CATS ON DEFENSE
Coordinator: Steve Brown, seventh season at Kentucky under Rich Brooks, third as coordinator
Position coaches: Rick Petri, defensive line; Chuck Smith, linebackers; Chris Thurmond, secondary; Dontae Wright, graduate assistant/linebackers
Last season: UK finished 11th in the SEC and 40th in the nation in total defense, allowing 332.4 yards a game.
Returning starters: Corey Peters, end; Micah Johnson, linebacker; Trevard Lindley, cornerback; Ashton Cobb, safety
What to watch: The defense has three solid cornerstones to build on. Lindley is perhaps the nation's best cornerback, Johnson is an All-SEC-caliber middle linebacker, and the underrated Peters provides a stabilizing force at tackle. UK lost six reliable senior starters, but Brooks is high on the potential of the newcomers, particularly sophomores Winston Guy and Danny Trevathan.
Question marks: The defense suffered a big blow with the unexpected loss of defensive end Jeremy Jarmon, and none of the returning ends have made a tackle in a college game. Junior-college transfer DeQuin Evans has impressed in practice but, if the Cats don't generate enough of a pass rush, Lindley and a deep secondary could be slightly negated. While several of the new starters might be faster and more talented than their predecessors, they're also not as experienced, which could lead to a busted assignment or two early on.
Outlook: With Jarmon, the UK defense had a chance to be really good. It still has a chance to be as good or better than last year, but at least one competent end must emerge, and the new starters must acclimate themselves quickly.
End: DeQuin Evans, Taylor Wyndham
Tackle: Ricky Lumpkin, Mark Crawford
Tackle: Corey Peters, Shane McCord
End: Chandler Burden, Collins Ukwu
Strongside linebacker: Sam Maxwell, Jacob Dufrene
Middle linebacker: Micah Johnson, Ronnie Sneed
Weakside linebacker: Danny Trevathan, William Johnson
Cornerback: Trevard Lindley, Cartier Rice
Strong safety: Calvin Harrison, Ashton Cobb
Free safety: Winston Guy, Matt Lentz
Cornerback: Randall Burden, Paul Warford
Punter: Ryan Tydlacka
CATS ON OFFENSE
Head coach for offense: Joker Phillips, seventh season at Kentucky under Rich Brooks, first as head coach for offense. Served as offensive coordinator for four seasons.
Coordinator: Randy Sanders, fourth season at Kentucky under Rich Brooks, first as coordinator
Position coaches: Joker Phillips, wide receivers; Randy Sanders, quarterbacks; Larry Brinson, running backs; Jimmy Heggins, offensive line; Steve Ortmayer, tight ends; Matt McCutchan, graduate assistant/offensive line
Last season: Kentucky finished ninth in the SEC and 106th nationally in total offense, averaging 299.3 yards a game.
Returning starters: Zipp Duncan, left tackle; Jorge Gonzalez, center; Justin Jeffries, right tackle; T.C. Drake, tight end; Mike Hartline, quarterback; John Conner, fullback; Lones Seiber, place-kicker
What to watch: Hartline was thrown into a tough situation last year. Handed the quarterback job by default after Curtis Pulley was dismissed from the team on the first day of fall camp, Hartline by mid-season had lost his top pass-catcher (Dicky Lyons Jr.) and most versatile back (Derrick Locke) to injury and was forced to play with a receiver rotation that included five true freshmen. According to the UK staff, Hartline's passing has been much crisper and more accurate in fall camp. The receivers should be much more productive. Sophomore all-purpose threat Randall Cobb has moved there full time, and junior-college transfer Chris Matthews is expected to contribute right away. Eight returnees on the offensive line have starting experience.
Question marks: While the coaches say Hartline looks improved in practice, there will be skeptics until he proves it in games. But for all of Hartline's critics, the primary problem with the offense last year was a lack of a running game. The offensive line did well in pass protection a year ago, but it must become more physical and open holes for the backs. Depth at running back could be a problem. Alfonso Smith is good enough to be the featured back but must stay healthy, and Locke is working his way back into form after last year's serious knee injury.
Outlook: Hartline should be steadier in his second year as a full-time starter, and the receivers will provide more big plays. If the Cats can run the ball effectively, the offense should be significantly improved. If they don't, it will be only slightly improved.
