As preseason college football rankings continue to roll out in the weeks leading up to the season, Kentucky has fallen outside the top 25 in the vast majority, but still holding firm in the top 30-40. The first official USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll released this week had UK ranked No. 37 in the nation, good for eighth in the Southeastern Conference.
In the debut of ESPN’s SP+ rankings, which factor in the most “sustainable and predictive aspects of college football” such as returning production, recent recruiting and recent history, Kentucky came in ranked No. 57 out of 130 FBS teams back in February. With the dust settled on spring and summer ball and fall camp ramping up, the updated rankings did no favors to UK, with the Wildcats dropping one spot to No. 58 overall. Kentucky has SP+’s No. 81 ranked offense and No. 45 defense, respectively.
The Wildcats are ranked No. 113 in returning production out of 129 total schools, down from No. 98 overall in February’s rankings. UK returns 63% of production, including 62% on offense (No. 100 overall) and 63% on defense (No. 113 overall).
Here are the complete SEC rankings:
9. Texas A&M
25. Ole Miss
44. Mississippi State
89. South Carolina
Louisville also came in ranked No. 42 overall, for those curious.
The SP+ rankings were originally created by Bill Connelly at Football Outsiders in 2008 before transitioning to ESPN over the years, with returning production, recent recruiting and recent history being the core factors of each list.
While UK sits in the bottom tier of the SEC in these rankings, it makes sense when you consider those factors, as Kentucky will be replacing a 20-plus game starter at quarterback in Terry Wilson, two four-year starters on the offensive line in Drake Jackson and Landon Young, its leading tackler in Jamin Davis, leading sack-producer in Boogie Watson and its top turnover creator on defense in Kelvin Joseph.
Back on Aug. 4, SP+ gave the Wildcats 6.9 projected wins in 2021, including 3.6 in the SEC. Here was the schedule breakdown:
- Likely wins: NMSU (99%), Chattanooga (96%), ULM (95%), at Vanderbilt (81%), at South Carolina (67%)
- Relative toss-ups: Missouri (56%), Tennessee (53%), at Louisville (38%), at Mississippi State (37%)
- Likely losses: LSU (34%), Florida (21%), at Georgia (10%)
Here’s what ESPN had to say about Kentucky last week:
“Stoops still hasn’t quite figured out the right offensive identity,” Connelly said. “The best Kentucky teams always seem to have the biggest offensive line on your schedule and a big, angry and effective running back (junior Chris Rodriguez Jr. is 5’11, 224). This is clearly part of what Stoops want to bring to the table.
“Passing’s long been an issue, though. It was to be excused when injuries led to wideout Lynn Bowden Jr. becoming a full-time Wildcat QB in 2019, but in Stoops’ eight seasons, UK has produced a passer rating over 130 or a Total QBR over 60 only once each.
“Quarterbacks Joey Gatewood and Penn State transfer Will Levis are both great run threats, but neither is a proven passer. They could have decent efficiency options in slot men Wan’Dale Robinson (Nebraska transfer) and Josh Ali, but it might take Coen a while to make serious progress.”
Solid praise, but certainly waiting to see what the offense looks like under Coen before being sold on the Wildcats in 2021.
What do you think, BBN? Do you agree?