THREE THINGS WE KNOW
1. Morgan Newton is the quarterback, for better or worse.
Stop me if you've heard this before: "Newton is an impressive physical specimen, especially for a quarterback." Morgan is certainly no Cameron, but at 6'4" and 235 lbs, the Wildcat signal caller has the size to be a top flight quarterback. Of course if size was all that mattered, Terrence Cody would have made an awesome pocket slinger. Newton earned praise from Joker Phillips for his growth as a passer this spring, with the head coach describing his quarterback's improvement as "night and day" versus last year. That's a critical thing to hear, as Newton has been uneven tossing the ball around. He must show that improvement this fall.
2. The offensive line will be solid.
Kentucky has the luxury of returning four offensive linemen a year after the team averaged just over five yards per carry with sacks taken out of the rushing totals. The Wildcat line was also tied for second in the conference with just 14 sacks allowed in SEC play, and that was with the relatively immobile Mike Hartline taking most of the snaps. Second team All-SEC guard Larry Warford is the standout of the bunch, not only for his effective play but for being a massive 6'3"-340 lbs. The only new starter is RT Billy Joe Murphy, but he's actually started nine games in his career. Fresh faces may abound at all the skill positions in Lexington, but the line is stocked with quality veterans.
3. The running backs have speed; the receivers have size.
Three of the top four running backs on the team are 5'10" or shorter. The top two on the depth chart are 5'8" Raymond Sanders and 5'9" CoShik Williams. They're speed backs who can catch the ball, made from the same mold as Derrick Locke. None of them are as good as Locke was, but they'll fill that same kind of role. Meanwhile, the Wildcats have the exact opposite on the outside. La'Rod King (6'4") and Matt Roark (6'5") are the top two receivers, Brian Adams (6'4") looked great in the spring game, and SEC All-Freshman team selection TE Jordan Aumiller (6'4") is back. The catch is that none of these guys are really burners, and drops were a huge problem in the spring game.
THREE THINGS WE DON'T KNOW
1. How things will go replacing Hartline, Cobb, and Locke.
Hartline quietly registered a 146.38 passing efficiency in 2010, the best mark for a UK quarterback since Andre' Woodson's 154.5 in 2006. Cobb was a do-it-all magician, often making something out of nothing as a receiver, running back, wildcat quarterback, and return man. Locke, along with Rafael Little, was one of the best two running backs the Wildcats have had in the Rich Brooks/Phillips era. When Kentucky had to replace the Woodson/Little/Steve Johnson/Keenan Burton core in 2008, the offense nose dived from 24th nationally in total yards to 106th. The Wildcats must avoid a similar cratering effect without Hartline, Cobb, Lock, and big play guy Chris Matthews.
2. If the defensive push will actually exist.
Kentucky will have a good secondary this year, led by safety Winston Guy. Danny Trevathan will anchor the linebackers. Up front? That's the big question. In SEC play last year, Kentucky was dead last in sacks, dead last in tackles for loss, and allowed the most rushing plays of at least ten yards. UK loses three seniors from its defensive line rotation, but they combined for just 2.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss. The guys who are back overall have size, with three tackles listed at 300+ pounds, and that matters when it comes to defensive fronts. Whether they have the skill to go with that size is an open question, one that will largely define the overall effectiveness of the defense.
3. The effect of Rick Minter.
Steve Brown hasn't exactly set the world on fire as Kentucky's defensive coordinator over the past few years, so Phillips brought in Minter to be the co-coordinator for this fall. Minter is the winningest head coach in Cincinnati Bearcats history, and his coaching tree includes Rex Ryan, John Harbaugh, Mike Tomlin, Jimbo Fisher, and... Joker Phillips. He's got coaching bona fides, and he's primarily responsible for the multiple front schemes UK will run this season. Perhaps the best test is seeing how his new 4-2-5 package will work, with it designed to exploit the quality of the secondary while downplaying inexperience at linebacker. It sounds good in theory, but it's likely only to work well if the front four get better.