SEC
SEC

2010 NCAA Football Preview: Kentucky Wildcats

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Between now and the September 2nd season kick-off, Danny Hobrock will be previewing all the major college football teams with new teams being released daily.

2009 Season Breakdown

2009 final record (overall, conference): 7-6, 3-5
Bowl Game: Music City Bowl (L 21-13 vs. Clemson)
Final Ranking (AP, Coaches'): NR, NR
Conference finish: 4th SEC East
Offensive rank: 93
Defensive rank: 53

2009 Individual Statistical Leaders

Rushing: Derrick Locke, 907 yards, 6 TD; Randall Cobb, 573 yards, 10 TD
Passing: Mike Hartline, 802 yards, 6 TD, 7 INT; Morgan Newton, 706 yards, 6 TD, 3 INT
Receiving: Randall Cobb, 447 yards, 4 TD; Chris Matthews, 354 yards, 3 TD
Tackles: Micah Johnson, 105 total tackles
Sacks: DeQuin Evans, 6 sacks (6 solo)
Interceptions: Sam Maxwell, 6 interceptions (1 touchdown)

2010 Season Outlook

Schedule
(* denotes conference game)

kentuckylogoschedule

Key Matchups

September 4 @ Louisville: The Governor's Cup has gone to Kentucky the last three seasons. Since the two started playing annually in 1994, Louisville holds a 9-7 series lead. The teams played six times before the 1994 meeting each year from 1912 to 1915 and then twice more in 1922 and 1924. The Cardinals scored a grand total of zero points in those six meetings, meaning it took Louisville 82 years to score a point against the Wildcats from the time the first whistle blew.

October 2 @ Ole Miss: Kentucky lucked out in getting some of the softer opponents from the West Division. Taking advantage of the luck will be important if this team hopes to build conference victories. This one and the October 30 matchup against Mississippi State will be good opportunities to walk away with a couple of road victories, but they won't be gimmes.

October 16 vs. South Carolina: While neither team is likely to win the SEC East with Florida and Georgia the likely frontrunners, third in the division could come down to this game if all goes well for both sides.

AP: N/A

Coaches': NR

Key Losses

John Conner, FB; Zipp Duncan, OT; Corey Peters, DT; Micah Johnson, LB; Sam Maxwell, LB; Trevard Lindley, CB

Key Returning Players

Mike Hartline, QB; Derrick Locke, RB; Randall Cobb, WR; Chris Matthews, WR; Stuart Hines, G; DeQuin Evans, DE; Danny Trevathan, LB; Winston Guy, S

Offensive Overview

If Kentucky is going to make any noise in the SEC this or any season, they'll have to stay healthy. They've been devastated with injuries in the past, including last season when quarterback Mike Hartline went down with a knee injury. Now healthy and entering his senior season, Hartline will have plenty of weapons to be productive and hopefully lift a woeful passing game that ranked 114th in the nation last season. Hartline looked good this spring and should be able to hold off challenges from sophomore Morgan Newton, who took over for Hartline as a true freshman after his injury, and redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski. The job isn't fully his, and some argue that it's time for the Newton or Mossakowski era to begin with Hartline available should the young quarterbacks struggle, but with the experience and leadership he brings, Hartline should find himself the starter for the opener.

Another battle currently underway at UK practice is for the starting center position. It's a four-man race with Matt Smith, Jake Lanefski, Marcus Davis and Sam Simpson each hoping to come out on top. Citing the importance of continuity along an offensive line that will see four new starters, offensive line coach Mike Summers expresses the urgency in one of the four establishing himself as the starter. "[A]s soon as we can determine who [the starting center] is, the whole group will benefit from having one guy in there," Summers said according to The Courier-Journal. Guard Stuart Hines is the only returning starter on the line with former defensive end Chandler Burden expected to take over at left tackle. Brad Durham started four games at right tackle last season and will get the nod this season, while Larry Warford takes over at right guard.

While uncertainty at quarterback and along the offensive line has garnered a lot of attention this offseason, the skill positions provide plenty of targets and support to whoever ends up taking snaps under center. Derrick Locke was excellent last season, leading the team in rushing with 907 yards. He should easily eclipse 1,000 yards this season, especially if the passing game can get it together. On that front, Randall Cobb is the clear-cut star. While his receiving yards total did not reach 450, he proved a good option as a Wildcat quarterback, a role he played quite frequently after Hartline's injury. Cobb added 573 rushing yards and led the team with 10 rushing touchdowns. Chris Matthews is another excellent option in the passing game and compliments Cobb with excellent size (6'5, 222 pounds) and deep play ability. The third receiver was going to be Gene McCaskill, but he tore his ACL and is now out for the entire season.

