Kentucky Wildcats Preview 2022: Season Prediction, Breakdown, Key Games, Players

·9 min read

Kentucky Wildcats Preview 2022: Previewing, predicting, and looking ahead to the Kentucky season with what you need to know and keys to the season.

Contact/Follow @ColFootballNews & @PeteFiutak

Kentucky Wildcats Preview
Head Coach: Mark Stoops, 10th year at Kentucky, 59-53
2021 Preview: Overall: 10-3, Conference: 5-3
Keys To The Season | Season Prediction, What Will Happen
Kentucky Top 10 Players | Kentucky Schedule & Analysis

Kentucky Wildcats Preview 2022

Are we allowed to call Kentucky a football school now?

That might be a little much, but with two ten-win seasons in the last four, four straight bowl wins, and a terrific run of success in the by-far best conference in college football, head coach Mark Stoops has created something special.

No, Kentucky isn’t Georgia or Alabama or an SEC program that’s rising up into national championship status like Texas A&M appears to be, but it’s not as crazy far off as it might seem.

The Wildcats are cranking out enough NFL talent to matter, they’re beating the teams they’re supposed to – one loss to Mississippi State last year aside – and they just don’t buckle, especially in bowl games.

It’s not always pretty, and a lot of what they do defies logic and reason when it comes to SEC success, but it’s working.

Of course Kentucky is going to want more, and the expectations are now at a reasonably high level, but there’s a consistency now, and it’s all about to continue even with a whole slew of starters gone off both sides of the ball.

Kentucky Wildcats Preview 2022: Offense

The offense finished eighth in the SEC, averaged a decent 32 points per game, and it was relatively efficient throwing the ball and good at running when it got into a groove. There were too many turnovers, but few teams were better on third downs, and overall there was a good balance.

At least five starters are expected to be back in the mix, and – in place of new LA am OC Liam Coen – new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello is looking to do even more with the passing game, but …

The offensive line will be under fire right away. Last year’s bunch was decent in sacks allowed and did an okay job of keeping defenses out of the backfield for tackles for loss, but star NFL-caliber tackles Dare Rosenthal and Darian Kinnard are gone, and Luke Fortner is done at center. The transfer portal is providing some help around veteran Kenneth Horsey at one guard – Auburn’s Tashawn Manning is going to be a problem for run defenses – and they all have a fantastic back to block for.

Chris Rodriguez is one of the toughest backs in the country. He ran for close to 1,400 yards and nine touchdowns as the workhouse for the attack, Kavosiey Smoke averaged five yards per crack, and young options are in the rotation.

Former Penn State QB transfer Will Levis has found a home. He threw for over 2,800 yards with 24 touchdowns last season, ran for nine scores, and gave the program it hasn’t had in a long, long time. The last UK quarterback to throw for over 20 touchdowns was … ?  Mike Hartline with 23 in 2010. Now the receivers have to rise up.

Wan’Dale Robinson is off being a New York Giant after his 104-catch season, and 41-catch No. 2 target Josh Ali is done. However, DeMarcus Harris is a veteran and he’ll get help around him from the transfer portal. Tayvion Robinson is coming in from Virginia Tech, and Javon Baker will see instant time after leaving Alabama.

Kentucky Wildcats Preview 2022: Defense

The defense allowed just 340 yards per game, was great against the run, and it overcame its problems on third downs to allow just 22 points per game. Like the offense, though, a bulk of the key parts are done. And also like the offense, there’s just enough coming back to be fine with a little time.

Excellent pass rushing end Josh Paschal is done, but leading sacker JJ Weaver is back in the rotation at the JACK linebacker position, leading tackler Jacquez Jones – coming off an 85-tackle season – returns for one more year in the middle of the corps. Throw in veteran De’Andre Square on the outside, and Kentucky’s linebackers are a major plus.

There’s bulk inside with 336-pound Justin Rogers about to take over a bigger role on the nose next to 318-pound Octavious Oxendine. All that’s missing is more time.

The secondary has a playmaking corner in Carrington Valentine – he didn’t make any picks, but he came up with 61 stops – but losing Cedric Dort to Wisconsin isn’t a plus. The safeties will be solid – Tyrell Ajian has been around the block a few times and should be a leader in the defensive backfield.

