- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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If you ask coaches, they will tell you over and over again that winning takes offense, defense and special teams. (Forget kickers at your own risk.)
But that’s painting with too broad of strokes. Because inevitably every season comes down to one facet of the game, whether it’s a weakness that’s exploited or a potential question mark that becomes a strength.
Alabama doesn’t reach last season’s playoff without Blake Sims emerging at quarterback. Auburn, a year earlier, doesn’t make it to the title game without its offensive line. On the flip side, imagine how much better Florida would have been with a quarterback last season. What about Ole Miss with a running back or South Carolina with a defensive line?
So what will it be for each team this season? What’s the one position group that’s most important to each program’s success?
All week we’re attempting to answer that question. Today we turn to Kentucky.
Kentucky’s most important position: wide receiver and cornerback
Normally, we’d stick to the script here and name just one position for Kentucky. But because I asked coach Mark Stoops this exact question last week and he told me there were two groups he was hoping to see improvement from, I felt it was worth expanding the field a bit. Besides, his reasoning was solid.
"There are two groups," he told me. "I think we need to continue to develop at wide receiver and have that youth that I was just talking about play to the level that I expect them to. I feel like there’s good talent there, and a lot of the talent is going to be sophomores. If they have the growth I expect, that will be key.
"And if I could piggyback -- and I’ve made no bones about it -- we need to continue to play better in the secondary, in particular at corner. Part of that is finding guys that can cover one-on-one. That’s where we need to continue to recruit and continue to develop players. We have to be able to hold up outside."
See, by selecting two positions, Stoops wasn’t engaging in your typical coach-speak. It made sense. Because where Kentucky struggled last season wasn’t really on the line of scrimmage, like you would think. Their quarterback, Patrick Towles, was more than serviceable. But in a passing league, the Wildcats simply weren’t winning enough one-on-one battles on the outside on either side of the ball.
And Stoops is right: that should improve. With 10 ESPN 300 signees over the past three signing classes, the talent level at Kentucky is rising. The question is whether those highly touted prospects will pay off in 2015 or later.
Having seniors like Cody Quinn and Fred Tiller will help with the cornerbacks, but others will have to emerge. Kendall Randolph is expected to play a larger role this season, and Jaleel Hytchye is one to watch. But so is redshirt freshman Jared Tucker, who was a three-star prospect with offers from Florida State and Ohio State.
At receiver, there are slightly more options. After leading the team in receiving yards, Ryan Timmons returns and is expected to start alongside sophomores Garrett Johnson and Dorian Baker. But the 6-foot-5 Blake Bone could be an option, along with former four-star prospect Thaddeus Snodgrass, who redshirted last season.
Getting those first- and second-year players to develop this season will be vital to Kentucky turning around what was a disappointing end to last season.
After all, winning one-on-one battles on the outside comes down to talent. And until that young talent emerges in Lexington, it’s going to be a struggle for consistency.
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