CatsIllustrated.com is starting to preview the 2017 college football season with kickoff less than two months away.
Here we rank the top quarterbacks on Kentucky's 2017 schedule.
12. Tim Boyle, EKU. There's no guarantee the Connecticut native will be EKU's starter and the job is really up for grabs because of turnover at the position (Maty Mauk's in the CFL, one player left the team last year, another left the team this offseason).
11. Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt made a return to the postseason last year but it's hard to make the case that Shurmur was a main reason (9-10 ratio, 54-percent completions). He played poorly against Kentucky and was terrorized by UK's pass rushers, so he'll have to be a lot better for Vandy to beat the Cats in Nashville. He was much better down the stretch against Auburn, Missouri, Ole Miss and Tennessee.
10. Keon Howard, Southern Miss. Howard might not have the job on lock yet and it's going to be tough for anyone to match Nick Mullens' production in Hattiesburg, Miss., this year, although Howard has impressive physical ability. He wasn't very effective as a passer in spot duty last season, although he does have run-pass ability.
9. Quinten Dormady, Tennessee. While Dormady doesn't have this spot on lock most people believe he's going to be the Vols' starter. Tennessee will miss Josh Dobbs and Dormady doesn't have much game experience. He played only very sparingly last year, with zero touchdowns on 17 attempts. He has just one career touchdown pass on 39 total attempts. Dormady might have a short leash this year but hopes are high in Knoxville especially after he was 100-percent on passes in UT's spring game.
8. Malik Zaire, Florida.This one's tough because it's not at all clear that Zaire will be the starter for the Gators. It might be Feleipe Franks. Zaire, who knows senior Kentucky tight end Greg Hart well as they attended the same high school, has plenty of confidence and a chip on his shoulders because he wants to prove he can thrive in the SEC.
7. Brogan Roback, Eastern Michigan. Roback didn't put up eye-popping numbers last season but he returns as a seasoned senior who had a very efficient 2016. He should contend for all-conference honors in the Mid-American Conference. He can run when he has to but is more a threat to pass. The Eagles return their top three receivers and eight of their top nine pass-catching targets.
6. Jacob Eason, Georgia.Eason arrived at Georgia with so much hype it seemed almost inevitable that he would fail to live up to expectations. And, he did fail to live up to those expectations. Was the problem the expectations? Eason had his great moments. He threw for more than 300 yards against Missouri and Vanderbilt (a one-point win and a one-point loss, however), he had twice as many touchdowns as picks, and he made some throws that only a guy with a big-time NFL arm could make. But Georgia only averaged 24 points per game and accuracy was an issue. Still, bet on talent.
5. Drew Lock, Missouri. You might not have noticed it last year because Kentucky's defense kept Lock and the Missouri passing game in check, but the once-heralded recruit actually had a fine sophomore year (nearly 3,400 yards, 23-10 ratio). Lock did pad his numbers in a couple of games but by season's end he was putting up quality numbers against most of the SEC teams on his schedule. Kentucky defended him better than most. Lock has NFL potential and as a junior he has an experienced line and a veteran cast of pass-catchers.
4. Jake Bentley, South Carolina. There are plenty of high profile recruits and former elite high school recruits on this list, and Bentley's one of them. Kentucky didn't have to face Bentley last year and that's probably a good thing because South Carolina was generally better once he took over. Bentley completed 66-percent of his passes over the Gamecocks' final seven games. Over a two game stretch he completed almost 80-percent of his throws against Tennessee and Missouri (two wins). He did struggle more down the stretch, throwing for zero touchdowns and two picks over South Carolina's final three regular season games.
3. Shea Patterson, Ole Miss. It was a bumpy ride for Patterson sometimes last year, but the talent is undeniable and he's going into 2017 with experience he didn't have last year. Ole Miss should be ready to air it out this year and Patterson is poised to put up really big numbers. He'll be playing loose all year, or he should be, because the Rebels won't have anything to lose.
2. Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State. Fitzgerald didn't pass very effectively against Kentucky last year but he ran all over the Cats' defense and finished the year with 1,375 yards on the ground. The junior is a big-time dual-threat who will be very difficult to account for when UK travels to Starkville. He won't have Fred Ross to throw to, but most of his other skill options return.
1. Lamar Jackson, Louisville. This isn't exactly a controversial pick. After all, we're talking about a Heisman Trophy winner who will enter the season with plenty of experience. Jackson doesn't have the exact same supporting cast as last year but he does have some playmakers to work with. He's still arguably the most talented player in the country and would be the top quarterback on just about any schedule, not just Kentucky's. Last year Jackson turned the ball over several times in the second half, leaving the Cats a glimmer of hope they ultimately capitalized on.