HOOVER, Ala. — Mark Stoops' fifth appearance at SEC Media Days will take place Wednesday afternoon. Fresh off leading UK to its first winning season since 2010, Stoops should enter the Main Room at the Wynfrey Hotel with more confidence than he’s displayed in recent years. He'll be joined by quarterback Stephen Johnson, linebacker Courtney Love and safety Mike Edwards as representatives of UK.
Although the Wildcats got over the hump and reached the Taxslayer Bowl last season, several questions still face UK going into the 2017 season. Catsillustrated.com takes a look at five UK-related storylines facing Stoops at SEC Media Days.
IS THIS THE YEAR MARK STOOPS GETS A SIGNATURE SEC WIN?
Stoops finally got his signature win in UK’s 41-38 upset over Louisville last season. The Wildcats also won four games in the SEC for the first time since 2006. By all measures Stoops’ 2016 season was a huge step forward, but he and the Wildcats have yet to beat Florida, Georgia or Tennessee in his tenure.
Florida owns a 30-game winning streak over UK, Tennessee has won 31 of 32 tries against the Wildcats and Georgia has taken seven straight in the series. For UK to make the next step in the league and truly compete for the SEC East, it’s imperative the Wildcats beat at least one of those three teams. UK plays Florida and Tennessee at Kroger Field, so maybe this is the season it happens.
WHO COMPLEMENTS BENNY SNELL IN THE BACKFIELD?
Stoops didn’t mention Benny Snell’s name at this event a year ago. With Boom Williams, Jojo Kemp and Mikel Horton ahead of him on the depth chart, Snell’s freshman record 1,086 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns would’ve been hard to predict.
Now Snell enters this season as one of the top running backs in the conference. The three names mentioned above are no longer with the program. Kemp graduated, Horton transferred during the 2016 season and Williams left early for the NFL, leaving uncertainty for the depth behind Snell.
Junior running back Sihiem King and freshman redshirt A.J. Rose are both listed on the second string in UK’s preseason depth chart. Catsillustrated.com reported on Tuesday that freshman Bryant Koback, who enrolled in January, could be healthy in time for the season.
Rose and Koback are unproven, but King has shown flashes in limited action. He’s recorded 208 yards on 22 career carries and scored two touchdowns. King rushed for 75 yards on six carries in mop-up duty against Tennessee last season.
Snell will be asked to handle the majority of carries at running back, but finding yards behind him will be critical for UK’s offense.
WHO STEPS UP ON THE DEFENSIVE LINE?
Stoops announced in June that senior defensive end Alvonte Bell had been dismissed for a violation of team rules. That leaves sophomore T.J. Carter and junior Kengera Daniel as the main factors for one defensive end spot. Carter made 11 total tackles in 11 games last season. Daniel has played sparingly in his first two seasons on campus.
That position poses the biggest question mark defensively as the season nears. There’s experience at every other position on the defensive line, including Adrian Middleton and Naquez Pringle in the middle. Denzil Ware is also among the best in the conference as a defensive end/outside linebacker.
Jordan Jones, Courtney Love and Josh Allen provide a solid trio at linebacker, and cornerbacks Derrick Baity and Chris Westry have both shined at times during their career. Mike Edwards is among the best in the SEC at safety and Darius West will enter the season as the favorite at strong safety after missing last year with a knee injury.
With proven players at nearly every position, the progression of the defensive end position will be the closest to watch in fall camp.
WILL EVERYONE FROM THE 2017 CLASS MAKE IT TO CAMPUS?
Four-star athlete Lynn Bowden and three-star defensive back Michael Nesbitt were the only two members of UK's 2017 recruiting class who didn't make it to campus during the summer. UK has confirmed Bowden will be eligible for fall camp, but Nesbitt’s situation is still in the air.
Bowden’s addition will strengthen an offense in need of new playmakers after the departures of Williams and receiver Jeff Badet. Rated as one of the best players in Ohio in the 2017 class, Bowden will be expected to contribute in a variety of ways from his first day on campus.
Nesbitt, one of five defensive backs signed in the class, will likely have his status addressed by Stoops on Wednesday.
WILL STOOPS NAME STEPHEN JOHNSON THE STARTING QB?
There's little doubt Stephen Johnson will be the starting quarterback when UK takes the field against Southern Mississippi in the season opener. On the depth chart released by UK, Johnson is listed first string with Drew Barker and Gunnar Hoak battling for the backup spot. Stoops to this point hasn't confirmed Johnson will be the starter -- he's maintained that, like every position, quarterback competition is open -- but perhaps he'll do so on Wednesday.
Johnson helped UK to a seven-win season after replacing Barker in the New Mexico State game. He threw for 2,037 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions last season.
Barker missed the rest of the season with a back injury, but he's back and able to compete at full-strength this summer.