6 reasons Kentucky will win 6 games in 2015
Six is the magic number for Kentucky football fans heading into this fall.
Mark Stoops has made significant strides on the recruiting trail as well as on the football field during his first two seasons in Lexington.
A trip to a bowl game in Year 3 would signify the next step forward for this program, and it will take six wins to get there.
Here’s why it will happen in 2015:
1. Out-of-conference schedule
The Wildcats should be able to get at least halfway to the six-win goal thanks to out-of-conference scheduling alone. Home games against Louisiana-Lafayette (Sept. 5), Eastern Kentucky (Oct. 3) and Charlotte (Nov. 21) should net Kentucky three wins, barring a significant upset. The fourth non-conference tilt is a Nov. 28 meeting with rival Louisville at Commonwealth Stadium, which will be both a game Kentucky considers winnable and perhaps the most important key to a successful season.
2. Improved depth on the offensive line
The Wildcats allowed 71 sacks during the last two seasons, an indication of just how far the Kentucky offensive line has to come before it is consider a strength. UK appears to be taking steps in the right direction. If Kentucky is going to win six games this season, the Wildcats will need a big season from offensive line veterans Jon Toth and Jordan Swindle, as well as some of the regarded youngsters that will be playing behind them. We took a detailed look at the offensive line earlier in the offseason.
3. A better defensive performance
The Wildcats defense has to be better this season if they expect to win more games. It is a tough task to ask of a group that lost Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith, but there are still potential playmakers in the fold. Hybrid DE/LB Jason Hatcher (suspended for the first two games) and ILB Josh Forrest return as the expected leaders of the defense, which has given up 31.2 and 31.3 points per game in the first two seasons of the Stoops regime. Trimming even just a few points off that total should be enough to see results in the win-loss record.
4. A new offense
There may not be anything alarmingly different about the use of personnel under first-year offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, who came over from West Virginia after former OC Neal Brown took the head coaching job at Troy. Both have ties to the Air Raid offense, though Dawson is supposedly looking to implement a more physical running game and perhaps take advantage of Patrick Towles’ arm down the field a little bit more. With the emergence of Stanley “Boom” Williams at running back and return of junior WR Ryan Timmons, among others, the pieces are there for a nice offensive season.
5. The emergence of Patrick Towles
If I asked you who was second in the league behind Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott among returning passers, how many guesses would it take for you to say Patrick Towles (2,718 passing yards)? As a fourth-year junior, Towles appears ready to match his accumulated experience with what has always been an impressive frame and skill set to turn in an all-conference type of season. If he’s able to do that, the Wildcats could exceed six win this season with a little bit of good fortune.
6. The inconsistency of the SEC East
Let’s be honest. If Kentucky played in the SEC West, we’d be talking about how the Wildcats were still a year or two away from contending for a bowl appearance. Instead, they have a manageable conference schedule playing in the East Division. A road game at Vanderbilt is vital to getting six wins, even though Stoops has yet to log a win away from Commonwealth Stadium. The Wildcats play a South Carolina team they beat last season, and a Florida team they should have beaten.