College football never ends, and during the next few weeks teams will be getting ready for the 2013 season in their spring practice sessions. Here's a look at the Kentucky Wildcats and what they'll be working on this spring.
Spring practice began: March 18
Spring game: April 13
2012 record: 2-10 (7th SEC East)
Returning starters: 12 (6 offensive, 6 defensive)
The Least You Should Know About Kentucky This Spring
-- There's this thing in Lexington called "excitement." No, really. Few BCS-level jobs offer a bigger challenge when it comes to connecting with fans than Kentucky's, where head coaches not only have to worm their way out of the shadow of the basketball program but also convince fans burned by decades of gridiron mediocrity that this time things really will be different. But Mark Stoops has gotten off to the best possible start on this front, with more tickets already reserved for the Wildcats' spring game than Kentucky has ever had fans in seats.
It's not just the fans Stoops has to convince that he's building something legitimate at Kentucky, of course; his players have to buy in first. But it's not a stretch at all to suggest that creating a rising tide of belief within and outside the program will lift all the Wildcats' boats, figuratively speaking. Create expectations, in other words, and there's a better chance the team fulfills them. Stoops is well on his way to doing just that.
-- The backfield needs sorting. The Wildcats bring back three starters on the offensive line (though the departure of All-SEC guard Larry Warford is a huge loss), but question marks abound elsewhere on the offense, none bigger than under center. Max Smith looked like the Kentucky quarterback of the future for all of four 2012 games before missing the rest of the season with injury; then-freshman Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles both showed enough potential in relief of Smith, though, that either could emerge from spring as the favorite. Whoever wins the job, they'll need much more support from the running game than it offered last fall -- meaning whichever of Raymond Sanders III or Jonathan George emerges as the primary ball carrier will have a substantial weight on his shoulders.
-- Oh, and a playmaking wideout would be nice. Here's how many touchdowns the top three returning wide receivers for the Wildcats combined for in 2012: zero. A major part of that was the instability at quarterback (Kentucky only threw for 13 touchdowns total in 2012, 105th in FBS), but it's still to safe to say that Stoops will be looking for much larger impacts from junior Demarco Robinson, sophomore Daryl Collins, sophomore A.J. Legree, and sophomore DeMarcus Sweat. All-purpose threat Sweat might be the most intriguing prospect of the four; he only caught four passes in 2012, but he averaged 21 yards per reception and scored on two of them.
-- Stoops has his work cut out for him on the defensive line. Arguably no area on the Kentucky roster underachieved as badly last fall as the defensive line, which boasted three upperclassmen in tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph and end Collins Ukwu and still finished 10th in the SEC in rush defense and dead last in tackles-for-loss. Ukwu is gone, but in Cobble, Rumph, JUCO spring enrollee Z'Darius Smith, and especially junior Alvin Dupree -- who led the team with 12.5 TFLs and could see even bigger numbers after moving from outside linebacker to rush end in Stoops' 4-3 -- the pieces are still there for a productive line. Now Stoops just has to get more out of them than his predecessors.