Defensive Overview

Adrian Clayborn is a monster. He's arguably the Big Ten's best player at any position and would have been a first round draft pick had he chosen to come out a year early. To the delight of Hawkeyes fans everywhere, Clayborn will continue to bring his talent to Iowa City coming off a season of 70 tackles, 20 of them for a loss, and 11.5 sacks. In the Orange Bowl, Clayborn put on a show, recording nine tackles and two sacks as the Hawkeyes stifled the Georgia Tech triple option. Lining up opposite Clayborn is Broderick Binns, who came away with a nice season of his own last year (63 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks) and even finished with nine passes defended. With Clayborn deserving, and getting, so much attention, look for Binns to have another nice outing. In the middle of the line will be Karl Klug, a bit of an undersized tackle at 270 pounds. Still, he's productive and talented enough to produce (65 tackles, 13 for loss and four sacks) and could find himself as more than just an honorable mention in the conference when all's said and done. Christian Ballard will line up next to Klug, rounding out the four returning starters on this unit. He was All-Big Ten Honorable Mention last season after recording 54 tackles, nine for loss and 5.5 sacks.

While Evans could be the star of the defensive line, weakside linebacker Danny Trevathan could be the star of the entire defense. He finished second on the team with 82 tackles and looks to be the man at the second line of defense with Micah Johnson and Sam Maxwell now gone. Replacing Johnson in the middle will be junior Ronnie Sneed with redshirt freshman Qua Huzzie a big part of the rotation coming off a good spring. The replacement for Maxwell will be Jacob Dufrene, a senior who has seen action as a backup and special teamer and who has a bit of starting experience. This might not be the best linebackers corps in the SEC, but it's a solid one. If they can find a way to improve the run defense and make a few more plays in the backfield, they'll be in good shape.

Randall Burden will be the top corner in 2010, but he's not exactly a true #1 corner. He has nice coverage skills, is quick enough to be a good coverage guy and was pretty consistent last season opposite Trevard Lindley. Joining him, and taking over for Lindley, is Paul Warford, who did a fine job as a backup and as a starter for three games in the middle of the year. Martavius Neloms played well as a freshman last season and should prove to be a good option as a nickel corner. Winston Guy returns to the free safety spot with Taiedo Smith taking over at strong safety.

Special Teams Overview

Ryan Tydlacka was effective as a punter, averaging 40.0 yards per attempt last season and placed 20 punts inside the 20 yard line. In 2010, he'll return as the punter and will handle kicking duties as well. Randall Cobb is effective as a runner, receiver and a Wildcat quarterback. He's also a fantastic return man, averaging 12.8 yards per punt return, including one returned for a touchdown. As a kick returner, Cobb averaged 26.5 yards per kick return. The team's top kick returner, though, was Derrick Locke, who averaged 27.8 yards per kick return and took one back for a score. The two form a very talented and very dangerous duo who should give the Wildcats excellent field position.

Head Coach: Joker Phillips

New head coach Joker Phillips has been the coach in waiting at Kentucky since 2008 after serving as wide receivers coach and offensive coordinator, and upon the departure of Rich Brooks was officially named the head coach on January 4 of this year. Phillips was a wide receiver for the Wildcats from 1981 to 1984 and also played for the Washington Redskins of the NFL in 1984 and 1986 and Toronto Argonauts of the CFL in 1985.

There's great excitement with Phillips taking over the head job. In his first game as head coach, Phillips will take on the rival Louisville Cardinals, who also have a new head coach of their own in Charlie Strong. The two former coordinators are expected to take their respective teams, and as a result football in the state of Kentucky, to new heights.

Top 2011 Draft Prospects

Derrick Locke, RB; DeQuin Evans, DE; Ricky Lumpkin, DT

Season Prediction

3rd SEC East

If it weren't for a little luck in the schedule, as in who they play from the West, Kentucky would likely fall behind South Carolina in the SEC East. However, with Ole Miss, Auburn and Mississippi State on the schedule instead of Auburn, Alabama and Arkansas, three teams ranked in the Coaches' preseason top 25, the Wildcats will have an easier time accumulating conference victories than the Gamecocks.

The offense has no shortage of playmakers, although the loss of Gene McCaskill doesn't help, but the quarterback play needs to be solid and consistent no matter who gets the start, and the offensive line needs to mesh with four new starters. The defense should be solid, but the loss of several playmakers won't be easy to overcome right away. Finding a way to get into the backfield and stiffening up in run defense need to be focuses of the front seven. - Danny Hobrock

Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.

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