Left tackle: Zipp Duncan, Billy Joe Murphy
Left guard: Christian Johnson, Larry Warford
Center: Jorge Gonzalez, Matt Smith
Right guard: Stuart Hines, Jake Lanefski
Right tackle: Justin Jeffries, Brad Durham
Tight end: T.C. Drake, Ross Bogue
Wide receiver: Randall Cobb, Gene McCaskill
Wide receiver: Chris Matthews, Kyrus Lanxter
Quarterback: Mike Hartline, Will Fidler
Fullback: John Conner, A.J. Nance
Tailback: Alfonso Smith, Moncell Allen
Place-kicker: Lones Seiber, Ryan Tydlacka
Single-game tickets are available for the Mississippi State ($40), Louisiana-Monroe and Eastern Kentucky ($35) games. All other home games are sold out. Tickets are available online at ticketmaster. com, at local Ticketmaster outlets, by calling the UK Ticket Office at (859) 257-1818 or by visiting the UK Ticket Office in the Craft Center, Room A-113.
2009 season ticket prices: Sideline seats, $235, end zone seats, $200; faculty/staff sideline seats, $188, faculty/staff end zone seats, $160
Kentucky's games against Miami (Ohio) at noon on Sept. 5 and against Louisville at noon on Sept. 19 will be shown live on ESPNU. Television plans for UK's remaining games had yet to be announced when this section was printed.
All UK games will be broadcast live on the Big Blue Sports Network, WLAP-AM 630 and WBUL-FM 98.1 in Lexington.
Florida: The Gators could field one of the best college teams of all time with one of the greatest college players of all time. Commonwealth Stadium will be rockin'. Can the Cats make a game of it?
Miami (Ohio): You can never underestimate a MAC team, especially away from home. If the Cats show up and play, they should win this one. But with Louisville, Florida, Alabama and South Carolina to follow in the Cats' next four games, they certainly can't afford to lay an egg here.
Mississippi State: Rich Brooks hates the term "winnable" games. But let's face it. A Mississippi State team with a new coach in rebuilding mode could be the Cats' only SEC home game in which they are favored. If UK wants to get to a fourth straight bowl and make noise in the SEC East, this is one the Cats have to get.
Game that will pack the house
Florida: The Gators will come to Commonwealth likely 3-0 and still No. 1 in the polls. Wildcats fans will be dreaming of a scenario similar to the last time a No. 1-ranked team came to town, a 43-37 triple-overtime win over LSU in 2007. The national media will be all over this one just to follow the Tim Tebow circus.
Toughest road trip
At Georgia: This one was easy. The away games (Miami, South Carolina, Auburn, Vanderbilt) aren't brutal this year, and Kentucky hasn't won in Athens since 1977.
Tennessee: If the Cats are going to beat somebody they haven't beaten in a while, this one makes the most sense, despite the 24-game losing streak. We still don't know what Lane Kiffin's addition will mean to UT, and who knows where the Vols will be mentally for the regular-season finale at Commonwealth. There's also not the mental hurdle the Cats have with say, Florida, because UK could have very easily won the 2006 and 2007 games against the Vols. And you know Rich Brooks wants this one really, really bad.
Best non-UK players we'll see
Eric Berry, Tennessee: As good as Tim Tebow is, Berry, a junior safety from Fairburn, Ga., might actually be the best player in the country.
Tim Tebow, Florida: In two career starts against Kentucky, Tebow has accounted for 662 total yards and nine TDs.
Also: Julio Jones, Alabama; Terrence Cody, Alabama; Victor Anderson, Louisville.
Best possible bowl destination
Outback Bowl (Jan. 1, Tampa, Fla.): Everything would have to break right for the Cats to land here; in addition to winning most of the coin-flip games, they'd also need to pull off an upset or two. If Kentucky can win enough games to get to Tampa, and if they manage to pull off a win, that could be the perfect feel-good story for the 68-year-old Brooks to ride off into the sunset.
Worst possible bowl destination
Independence Bowl (Dec. 28, Shreveport, La): Kentucky football isn't at the point where people should be complaining about going to any bowl game, and the Independence Bowl does offer the appeal of an opponent from the Big 12. But a trip to Shreveport three days after Christmas would be a tough sell for even the truest of Big Blue fans.
