In the long and mostly futile history of Kentucky football, rarely have the Wildcats been on ground this steady. Mark Stoops is about to become the longest-tenured head coach in program history and is probably on pace to best Bear Bryant as UK’s winningest coach sometime in 2022. But despite 5 consecutive bowl seasons, there are still some shadows and questions lingering as Kentucky prepares for the 2021 season. SEC media picked the Wildcats to finish 3rd in the East, a luxury they’ve rarely enjoyed. If Kentucky hopes to meet or exceed those expectations, here are 5 significant landmines they’ll have to work around.

1. Will Levis is the starter, but is he the guy?

Terry Wilson will be starting this fall, but at the University of New Mexico instead of in Lexington. We now know that transfer Will Levis (pictured above) will replace him after winning the job in fall camp, but Levis wasn’t around for the spring and is still learning on the job.

Considering that twice in the past 5 seasons, Kentucky had to revamp its offense in midseason after significant QB injuries, this issue may linger well into the season. Can Levis play well enough to key this new-look aerial attack? If not, how high is the ceiling for Beau Allen? There’s potential for massive improvement at this spot — Kentucky hasn’t thrown 20 TD passes in a season since 2010 — but also plenty of questions left to answer.

2. Who emerges at receiver?

After 2 seasons of finishing 14th in the SEC in passing, Kentucky upgraded its air attack with Liam Coen as the new coordinator. Assuming Coen is satisfied with Levis, what about the targets? Josh Ali has struggled at times with consistency, but he is definitely the known quality of this group entering the fall. Nebraska transfer Wan’Dale Robinson will play from Day 1, and 5th-year senior tight end Justin Rigg should be solid. But who else catches the ball?

Kentucky has carried a number of promising wide receivers who haven’t done much to develop that promise. Isaiah Epps, DeMarcus Harris, and others have flashed potential, but not much in the way of results. Some of the freshmen will play, but which ones, and will they be ready? And while Ali and Robinson are a good starting tandem, what happens if one or both gets dinged up? A more accurate passer will help UK’s downfield woes (just 15 completions of 20+ yards in 2020, fewest in the SEC, last among Power 5 teams that played at least 10 games), but not unless the Wildcats can figure out who can catch the passes.

3. The pass rush

Kentucky’s defensive squads under Mark Stoops started picking up about the time the pass rush started picking up. UK’s sack totals over the last seven seasons: 27, 17, 21, 30, 38, 33, 14. Yes, that last number is scary. Coming off 3 consecutive seasons of 30+ sacks, UK managed just 14 last year. The Wildcats also allowed about a touchdown more in scoring per game, and those two developments are probably directly related.

Unfortunately for UK, there’s no Josh Allen (or even Calvin Taylor) necessarily walking through the door. UK has several potentially outstanding pass rushers, but the top returning sack leader is Jordan Wright, with 3.5 last year. Kentucky may not need one guy to get a dozen sacks or another overall season of 30+ sacks, but the Wildcats have to figure out somewhere from which to get additional QB pressure.

4. Defensive tackle questions

Quenton Bohanna was an unheralded star for Kentucky in the middle of Stoops’ defense. The massive lineman, now a Dallas Cowboy, controlled the middle against the run and opened things up for smaller players to make big plays. But he is gone, and while Kentucky has some talent in the middle of the defense, there’s not much experience. Junior Marquan McCall is massive (355 pounds), but struggles to stay in games for long stretches. Freshmen like Justin Rogers and Octavious Oxendine are highly regarded, but until they show big-play ability in the SEC, the absence of Bohanna is a legitimate concern for UK.

5. Flipping Aussies

Kentucky punter Max Duffy was a legend. Duffy won the Ray Guy award in 2019, and while he wasn’t quite as sharp in 2020, he gave UK’s defense an extra weapon with his ability to flip the field. This season, the job is turned over to another Aussie, Wilson Berry. He’s highly regarded, and the brother of Pittsburgh Steeler punter Jordan Berry. But a new punter is always a cause for concern, particularly one who isn’t particularly used to American football. Of the 5 concerns, Berry is most likely a non-issue. He’s probably fine, but Big Blue Nation will probably breathe a little easier after he hits a few solid kicks in the opener.