Unless Mississippi State absolutely craters this year, the Bulldogs will probably be favored when that game comes along. Given the lines that have been released so far, it's not impossible to envision a scenario where Kentucky isn't favored in a single SEC game all year. Just like the ceiling for this team could put it in position for a bowl, the floor could be yet another winless season in conference play.

3. How good a coach Mark Stoops will be.
Of all the SEC coaches that were hired this offseason, Stoops is the only one without head coaching experience. And hiring offensive or defensive coordinators who haven't held the top job has a mixed record in the SEC. Sometimes you get Mark Richt, sometimes you get Dan Mullen and sometimes you get Ron Zook. There is really no way to tell. Sometimes the best coordinators make the worst head coaches and vice versa. Steve Addazio was 13-11 and led Temple to a bowl game. I will repeat: Steve Addazio. Temple. Bowl game. He's now at Boston College.

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