Good news, college football fans: We’re officially 100 days away from the first Saturday of the season.
To mark the occasion, we on the SEC blog will take a look at where all the conference teams stand right now.
Up next is Kentucky.
What we learned on offense: Another year, another offensive coordinator. But this time coach Mark Stoops went a bit of a different direction with the hiring of former Cincinnati OC Eddie Gran, keeping the same scheme formation-wise -- spread and shotgun-based, in other words -- while moving toward a more pro-style mindset as far as reads and play calls are concerned. For new starting quarterback Drew Barker, it’s a welcome change to throw the ball more vertically and exhibit more control with pre-snap reads. Barker, the former four-star prospect and crown jewel of the 2014 class, earned the role of QB1 over juco transfer Stephen Johnson from day one of spring practice, showing the leadership Stoops and Gran were looking for.
What we learned on defense: The defense is lagging behind the offense somewhat with five starters to replace in the front seven, but there are some playmakers emerging who could make a difference. One such player is defensive end Denzil Ware, who had 15 tackles and four sacks in the spring game. But when it comes to the strength of the defense, there’s no question that it’s the secondary where Chris Westry, Derrick Baity and Mike Edwards form a solid nucleus. In a passing league full of tall receivers the 6-foot-4 Westry and 6-foot-3 Baity are built to stifle offenses in the red zone.
Breakout player: Maybe it was just a one-scrimmage wonder, but watching the spring game it looked as if a light turned on for Ware, the former four-star prospect from Florida who redshirted his first year on campus and played sparingly a year ago. Granted, weighing one sack in 2015 against four sacks in a spring game is impossible, but if he can replicate even a fraction of the pass-rush ability we saw to close out the spring then he’ll be in great shape this season. At 6-foot-2 and 255 pounds, he has the size and the quickness to be a difference-maker.
Key storyline: Flashback to 2014. Kentucky has the best signing class in school history with six ESPN 300 signees and eight total four-stars. Ware’s the highest-rated player, Barker’s the face of the class and receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass and running back Stanley Williams have the look of future stars in the SEC. For good measure, Kentucky fans can thump their chests about signing big defensive tackle Matt Elam, who considered committing to Alabama. The future looks bright. But in the two seasons since arriving in Lexington, the 2014 class hasn’t exactly paid off. There have been flashes of potential, but not a single bowl game. And now that has to change. For Kentucky to get over the hump, it’s up to those redshirt sophomores and juniors to make good on their potential and carry the program.