With the college football season rapidly approaching it's time to shift more of our attention to what's going to happen on the gridiron in 2017.
Without further ado, here's the first preseason edition of the CatsIllustrated.com football notebook. Here you'll find the most pertinent links and reading with a special focus on Kentucky.
Pro Football Focus is, arguably, the leader in the study of advanced statistics in both college football and the NFL, and CatsIllustrated.com has been sifting through their research since last year.
Late last week PFF pointed out (see: graphic above) that returning junior linebacker and pass rush specialist Denzil Ware had the third most quarterback pressures of any returning player in the Southeastern Conference, behind only LSU's Arden Key and Ole Miss' Marquis Haynes.
Perhaps more interesting is PFF's ranking of Ware as the SEC's top returning "stop" man in the SEC. Some fans might not be familiar with the "stop" category, which isn't as commonly used in popular commentary. PFF defines a "stop" as "a tackle that results in a 'WIN' for the defense."
Kentucky's defense will need more such stops from other defenders to complement what Ware has done in that respect. Football Outsiders ranked Kentucky towards the middle-bottom of the pack nationally in 2016 in a similar but not identical category: "Success rate," which attempts to quantify a defense's ability to win each given down against the opposing offense.
CONSEQUENTIAL CATS-DAWGS GAME
Count Hugh Kellenberger among the many SEC football writers who believe Kentucky football can make some noise in 2017.
The Clarion-Ledger sports columnist wrote about his top ten games in the SEC for the 2017 football season. Starting off the list at No. 10 is Kentucky's game in Athens against the Bulldogs.
"I’m bullish on Kentucky this season as the weird “How is this team near the top of the division standings in November?”-team. A 5-1 or even 6-0 start (requiring an upset of Florida at home) is totally in play, and UK draws Mississippi State (which it beat last season) and Ole Miss as the SEC West games," Kellenberger writes. "Georgia, meanwhile, is the likely pick by everyone to win the East. So this SEC regular season finale for both teams has an outside shot at mattering a great deal."
Last year Kentucky lost to Georgia 27-24 in a close game played in (then-named) Commonwealth Stadium, with a Jeff Badet drop on a bomb from Stephen Johnson proving to be consequential and impacting the outcome.
SNUBBED BY SI?
With the season approaching this is the time of year when you'll see all kinds of lists. All-American teams, all-conference teams, preseason superlatives and the list of lists goes on.
You can read the full list at the above link, or you can save yourself the time if you don't want to read a list that includes zero Kentucky football players. Is that a snub for the Cats? Different readers are likely to have a range of opinions.
One could certainly make a case for the inclusion of one of about three players: Running back Benny Snell (who had a record-breaking freshman season), linebacker Jordan Jones (an All-SEC player and one of the nation's most productive linebackers) and/or safety Mike Edwards (one of the SEC's top defensive backs).
Saturday Down South took on an interesting if imprecise project when they decided to make an NFL comparison for every quarterback currently slated to start in the SEC.
Writer Adam Spencer compared Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson, who posted a 7-4 record in the 11 games during which he was the primary starter in 2016, to Ryan Tannehill. That's not exactly the sexiest comparison, but then again, nobody accused Johnson's game of being the most aesthetically pleasing quarterbacking last year. He was more about results, more often than not.
"Neither Tannehill nor Johnson will wow you with what they do on the field, but the Miami Dolphins are happy to have the former Texas A&M receiver under center and the Wildcats should be happy to have Johnson calling plays," Spencer wrote.
"Johnson, like Tannehill, doesn’t run the ball a lot, but can be effective on the ground when it is needed. Both players have some work to do if they want to reach the top tier of quarterbacks at their levels, but they have the talent to get it done in the coming years."
Tannehill also fumbled nine times last year (45 for his career) and that's been a place where Johnson has struggled, too.
WALDER'S NEXT STOP
Linebacker Roland Walder would have been a redshirt freshman at Kentucky in 2017, but instead he became the fourth player at that position to transfer since the end of last season (Nico Firios, Kobie Walker, De'Niro Laster were the others).
Sources tell CatsIllustrated.com that Walder will land at Bowling Green, where he will play football for the Falcons. The move allows Walder to stay close to home and gives him a strong forecast for playing time once he's eligible to suit up.