Kentucky college football preview 2021: Can UK score enough to compete for the SEC East?

The Kentucky Wildcats are heading into their ninth season with Mark Stoops as the head man, and he’s elevated the program into a consistent bowl team. Kentucky will always be a basketball school, but the football team no longer can be overlooked as a second-class citizen thanks to some outstanding recruiting and changing a culture. The ‘Cats are highly likely to reach a bowl game for the sixth consecutive season.

Kentucky developed a defense that can hang with some quality programs in the SEC, but the offense has struggled to match that success on their end. Stoops is looking to change that by firing the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in favor of Los Angeles Rams assistant Liam Coen to lead the offense in 2021.

2020 Season Review

  • 5-6, 4-6 SEC (4th in East), Won Gator Bowl (23-21 vs. NC State)
  • Won two straight games and lost two consecutive games just about all season, finished with consecutive victories

2021 Talent

2021 247Sports Composite Ranking: 34
ESPN Returning Production: 60% overall (98th): 60% offense (87th), 60% defense (97th)
Returning Talent Index: Negative, 12th in SEC
Returning starters: 7/11 offense, 5/11 defense
* All rankings out of 130 FBS schools

Key Player

Quarterback: Will Levis (Junior)

Kentucky did not showcase an explosive offense with three-year starter Terry Wilson, who transferred to New Mexico this offseason. A change was needed, and we’ll see who the Wildcats roll with in Week 1. The options are Penn State transfer Will Levis, Auburn transfer Joey Gatewood and Beau Allen. We’ll give the edge to Levis, who appeared in 14 games for the Nittany Lions the last two seasons. On 102 pass attempts, he completed 59.8% of them with 644 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Levis is also a threat as a runner as we saw at Penn State.

Offense (non-QB): OT Darian Kinnard (Senior)

Kentucky lost All-SEC offensive lineman from last season’s roster, but this still figures to be a solid group led by Darian Kinnard. The Wildcats’ offensive issues have come in the passing game, but Kentucky’s rushing attack has been a strength on that side of the ball in recent years. At the offensive tackle spot, Kinnard is among the top at his position in the SEC and will be relied on heavily to keep the running game strong and keep whoever lines up at quarterback protected.

Defense: FS Yusuf Corker (Senior)

Kentucky will lose a ton of talent from last season’s roster as they do not return a whole lot, which is unique considering how many players around the country took advantage of an extra year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, the Wildcats have proven to put together a solid group of players, and safety Yusuf Corker is going to be crucial to their success as a senior. An All-SEC caliber player, he had 77 tackles last season with two interceptions and a forced fumble.

Team Stats Projections

2020 SP+ final: 51st overall: 80th offense, 41st defense, 8th special teams
2021 SP+ projection: 57th overall: 75th offense, 44th defense

To win national title: +20000
To win SEC: +4000
Win total: 7 (Over -139, Under +110)

2020 Against The Spread: 4-6-1
2020 Point Total: Over 4-7-0

2021 Kentucky Football Schedule

Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Saturday, Sep. 4 Louisiana Monroe 12:00 pm/SECN N/A
Saturday, Sep. 11 Missouri 7:30pm/SECN N/A
Saturday, Sep. 18 Chattanooga 12:00pm/ESPN+ N/A
Saturday, Sep. 25 at South Carolina TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 2 Florida TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 9 LSU TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 16 at Georgia TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 23 OPEN TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 30 at Mississippi State TBA N/A
Saturday, Nov. 6 Tennessee TBA N/A
Saturday, Nov. 13 at Vanderbilt TBA N/A
Saturday, Nov. 20 New Mexico State TBA N/A
Saturday, Nov. 27 at Louisville TBA N/A