KENTUCKY WILDCATS Head coach: Rich Brooks Last season: 8-5 overall, 3-5 in SEC; won 35-28 over Florida State in the Music City Bowl. Spring practice: March 26-April 19.
Kentucky must adjust to life without QB Andre Woodson and quite a few other offensive stars who have moved on to the NFL. The Wildcats proved last season they were no one-season wonder. Now they must show they've built a program that can overcome the departures of key performers.
Wide receiver Dicky Lyons is the only returning player at an offensive skill position.
Three starters return on an offensive line that features plenty of depth. Kentucky also returns three starters in the secondary, including Lindley, who can be a star. Although Rafael Little has moved on after an exceptional college career, the Wildcats seem set at tailback with the return of Derrick Locke, Tony Dixon, Alfonso Smith and Moncell Allen. That quartet combined to rush for 1,120 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
HELP IS NEEDED
Kentucky needs to find someone who can replace Andre Woodson at quarterback. Although the Wildcats have some depth at that position, they probably don't have anyone who can match what Woodson accomplished the past two seasons. Kentucky also must replace wide receivers Steve Johnson and Keenan Burton, who combined for 126 receptions for 1,782 yards and 22 touchdowns last season.
KEEP AN EYE ON
OT Stuart Hines: This redshirt freshman has a decent chance of winning one of the two open starting spots on the line. Hines has impressed coaches with his technique, footwork and fiery attitude since his arrival on campus.
WR Kyrus Lanxter: The Wildcats need a couple of receivers to take giant steps forward now that Burton and Johnson have departed. Lanxter, a redshirt freshman, is the best candidate to make the most of that opportunity.
QB Curtis Pulley: He nearly won the starting job in 2006 before getting beaten out by Woodson. Two years later, Pulley finally may get his chance to direct the Kentucky offense.
HIS TIME IS NOW
LB Micah Johnson, a former four-star prospect, has played relatively well. However, Johnson hasn't quite lived up to the huge expectations that accompanied his arrival on campus. He should crack the starting lineup at middle linebacker this fall, with Kelley moving over to the weak side.
Football became a big deal again in Kentucky the past two seasons, mainly because of five skill-position players: Woodson, Little, Burton, Johnson and tight end Jacob Tamme. The Wildcats must replace all five this season. Can offensive coordinator Joker Phillips build an equally explosive unit without all those weapons? Could an improved defense help pick up the slack? The answers to those questions should determine whether Kentucky reaches a bowl for the third consecutive year.