As Kentucky prepares for its first New Year’s Day bowl game in 20 years, coming off its most successful regular season in 40 years, the Wildcats joined the rest of FBS football in looking even further ahead — to the fall of 2019, when Kentucky’s signees will first appear on SEC gridirons.

While the first day of the Early Signing Period wasn’t quite as triumphant for the Wildcats as most Saturdays in the fall of 2018, there’s still plenty of good news. The rankings could change slightly, but the Wildcats are No. 31 and expected to finish higher than last year’s class of No. 36. Here are the five main takeaways from Day 1.

1. The future defense was assembled

Most of Kentucky’s biggest recruits, including all three 4-star prospects are defenders. Those three 4-stars — each representing one of the three defensive position groups — are among the most likely to posit immediate contributions for Kentucky.

Defensive end J.J. Weaver flirted briefly with Louisville and will wait until the spring Signing Day, but the Louisville native should help replace the loss of Josh Allen in Kentucky’s pass rush. Linebacker Jared Casey was an Oregon commitment, but flipped to Kentucky during the Wildcats’ 9-3 campaign. Casey will get a shot at the field early. Safety Moses Douglass joins the position group which suffers most from attrition. UK loses four contributing players from the secondary — and the hard-hitting Douglass should help ease that sting.

2. The biggest offensive name is a familiar name

In the 2017 class, Kentucky signed a 6-4 wide receiver who was a 4-star pick by But Javonte Richardson redshirted in his only season in Lexington and became an academic casualty, heading to Iowa Western Community College. Richardson is back as a sophomore JUCO signee, and given his experience around the Kentucky program, is likely to see the field early and often for a frequently underwhelming Wildcat receiving corps. Richardson should be a physical presence and a deep ball threat, both of which will be welcome in Lexington.

3. In-state recruiting sees an uptick

Kentucky did not sign an in-state recruit in 2018, the first time in several decades that occurred. The 2019 recruiting class is a strong group, and even with the defection of athlete Wandale Robinson to Nebraska, Kentucky signed 5 in-state players. Weaver and Casey, mentioned above, are the biggest names, but defensive end Shawnkel Knight-Goff is a high-ceiling player, and receiver Demontae Crumes and offensive lineman Eli Cox both project well as likely redshirts. While Kentucky had previously focused in Ohio, the Buckeye State was a bit down in talent this fall, and the Commonwealth meanwhile had a football boom. It’ll be interesting to see if Kentucky continues this trend beyond the current recruiting class.

4. Quarterback help is on the way

The quarterback situation in Lexington figures to be a big topic heading to the offseason. With sophomore Terry Wilson winning the job over sophomore Gunnar Hoak, the Wildcats probably know their starter for the next two seasons.

Hoak is expected to stick around at last word, but that could change in a hurry. Third-string QB Danny Clark, who played in two games, has already announced his transfer.

Kentucky added a pair of QB signees. Undersized Florida dual-threat guy Nik Scalzo is coming off of knee surgery, and seems unlikely to be an early-play guy.

Developing QB Amani Gilmore is a pro-style passer from Louisiana who will need a year to develop, but shows signs of being a talented, late bloomer. It doesn’t hurt that Gilmore was the high school QB for Wildcat target Devonta Lee, a 4-star athlete who appears to be signing in the spring.

5. There are still some big fish lurking in the recruiting pond

While Kentucky signed a large group in this early session, Kentucky is far from done with their recruiting. The Wildcats used their initial group of signees to grab promising defenders and some raw offensive talent they hope to develop.

They will likely sit back and use their final handful of scholarships to nab some “best player available” types.

Lee, mentioned above, is a 6-2 athlete who would probably play from Day 1 as a receiver. Georgia safety Jammie Robinson is another guy who UK is very serious about — and with good reason. Robinson is a high 3-star prospect who would be one of the top half dozen players in Kentucky’s class.

Another recruitment that will probably linger into the spring is CB Jay Ward. The Georgia product was an early Kentucky commit, but he decommitted when his stock began to rise in the national recruiting rankings. At that point, word was that Ward was expected to end up at LSU, which was also a favorite to sign Devonta Lee. But in both cases, the Tigers may have run into a logjam of numbers for a relatively small number of spots, which could put Kentucky back in the driver’s seat for Ward.

One thing that’s clear is that Kentucky will use those last spots to maximum effectiveness. After all, it was only a few years ago when a late offer from Kentucky brought a decommit from a certain two-star,  Monmouth-bound linebacker who ended up being Josh Allen, first team All-American. Stoops and company will continue the hunt for the next Allen into the early days of February.