Kentucky's All-Decade Team: Snell, Bowden lead dangerous offense
Editor’s note: Saturday Down South has selected an all-decade offensive and defensive team for all 14 SEC programs.
Kentucky began the 2010s in a bowl game and will finish with a run of 4 consecutive bowl appearances. An ugly doughnut hole in the middle leaves the ‘Cats with a 56-68 mark for the decade. In spite of the mid-decade struggle, the 2010s were a banner time for talent in Kentucky football, perhaps best exemplified by the 10-3 Citrus Bowl-winning 2018 squad, Kentucky’s best team since 1977. While they’ll be well-represented, there are plenty more ‘Cats in UK’s all-decade team. (Note that years listed include only those within the decade in which the player played for UK.)
QB: Terry Wilson (2018-)
Yes, others have put up bigger numbers. But the dual threat talent has gone 12-3 as a starter and boasts a win at Florida and a game-winning drive at Missouri. Before his season-ending injury against Eastern Michigan in Week 2 this season, Wilson’s stats including connecting on 66.6 percent of his pass attempts for 2,249 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and 8 interceptions and an additional 591 yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground.
While other UK quarterbacks have put up more impressive passing stats, nobody has captured the brave new world of a run-pass option-heavy offense quite as well as Wilson, who had enough arm strength to connect on a 54-yard dart to Lynn Bowden in Gainesville last season and has enough mobility to extend drives with his legs. In the first 3 games after Wilson was injured, Kentucky lost as many games as it had in Wilson’s 15 games as a starter. That’s not a coincidence.
Backup: Stephen Johnson (2016-17). Johnson was the prototype for Wilson, although he was not quite as athletic. He did lead UK to 2 straight bowl games, passing for 4,342 yards and 23 touchdowns, and he was never better than in leading a 4-touchdown upset of Louisville in 2016 — a game in which he outplayed Lamar Jackson. That game beats out 2010 product Mike Hartline (3,178 yards, 23 touchdowns that year) for the backup spot.
RB: Benny Snell (2016-18)
Snell became Kentucky’s all-time touchdown leader and rushing yardage leader in 3 seasons. The lightly recruited kid from Ohio may have best embodied Kentucky’s determination to arrive at the next level of college football. Snell finished his UK career with 3,873 rushing yards on 737 carries, with 48 touchdowns. Snell was named 1st-team All-SEC by the AP twice and by the coaches in 2018. He also was named 2nd- or 3rd-team All-American in 2018 by multiple organizations.
Snell did not touch the ball in the first 2 games of the 2016 season. But once Kentucky gave him his shot, he set about breaking records consistently, starting with 4 touchdowns in that first game when he saw time at running back. Snell had 7 100-yard games in 2018, including 144 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Citrus Bowl win over Penn State.
RB2: Stanley “Boom” Williams (2014-16)
The pint-sized Williams was the lightning to Snell’s thunder in 2016, when both backs eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing. For his career, Williams is 8th in UK history with 2,511 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns.
Backup: Jojo Kemp (2013-16). Kemp split carries with Williams and later with Snell, but he virtually never fumbled, was a beast in the Wildcat formation and ended up 13th in UK history with 1,709 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns.
WR: Lynn Bowden (2017-)
Bowden, whose 2019 season will forever be as amazing to watch as it is impossible to classify, has been a legendary player as a receiver, a rusher and a kick returner. Despite spending most of 2019 as a quarterback, Bowden is 13th in receptions in UK history with 114 for 1,303 yards and 6 touchdowns. In addition, he has rushed for almost 1,300 yards as a “quarterback,” and once his kick and punt returns are factored in, Bowden is 5th in UK history in all-purpose yardage.
Bowden’s 2018 season, in which he caught 67 passes for 745 yards, was the best receiving season at UK since 2010. He has had the 6th-best rushing season in UK history in 2019, despite still having a game to go and rarely carrying the ball before the season’s 6th game. Characterized by Mark Stoops as an “alpha dog,” he could be on this team at any spot he chooses.
WR2: Randall Cobb (2010)
Cobb was a junior in 2010, before he left for the NFL. Despite having only one season for all-decade consideration, he’s deserving of this selection. Cobb had 84 receptions for 1,017 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2010, completing a Kentucky career which saw him leave as the school’s touchdown leader (a mark since bested by Snell). Like Bowden, Cobb could run or even pass, and he was and is a UK fan favorite.
Backup: Garrett Johnson (2014-17). The receiver called “Juice” was a steady performer, finishing his career with 155 catches for 2,089 yards and 11 touchdowns. Johnson was no stranger to making big plays.
TE: C.J. Conrad (2015-18)
Conrad was a superb blocker and an underrated pass catcher, as he rarely got many chances in Kentucky’s run-heavy offense. Nonetheless, he finished his UK career with 80 catches for 1,015 yards and 12 touchdowns. None of his plays was bigger than a 2-yard catch to beat Missouri on the last play of the game in 2018.
Unlike many top receiving tight ends, Conrad not only remained in the game to block, but he functioned as a true fullback as well as a tight end. His enduring mark may have been leading the charge as a ferocious backfield blocker for 5 1,000-yard seasons from UK running backs during his 4 years in blue and white.
Backup: Justin Rigg (2017-). The pickings are slim for UK after Conrad, but Rigg has inherited his mentor’s ability as a tenacious blocker. He has caught 17 passes, but again, he is most valuable leading the way for Bowden or one of Kentucky’s running backs.
Guard: Jervontius “Bunchy” Stallings (2015-18)
Stallings went from an unheralded recruit whom UK snagged at the last minute over Mississippi State into an All-American in 2018, as his athleticism and physical play helped Snell reach a bevy of UK records and the Wildcats reach 10 wins.
Guard: Larry Warford (2010-12)
Warford was a local product who grew into a mammoth star of Kentucky’s offensive front, blasting his way to an All-America selection by the Associated Press in 2012. Kentucky struggled horribly in Warford’s senior season, but he was recognized as the class of an outmatched team.
Center: Jon Toth (2013-16)
Toth started for 4 seasons for new coach Stoops. Toth was recognized with All-SEC status as a senior, and he helped UK end a 5-year drought from postseason play. Mobile and cerebral, Toth was a good example of the young talent that Stoops developed in his early years in Lexington.
Tackle: George Asafo-Adjei (2015-18)
Big George worked his way into a starting role, and he parlayed his success for Kentucky’s outstanding 2018 team into becoming an NFL draft selection. Asafo-Adjei was twice the SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week during the 2018 season.
Tackle: Darrian Miller (2011-14)
Miller was a 3-year starter whose career spanned the transition from Joker Phillips to Stoops. A solid pass protector who saw a ton of action protecting the blind side of UK passers, Miller played briefly in the NFL, and like Warford he starred on some outmanned Kentucky teams.
Backups: Drake Jackson, Logan Stenberg, Zach West, Landon Young, Nick Haynes. Kentucky’s offensive line has been most productive in recent years. Darian Kinnard is one player who might end up being the best of the bunch.
Kicker: Austin MacGinnis (2014-17)
MacGinnis was the leading kicker in school history, and he converted multiple late-game kicks, including the kicks that led UK to victories over Mississippi State and Louisville in 2016. MacGinnis made the most field goals (72), the longest field goal (54 yards) and the biggest field goals.
Backup: Craig McIntosh (2010-12). A solid starter who played well in his time in Lexington, McIntosh is often forgotten based on the productivity from his eventual successor, MacGinnis.
Kick returners: Cobb, Bowden