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NCAA Football Kentucky WildcatsSEC Football

Rant Sports College Football Top 100: No. 77 Kentucky Wildcats

Mark Zerof-USA Today Sports

For the first time since probably the Tim Couch era, optimism is through the roof in Lexington, Ky. regarding the Kentucky Wildcats football program. New head coach Mark Stoops has brought on a sense of great things to come for the future of the program, especially in the always rugged Southeastern Conference. However, the future is for the future. Stoops and the Wildcats must first get through 2013 before they can properly gauge the steps they need to take to get where they really need to be.

Let’s take a look at this upcoming campaign of the no. 77 team on the Rant Sports Top 100 Countdown, the Kentucky Wildcats.

Offense

The quarterback position should be the toughest to get a hold of for the coaching staff. All five candidates received ample playing time in the spring game, with Jalen Whitlow seeming to impress the coaching staff the most during the spring season with his overall passing and running abilities, but Patrick Towles and Maxwell Smith shouldn’t be counted out yet by any means. In the end, Whitlow may prove to be the best option for their no-huddle scheme.

As far as backfield mates for whomever the QB may be, you have to immediately look at seniors Raymond Sanders III and Jonathan George, each of whom rushed for over 500 yards in 2012. They are also very capable receivers out of the backfield, providing some nice options in new offensive coordinator Neal Brown‘s offense.

With the departure of perennial All-SEC guard Larry Warford, the offensive line is a bit of a concern for the ‘Cats. With possible position changes being whispered about also, such as moving sophomore Zach Smith from guard to center, the offensive line could take some time to properly gel together, creating some issues in overall offensive development as well.

Defense

This particular side of the ball is where the most production needs to be seen. With returning defensive end Alvin Dupree highlighting the men up front after an explosive 2012 season which saw him record 91 tackles, play on the defensive line could be promising. Dupree should be joined by JUCO transfer Za’Darius Smith on the inside, with freshman Jason Hatcher also possibly seeing some significant playing time.

Talented senior Avery Williamson holds court on the inside linebacker spot once again this season, and should be ready to breakout as a peak SEC performer. He’ll be joined by up-and-coming sophomore Khalid Henderson and junior Miles Simpson. This unit should be the most impressive on the team as time goes on.

The secondary jobs could see a trial-and-error type movement. While there are a few contributors returning, freshman Marcus McWilson and JUCO transfer Nate Willis could wind up being key pieces immediately. Sophomore J.D. Harmon is also someone to watch at one of the cornerback slots.

Schedule

Well, it’s the SEC, what more needs to be said? For Stoops’ first run as a head coach, he has some tough tasks ahead. In addition to road contests against the Georgia Bulldogs and South Carolina Gamecocks, the Wildcats will welcome the Alabama Crimson Tide, Florida Gators, and Louisville Cardinals into Lexington. Those could easily be penciled in as five losses right there.

2013 Outlook

2013 is not going to be easy. That optimism that I spoke of earlier is something that should be reserved for three to four years down the road. If you’re one to live-and-die by recruiting rankings, then Stoops and company are certainly on their way to making the Wildcats a force in the SEC. This season however, optimism may entail sneaking into an early bowl season game. That would constitute success for this squad.

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Jack is a College Football Writer for Rant Sports. Follow Jack on Twitter @JackJ14RS