Even with leading receiver Wan’Dale Robinson off to the NFL, this has the potential to be one exciting offense. Chris Rodriguez is back after finishing second in the SEC in rushing a season ago while Will Levis could be one of the top quarterbacks in the country.
Kentucky returns many of the top players from a team that finished fourth in the SEC in both total defense and scoring defense. One concern is that the Wildcats were last in the conference in turnover margin.
Nearly 20 players have transferred including linebackers KD McDaniel and Isaiah Gibson as well as cornerback Cedric Dort. Most of the outgoing transfers were reserves or players who didn’t get on the field. However, their departures will impact Kentucky’s depth
Kentucky (+3000) is currently fourth in the odds to win the SEC title according to the college football picks. The odds rose slightly from +2800 a couple of months ago. The Wildcats (+1000) are currently tied with Tennessee for second to win the SEC East Division title.
Kentucky (+12500) is tied for 21st in the odds to win the national championship according to the sportsbook.
- 2021 record: 10-3
- 2021 conference record: 5-3
- Head coach: Mark Stoops
- Odds to win conference title: +3000
Kentucky brings back three players who earned preseason All-SEC honors.
Offensive guard Kenneth Horsey (21 career starts) and running back Chris Rodriguez were second-team selections while quarterback Will Levis was named to the third team.
After throwing 102 passes in his two seasons at Penn State, Levis came to Kentucky and finally was the unquestioned starter. He completed 66% of his passes for 2812 yards and 24 touchdowns. He had 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions in Kentucky’s 10 wins with six touchdowns and three interceptions in the three losses.
Levis is being touted as a potential top 10 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. The college football betting lines list Levis (+6600) among the top 20 candidates for the Heisman Trophy.
There were significant losses on the offensive line although Horsey and Eli Cox give the Wildcats two strong blockers on the interior.
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) July 26, 2022
Losing R.J. Adams to Georgia Tech is a tough blow for the line.
Not only is Rodriguez back after rushing for 1379 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior but so is Kavosiey Smoke (416 rushing yards). Levis ran for nearly 400 yards as well. Ramon Jefferson, who ran for 1155 yards and 13 touchdowns for Sam Houston, gives Kentucky another talented running back to work into the rotation. Former Tennessee running back Dee Beckwith is another incoming transfer.
Wan’Dale Robinson is off to the NFL after having 1348 yards on 104 catches as a junior. Second-leading receiver Josh Ali and tight end Justin Rigg are also gone.
Izayah Cummings (14 catches, 145 yard), DeMarcus Harris (12 catches, 150 yards) are the top returning receivers. Tight ends Brendan Bates and Jordan Dingle aslo return.
Keep an eye on Virginia Tech transfer Tayvion Robinson. He had 44 catches a season ago and also averaged 12.6 yards on 26 punt returns.
Seven of the top 10 tacklers are back, led by leading tackler Jacquez Jones (85 tackles), fellow linebacker DeAndre Square (80 tackles, three sacks), defensive backs Carrington Valentine and Tyrell Ajian. Linebackers J.J. Weaver (10 tackles for loss as well as a team-best six sacks), Trevin Wallace and Jordan Wright are also back.
Josh Paschal headed off to the NFL leaving 332-pound Justin Rogers and 280-pound Octavious Oxendine as the top returning players up front. The additions of Darrion Henry-Young and Tashawn Manning from Ohio State and Auburn will help.
The secondary added former Ole Miss cornerback Keidron Smith (64, two interceptions), Texas State safety Zion Childress (74 tackles, one interception, five pass breakups) and Mississippi State safety Londyn Craft (56 tackles in 2020).
Colin Goodfellow (45.9 yards per punt) and Matt Ruffalo (10 for 13 on field goals) are both back. Ali was the top punt returner while Zach Johnson handled most of the kickoff returns so new players will need to emerge in those spots.
Keep an eye on the Kentucky roster. Five players have transferred since mid April. Backup quarterback Beau Allen entered the transfer portal in the last few days. Kentucky led the SEC by scoring touchdowns on more than 72% of its trips to the red zone. If the offensive line comes together quickly, that could happen again with the return of Levis and Rodriguez giving the Wildcats the potential to be one of the better offenses in arguably the best conference in the country.
Kentucky started the 2021 season with seven wins in a row and won its last three games. In between the Wildcats allowed 106 in three straight losses.
The road opener against Florida on Sept. 10 will be a tough test as will a three-game stretch against Ole Miss, South Carolina and Mississippi State. The best news is the bye week is right after those three games so the Wildcats will get a chance to catch their collective breath.
Kentucky has a projected regular-season win total of eight, according to the college football predictions, with the odds at -115 for the Wildcats to go either over or under that total.
- Sept. 3 vs Miami (Ohio)
- Sept. 10 at Florida
- Sept. 17 vs Youngstown State
- Sept. 24 vs Northern Illinois
- Oct. 1 at Ole Miss
- Oct. 8 vs South Carolina
- Oct. 15 vs Mississippi State
- Oct. 29 at Tennessee
- Nov. 5 at Missouri
- Nov. 12 vs Vanderbilt
- Nov. 19 vs Georgia
- Nov. 26 vs Louisville