Most likely bowl destination
Chick-fil-A Bowl (Dec. 31, Atlanta): A good time was had by all at the Music City and Liberty Bowls, but the Kentucky coaches, players and fans are desperate for an upgrade. Cats fans love Atlanta, and with the game on New Year's Eve against a decent ACC opponent, all the criteria are there. Seven wins might be enough to get it done.
Records Cats could break
The 2009 seniors could become the first class in school history to go to four straight bowl games.
Kicker Lones Seiber needs 15 points to become Kentucky's all-time career scoring leader.
Hope for the future
Many fans are wondering aloud when the three straight bowl wins will translate into skyrocketing recruiting for UK. Kentucky signed perhaps the best class of the Brooks era in 2009, and the staff is approaching recruiting differently for 2010 by taking fewer early commitments to save room for more desired prospects. This strategy might serve as the ultimate test as to whether Kentucky is becoming more of a regional and national player on the recruiting scene.
Big Blue Meter
The season is a success if ... Kentucky goes to a fourth straight bowl game, preferably a notch above the Music City or Liberty, and beats at least one ranked team on its schedule.
The season will be a disappointment if ... Either the streak of three straight bowl games ends, or the Cats manage to squeak out six wins and a minor bowl game in unspectacular fashion.
BIG BLUE BUILDUP
Rich Brooks won't be around forever, and you know he'd like to end his Kentucky coaching career having taken the program to uncharted waters. He accomplished part of that last season by leading UK to a third consecutive bowl win for the first time in school history, and now he wants more. A fourth straight bowl bid would be nice, but what Brooks would really like is to knock off a couple of SEC powerhouses and make some noise in the conference race. A lot of things have to go right for that to happen. Mike Hartline must settle in at quarterback and make plays to win games, not just manage them. Randall Cobb must provide big plays. The defense must find a way to replace Jeremy Jarmon at end. And the running game must improve.
Five players you know
Trevard Lindley: It's still somewhat surprising that he's back. He could be playing nickel back for an NFL team right now.
Micah Johnson: Started to live up to the hype last year; now trying to improve his 2010 NFL Draft position.
Alfonso Smith: Last chance for the "Fonzo Show" to get off the ground.
Mike Hartline: Can make a name for himself with some consistency in 2009.
Corey Peters: Has been a sidekick for the last three seasons; now he becomes the anchor of the defensive line.
Five Players you will know
Winston Guy: Brooks calls the Lexington Catholic product one of the most talented prospects he's signed at UK.
Danny Trevathan: Speedy Florida native is being counted on to become a playmaker at weakside linebacker.
Chris Matthews: Standing nearly 6-foot-6 with 4.4 speed, Matthews has physical tools you don't see often in Wildcats receivers.
DeQuin Evans: A high-motor player in the junior college ranks, Evans is the most logical choice to slide in for Jarmon.
Ricky Lumpkin: Stepping in at tackle for the departed Myron Pyror, Lumpkin has shown flashes but needs to stay healthy.
Randall Cobb: It's pretty remarkable when you consider what Cobb accomplished as a true freshman last year. He showed he could play quarterback at a fairly high level. He played wide receiver, a position where he had virtually no experience, and showed he can be a go-to-guy. And he was a dangerous punt returner to boot. UK will try to lighten Cobb's workload some to keep him healthy, but there's no doubt the talent and intangibles are there for Cobb to be a major player on the SEC scene for the next three seasons.
Biggest area of concern
The running game: Kentucky's 2006 and 2007 offenses got a lot of ink for the aerial attack of Andre Woodson and Co., but the Wildcats also had a 1,000-yard rusher in the backfield in Rafael Little. UK should be improved at quarterback and receiver this year, but that may be for naught if the Cats can't push people off the ball and move it on the ground.
Most important unit
The defensive line: The D-line has been stocked with pretty good talent the past couple of years, a fact verified by the presence of Pryor and Jarmon on NFL rosters. UK has an All-America candidate at both linebacker (Johnson) and cornerback (Lindley), but things could get dicey if there's a huge drop-off on the front four.