Making sense of Kentucky’s 2014 season is like making sense of a riddle. Was the Cats’ 5-7 campaign a success, or was it a shortcoming?

The Cats won five games after winning just four total games the previous two seasons combined. They also lost six straight games to end the season, needing just one win to earn bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010.

Kentucky’s offensive coordinator, Neal Brown, left to take the head coaching job at Troy, but UK replaced him with West Virginia OC Shannon Dawson and then kept recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow from jumping ship to Michigan.

There were more ups and downs to Kentucky’s 2014 season than a Six Flags attraction, and as a result there’s a lot riding on the 2015 season, Mark Stoops’ third in the Bluegrass.

Let’s take a look at the State of the Union, taking into account the last three years and expectations for 2015.


SEC standing: Near the bottom

Grade: C

At the end of the day, Kentucky was one of only two SEC programs to fail to reach a bowl game last season, putting the Cats behind most of the rest of the conference in terms of on-field performance.

The Wildcats offense ranked fifth-worst in the SEC last season, but the passing game specifically ranked sixth-best. This is a promising sign for Kentucky, especially considering UK was working with a first-time starter at quarterback in Patrick Towles and with a number of freshmen wideouts. UK only loses Demarco Robinson from its passing attack in looking ahead to 2015, which means the Cats should be able to improve their aerial attack even more this fall.

The defense ranked fourth-worst in the SEC, which also leaves plenty of room for improvement. And worse yet, there’s not as much optimism surrounding the defense as there is the offense.

Yes, Mark Stoops is a defensive-minded coach who led some tremendous units in previous coordinator and assistant coaching positions. But Kentucky just lost its two best defensive players in Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith, and replacing them won’t be easy.

The key for UK’s on-field showing in 2015 will be player development, which we’ll delve into later on in this State of the Union.


SEC standing: Near the bottom

2015 rank: 39 (13th SEC)

Grade: C+

For Kentucky to haul in a top 40 recruiting class once again is impressive for one of the few SEC schools that doesn’t prioritize football first in its athletics department.

However, the 2015 class is still ranked second-worst in the conference, which is really a testament to the strength of the SEC on the recruiting trail but still doesn’t bode well for UK.

The Cats brought in fewer four-star signees than even Vanderbilt did on the heels of a 3-9 disaster of a season, meaning it possesses few raw dynamic talents and, once again, must rely on player development to catch up to the rest of the conference. But at the same time, UK did nab four early enrollees, including one of its two four-star recruits, giving the coaching staff a head start on developing four players at positions of need.

C.J. Conrad, one of the two four-stars, will hopefully add the receiving threat at the tight end position that UK has coveted since turning to the Air Raid system, and the number of six-foot-or-taller signees at the receiver and cornerback positions should provide the coaching staff with the size it desires in developing talents to fit its system on both sides of the ball.


SEC standing: Middle of the pack and rising fast

Grade: B

Kentucky has already begun showing its capabilities in player development, even with players that predate the Mark Stoops regime in the Bluegrass.

Towles was originally a Joker Phillips signee, and never thought in a million years he’d be leading an Air Raid offense when his time came to lead the unit on Saturdays. Nevertheless, he showed the traits of a strong Air Raid quarterback with a big build, strong arm, nice pocket presence and escapability to boot.

Boom Williams lived up to his four-star hype, but fellow freshman tailback Mikel Horton looked a whole lot better than his three-star rating as the 2014 season wore on.

Ryan Timmons was also a three-star recruit, and he established himself as the top wideout and premier playmaker on the offense in just two seasons.

Stoops and his staff have now brought in three recruiting classes, and their abilities in player development will truly be tested in 2015. But if their trend continues, that should only serve to benefit the Cats this fall and beyond.


SEC standing: Near the bottom until new facilities completed

Grade: C (pre-upgrade)

Right now, Kentucky’s facilities are rather mediocre compared to the other football facilities throughout the SEC, but that’s all about to change.

The University has already a plan to erect new football facilities that should cost about $45 million, and the renderings of these facilities, released in October, look pretty darn nice. They are an obvious upgrade from the facilities UK enjoys now, and should make Kentucky a more coveted destination for future recruits upon completion.

Until then, Kentucky will continue using its current facilities, which are more than serviceable but not going to knock anyone’s socks off. But just knowing changes are coming and that the University values the football program enough to spend that kind of cash on new facilities is a huge boost for the Wildcats.


SEC standing: TBD

Grade: Incomplete

Stoops has only been at Kentucky for two seasons, and his 7-17 record in that time (including a 2-14 mark in the SEC) is less than desirable. For what it’s worth, Kentucky was 7-17 and 2-14 in conference play in the final two years of the Phillips era, but those teams were trending downward (a five-win season followed by a two-win season), while Stoops’ two teams have trended upward (a two-win season followed by a five-win season).

Ultimately, Stoops deserves a two-year grace period before we actually begin assessing him as a head coach. He took over a program barren with talent and even worse off in terms of confidence from players and fans alike, and he’s already begun showing improvements in a short amount of time.

If UK fails to reach a bowl game this season, it will be telling of where Stoops may be able to lead the program. The same can be said if he does get UK over the six-win hump, which he was close to doing a year ago.

For now, his grade remains incomplete because he’s had to build so much from so little in a conference that never allows an easy path for a bottom-feeder to rise above that designation.

Needless to say, there’s a lot riding on the 2015 season for Stoops and his program.