Football

Mark Story: Football resolutions for 2015: Stoops needs a bowl game, Petrino a starting QB and Brohm a defense

UK running back Stanley "Boom" Williams (18) will be a pivotal part of new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson's game plan.
UK running back Stanley "Boom" Williams (18) will be a pivotal part of new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson's game plan. Herald-Leader

Oregon's Ducks and The Ohio State University will not decide the current college football season's national champion until Jan. 12.

Here in Kentucky, now that Western Kentucky and Louisville have their bowl appearances in the books, it is already next year for college football fans.

To aid in "turning the page," here is my early look at what lies ahead for our state's three FBS programs — Kentucky, U of L and WKU.

Kentucky Wildcats

Final 2014 tally: 5-7 (2-6 Southeastern Conference)

Fondest 2014 memory: Alvin "Bud" Dupree's 6-yard interception return for a touchdown provided the winning margin in Kentucky's 45-38 vanquishing of South Carolina and its Head Ball Coach.

Greatest 2014 regret: With bowl eligibility hanging in the balance, Kentucky went to Louisville and scored two defensive touchdowns, blocked a punt and got to play three quarters against U of L's third-string quarterback — and still lost 44-40.

Reason to look forward to 2015: Mark Stoops' Cats will play eight home games in the newly renovated Commonwealth Stadium. New offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson inherits incumbent starting quarterback Patrick Towles, emerging running back Stanley "Boom" Williams, leading receiver Ryan Timmons and four offensive line starters.

Reason to dread 2015: A Kentucky defense that allowed 31.2 points and 406.9 yards a game in 2014 loses its best player, potential NFL Draft first-round pick Dupree, and his defensive end running mate, Za'Darius Smith.

Don't forget: Sophomore wide receivers Jeff Badet and Alexander Montgomery, who each showed promise in 2013 only to miss all of 2014 with injuries.

Resolution for 2015: For the first time since 2002, beat Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Louisville in the same season. If the Wildcats can do that, then Stoops' third year as Kentucky head man should yield the coach's first bowl trip.

Louisville Cardinals

Final 2014 tally: 9-4 (5-3 ACC; lost 37-14 to Georgia in Belk Bowl)

Fondest 2014 memory: When Notre Dame's Kyle Brindza missed wide right on a potential game-tying 32-yard field goal with 51 seconds left, it allowed U of L to leave its first trip to Notre Dame Stadium with a 31-28 victory over the Fighting Irish.

Greatest 2014 regret: The launch of Bobby Petrino 2.0 was hampered by the coach having to start three different quarterbacks — redshirt sophomore Will Gardner, true freshman Reggie Bonnafon, redshirt freshman Kyle Bolin. That uncertainty (due partially to injuries) was a main reason the U of L offense produced the relatively meager, by Petrino standards, 31.2 points a game.

Reason to look forward to 2015: History says Petrino offenses soar in the coach's second year. In his first stint at Louisville, Petrino's attack went from 34.6 points a game (2003) to 49.8 (2004). At Arkansas, Bobby P.'s Hogs went from 21.9 points (2008) to 37.3 (2009).

Reason to dread 2015: Louisville loses a massive amount of production. The Cardinals will see probable first-round draft pick DeVante Parker and three of their other top five receivers graduate. U of L will lose three starters off its offensive line. Senior outside linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin (6.5 sacks) graduates. Safety Gerod Holliman, who tied the FBS season record with 14 interceptions, is turning pro early. Other Cards may yet join him.

Don't forget: Transfer quarterback Tyler Ferguson (Penn State), wide receivers JaQuay Williams (Texas A&M) and Paul Harris (Tennessee by way of Iowa Western College), and defensive backs Shaq Wiggins and Josh Harvey-Clemmons (both Georgia) could all play huge roles in 2015.

Resolution for 2015: From Petrino's cast of a thousand quarterback candidates, settle on one starting QB.

WKU Hilltoppers

Final 2014 tally: 8-5 (4-4 C-USA; beat Central Michigan 49-48 in Popeyes Bahamas Bowl)

Fondest 2014 memory: Gamblin' man Jeff Brohm going for the two-point conversion and the win in overtime on the road against No. 19 and unbeaten Marshall in the regular-season finale. When Brandon Doughty hit Willie McNeal with the two-point conversion pass, it gave Western a 67-66 upset and its biggest victory so far as an FBS member.

Greatest 2014 regret(s): WKU led UAB 27-14 at the half — and lost 42-39. WKU led Florida Atlantic 31-14 at the half — and lost 45-38.

Reason to look forward to 2015: The NCAA granted Western star QB Doughty (4,830 passing yards with 48 TDs) a sixth year of eligibility. That means WKU returns the nation's leading passer, star running back Leon Allen (1,580 yards rushing with 13 TDs) and four of its top five receivers from an offense that averaged 44.4 points and 534.6 yards.

Reason to dread 2015: What if the offensive-oriented Brohm and his staff cannot fix a defense that allowed 39.9 points and 509.9 yards in 2014?

Don't forget about: Former Bowling Green High School star wideout Nacarius Fant, Kentucky's 2013 Mr. Football, caught only one pass as a true freshman for Western. Will be interesting to see if the 5-9, 170-pounder can break into WKU's regular wide receiver rotation next season.

Resolution for 2015: Stop somebody. If Western can field even a competent defense, it has the offensive firepower to win Conference-USA.

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