Keys To The Season | Season Prediction, What Will Happen
Kentucky Top 10 Players | Kentucky Schedule & Analysis

Kentucky Wildcats: Keys To The Season, Top Game, Top Transfer, Fun Stats NEXT

Kentucky Wildcats: Keys To The Season, Top Game, Top Transfer, Fun Stats

Kentucky Wildcats: Key To The 2022 Offense

Turnovers … stop giving them away.

The Wildcat offense should have more firepower and pop, but in general, the program wins on being sharper and making fewer overall mistakes – there aren’t a lot of penalties – than the team on the other side.

The turnovers weren’t always a killer last year, but the 23 given away were the most since the 28 in 2016, and they occasionally proved costly.

Four turnovers against New Mexico State was no big deal. Four against Mississippi State were the problem in the 31-17 loss.

The offense gave up 11 in the first four games and managed to go 4-0, but with a tougher first half of the season, they need to be air tight coming out of the box.

And on the other side of the ball …

Kentucky Wildcats: Key To The 2022 Defense

Turnovers … start getting more.

The defense overall will be fine once a steady pass rush shows up among the new parts. The disruption has to lead to more big plays and takeaways.

The 2020 Kentucky team played 11 games and came up with 22 takeaways. The 2019 D generated 19, and the 2018 version took it away 20 times.

The 2021 defense came up with just 12 takeaways, and three of them came in the bowl win over Iowa. There was just one fumble recovery in the first eight games, and there was only one takeaway in the three-game losing stretch for a defense that came up with multiple turnovers just two times.

Kentucky Wildcats: Key Player To The 2022 Season

OT Deondre Buford, Soph.
Let’s put the pressure on the new option. Left tackle has become a big position for Kentucky over the last few years, but the 6-3, 295-pound Buford isn’t as bulky as past options and he needs more time.

Buford appears to be ready to hold down the spot, but watch out for superstar NFL-looking recruit Kiyaunta Goodwin to see time.

Kentucky Wildcats: Key Transfer

WR Tayvion Robinson, Jr.
After three years as a dangerous, consistent part of the Virginia Tech offense, the 5-10, 187-pound Robinson now steps into a big role with the Kentucky passing game.

He caught 113 passes for 1,555 yards and nine touchdowns with the Hokies, was used a bit as a runner, and now he should be a jack-of-all-trades type for the attack.

Kentucky Key Game To The 2022 Season

at Florida, Sept. 10
1976 and 1977. That was the last time Kentucky beat Florida two years in a row.

The Wildcats won 20-13 last year, and this time around it’s the SEC opener on the road in Week 2. Georgia and South Carolina are home games, but Tennessee is on the road.

Beat the Gators in a game their new head coach Billy Napier needs to get, and UK will almost certainly be 4-0 going into the road game at Ole Miss. Lose, and deal with Lane Kiffin’s club on the road to avoid an 0-2 SEC start.

Kentucky Wildcats: 2021 Fun Stats

– Time of Possession: Kentucky 32:35 – Opponents 27:23
– 1st Quarter Scoring: Kentucky 119 – Opponents 59
– Fumbles: Kentucky 19 (lost 10) – Opponents 10 (lost 3)

O, D Breakdown | Season Prediction, What Will Happen
Kentucky Top 10 Players | Kentucky Schedule & Analysis

Kentucky Wildcats Season Prediction, What Will Happen NEXT

Kentucky Wildcats Season Prediction, What Will Happen

There’s another X factor when it comes to the 2022 Kentucky Wildcats that wasn’t previously brought up …

There’s a whole lot of talent on the way from the recruiting class.

So for all the lost parts, the help from the transfer portal, and the positives in several places, things might be even stronger than it seems because of the all-around upgrade to push for spots and time.

Of course, relying on freshmen in the day and age of the transfer portal is dangerous, but this year’s team might go from good to something fantastic if some of those new guys rock and roll in fall camp.

As is, UK is going to be solid.

Set The Kentucky Wildcats Regular Season Win Total At … 8

At Florida, at Ole Miss, at Tennessee, Georgia. Those are the big four the Wildcats have to come up with something against.

That’s not to blow off tough home dates against Louisville, South Carolina and Mississippi State, or the road trip to Missouri, but it’s possible to have a very good season, lose those other big four games as the likely underdog, and not get to eight wins.

Assume Kentucky wins one of those four, loses one of those 50/50 dates on the wrong day, and ends up banking seven wins before dealing with Georgia on November 19th with Louisville to close things out.

Offense, Defense Breakdown | Keys To The Season
Kentucky Top 10 Players | Kentucky Schedule & Analysis

2022 College Football Schedules: All 131 Teams