2014 SEC Football Preview: Three Things We Know and Don't Know About Kentucky

Mark Zerof-US PRESSWIRE

A quick overview of major issues for Wildcat football.

THREE THINGS WE KNOW

1. A lot of the faces.

If someone played for the Wildcats last year, there's a great chance he's back for more this year. By Phil Steele's count, UK will have 70% of its lettermen back from a year ago. While there's still plenty of time for summer shenanigans to reduce that number, it's still going to be one of the highest percentages nationally. It's not always good to return a ton of guys from a bad team—iffy players don't magically get a lot better by being older. However with this being the second year in the scheme for both sides of the ball, the high returning number could lead to some improvements.

2. That we can be cautiously optimistic about the running game.

The run game is not going to be the primary method of attack in Neal Brown's Air Raid, but there is reason to believe it'll be improved over last year. Jojo Kemp led the team in rushing as a freshman last year, and he's a year older and better. Fighting him for carries will be Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard, who would've been the heir apparent to Ameer Abdullah had he not transferred to Kentucky for more immediate playing time. Josh Clemons is finally back after years of fighting injury, and solid true freshmen signees Mikel Horon and Stanley Williams provide depth. With nearly everyone on the line back and about the most highly rated O-lineman class UK has signed coming in, there's hope here.

3. It's going to be a long year.

When a team is coming off of consecutive 2-10 seasons, it's most likely going to have another rough go of it. The schedule doesn't really set things up for a backdoor into bowl season should the team surprise to the upside, and the fact that all of those old guys made the core of some awful teams doesn't inspire hope of such a surprise anyway. The key to the season might just be the team's second game against Ohio. Win it, and there can still be hope for something crazy to happen later. Lose it, and it might nudge the staff into a youth movement where Mark Stoops's highly touted underclassmen get thrown into the fire for seasoning. If the latter is the way things go, the team will take some real lumps this fall.

THREE THINGS WE DON'T KNOW

1. Who will be under center.

Quarterback is a fluid situation right now. Patrick Towles was the leader coming out of spring practice, and he was a former four-star recruit. He also redshirted last year after playing some spot work as a true freshman in 2012. Last year's two main guys either transferred out (Jalen Whitlow) or missed the spring with injury (Max Smith). Highly touted true freshman Drew Barker came in and competed in the spring, and while he couldn't unseat Towles, he's pretty clearly the quarterback of the future. Will Towles hold onto the job? Will the staff decide the future is now with Barker? Your guess is as good as mine, and a lot probably depends on whether UK surprises on the upside or remains in the East cellar.

2. Whether they can stop anyone.

Everyone knows Texas A&M's defense was awful last year, but that's because people were already watching that team for Johnny Football. Kentucky's was similarly as bad. In conference play, UK allowed 0.1 points per game less, 0.37 yards per carry less, and 0.09 yards per play more than the Aggies did. Pass defense was particularly bad with a passing efficiency allowed of 169.07 in league play. For perspective, AJ McCarron had the highest individual mark there at 163.53. The Blue-White game offered little to suggest things will be better.

3. If the specialists will help or hurt.

Kentucky had one of the more reliable kickers in the SEC last year in Joe Mansour, who made 12 of 14 field goals on the season with one of the misses coming from over 50 yards. He was a senior, so the job now probably falls to redshirt freshman Austin MacGinnis. He was one of the top kicking prospects in high school, but he's yet to attempt anything on the college level. Landon Foster took over as a freshman at punter last year, but UK was near the bottom of the league in punting. If the Wildcats are going to surprise to the upside this year, they're going to need to win at the margins. That will require these two to go from question marks to sure things.

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