SDS kicks off a series looking in-depth at teams and their biggest subplots heading into 2014. Next up: Kentucky Wildcats.

SEC Subplots 2014:

1. 2014’s goal
Kentucky’s future is looking up, but how quickly will the process actually move towards the Cats winning six games and making a bowl? Mark Stoops is hauling in higher rated talent, and the teams UK needs to be concerned with are Tennessee and Vanderbilt. With Vanderbilt’s rise the last few years, Kentucky has fallen, and the Cats haven’t been able to overtake Tennessee and capitalize on the UT program’s decline either. Can Kentucky equal Vanderbilt’s latest hot streak with a nine-win season? Yes, they can, but Stoops hauling in much better talent will halt if the Wildcats can’t produce (or develop) on the field. The goal for 2014 is certainly a bowl game, and Kentucky would have to go 4-0 in non-conference games and beat Vanderbilt and Mississippi State or Tennessee. Winning at least one SEC game this season has to happen.

2. Offensive identity
Kentucky’s offense will be interesting again. Neal Brown wants to throw it 40-plus times per game, but realistically, the roster just wasn’t close to being capable of doing that last year. It’s similar in 2014. The Wildcats have a deep backfield, highlighted by Jojo Kemp and Braylon Heard, and they are building some nice depth at receiver. Patrick Towles starts the year as the quarterback, but the quarterbacks biggest problem may be finding enough depth at receiver to throw it all over the yard, especially when you have more than capable backs to carry the load. Kentucky’s offense has a chance to drastically improve, but Brown reaching his desired balance may not.

3. Big tandem
The Wildcats’ defense usually has that one player not on many radars who has a big NFL future. A few years ago it was Danny Trevathan. This past year was Avery Williamson, and this upcoming year it’s Bud Dupree. Dupree’s gotten much more ink than Trevathan or Williamson, and he’ll also have a nice No. 2 in Za’Darius Smith. Dupre, though, is the premier defensive player between the two, and his transition into the NFL could either be as a defensive end or an outside linebacker. Kentucky may have multiple defensive questions, but defensive end isn’t one of them.

SDS Takeaway: As we enter 2014, it’s hard pressed to argue against Kentucky being in a much better situation compared to Arkansas. I’d actually take Kentucky’s current situation over Arkansas’ right now. It’s okay if Stoops doesn’t make a bowl game this year; he just has to keep showing improvement and development within the program. With the SEC East having so much parity — and Tennessee being down, there’s an opportunity for Kentucky to make some noise the next few years.