Ohio Bobcats vs. Kentucky Wildcats: A Way Too Early Non-Conference Preview

Mike Zarrilli

The Ohio Bobcats travel to SEC country in Week 2 to take on the Kentucky Wildcats. Let's take a way-too-early look at the team that finished at the bottom of the SEC East in 2013.

The Ohio Bobcats officially kick off life after Tyler Tettleton this fall One of their first tests without the quarterback who led them to the promised land is a trip to SEC country. It's not the most ideal situation for a season that still features plenty of questions, but luckily for Ohio and head coach Frank Solich, the Bobcats aren't facing the Gators, Tigers or Crimson Tide, no, they're facing the Wildcats of Kentucky, a time that has struggled mightily over the past few seasons.

Kentucky Wildcats 2013 Rewind:

The Kentucky Wildcats had a frustrating first season under head coach Mark Stoops in 2013. following a year in which the Wildcats went 2-10, Kentucky started off the season losing to in-state foe Western Kentucky, beat the Miami RedHawks (Kentucky's only win vs. and FBS opponent) and then lost five straight before beating FCS foe Alabama State 48-14. Kentucky closed out the season with four straight losses. All said, Kentucky was outscored 347-246, with 89 of the Wildcats' points coming in their two losses.

Mascot:

The University of Kentucky actually has two mascots. Wildcat originated in the 1976 season. Scratch joined the Wildcat in 1996. There's also a live wildcat mascot named Blue.

Stadium:

Since 1973 the Wildcats have called Commonwealth Stadium home. The on-campus stadium holds 67,942 fans at capacity, and features a natural grass field. The stadium is currently undergoing a $110 million renovation, which will add many new amenities while reducing seating capacity by nearly 8,000. It is set to conclude before the start of next season.

Conference/Division:

Kentucky plays in the Southeastern Conference (SEC), in the Eastern Division. Kentucky was one of the conferences 13 founding members back in 1933.

Last Bowl Appearance:

Kentucky last appeared in a bowl game in the 2011 BBVA Compass Bowl, following the 2010 season. The Wildcats lost to Pittsburgh 27-10.

Head Coach:

Mark Stoops is in his second year as Kentucky's head coach, his first head coaching job. He carries a 2-10 record into 2014.

Five Key Players:

Offense:

Kentucky struggled mightily on offense in 2013, the first year under offensive coordinator Neal Brown's up-tempo spread attack. The Wildcats scored 17 or more points against SEC opponents just twice this past season, with the bulk of their offensive output coming against a winless FBS team (Miami) and an FCS squad (South Alabama).

One of the issues with Kentucky's offense, and in some ways still is, depth at the wide receiver position, but the biggest question mark is the quarterback spot. Thanks to an impressive Top 30 recruiting class, the 'Cats have a handful of high potential new faces at receiver along with a handful of productive returnees, but we still don't know who is going to be throwing to them. Right now redshirt sophomore Patrick Towels appears to be the favorite for the job, but talented freshman Drew Baker could challenge for the spot.

One thing we do know is Kentucky will have a solid ground game, with plenty of depth, and led by true sophomore back JoJo Kemp, who led the team's multi-back attack in rushing as a true freshman in 2013. The Wildcats also have a pair of experienced and skilled bookends on offense, who will do a solid job of protecting whoever winds up taking the snaps under center.

Defense:

Kentucky's defense, a hybrid 3-4 system, is much more optomic than the offense. Despite losing several key defensive players, especially at the tackle positions, Stoops' and his staff hauled in a ton of new talent on this side of the ball. Factor that with a pair of versatile ends in seniors Alvin Dupree (61 tackles, 7 sacks) Da'Zarius Smith (59 tackles, 6 sacks) and it's clear Kentucky should have little issue getting after the passer. Smith and Dupree are both capable of playing with their hand in the dirt, or dropping back to the outside linebacker positions and will anchor the front seven while providing opposing offenses with plenty of headaches.

The secondary is solid as well, featuring several returning starters, including three corners, the nickel back and both safeties. There's also a ton of talented new faces back there, adding up to a deep, if not elite secondary. The athleticism of the SEC athletes can't be denied, and should be more than able to hold their own with the Bobcats receiver corps.

Special Teams:

Kentucky lost its longtime placekicker, Joe Mansour, but returns one of the best punters in the SEC, junior Landon Foster. In the return game, Kentucky wasn't exceptionally good in 2013. They netted a punt return average of just 6.2 in 2013, and a kick return average of 21.2. Seniors Demarco Robinson and Javess Blue are both back, but unless they can turn out more production in the return game, won't be much of a factor. There doesn't appear to be a return game threat on Kentucky, good news for Ohio (OK, this isn't really a return, but still).

Early Prediction:

Kentucky is talented, there's no denying that. But with so many questions, and so much youth, Ohio getting the Wildcats so early in the season is good for its chances of a win. Sure the Bobcats are without their 3-year starter at quarterback, are replacing two senior running backs and are missing some longtime starters in the secondary, but all in all the Bobcats are experienced, much more so than Stoops' talented young group. Even on the road, Ohio and it's solid pass rush could fluster the young Kentucky quarterback. I see Ohio winning this one 23-17.

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