There are zero Division I starts among Kentucky’s quarterback contenders.
That is a thing that doubters will point to and fans will wring their hands over until the season opener.
But that’s not a worry for Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops or his players who have watched the quarterbacks over the past few months.
“I don’t feel like these guys are inexperienced,” the head coach said of Gunnar Hoak and Terry Wilson. “They haven’t taken a college snap in a game for us or anything like that, but they’ve been around.”
Stoops points to the multiple years that Hoak has been in the system under offensive coordinators Eddie Gran and Darrin Hinshaw.
And there’s Wilson’s own experience as a junior-college quarterback and as a redshirt at Oregon before that.
“They’re both very poised and confident,” Stoops said Monday at Southeastern Conference Media Days.
But don’t just take Stoops’ word for it.
Senior tight end C.J. Conrad spent the entire spring healing up after shoulder and foot surgeries. It gave him some time to dissect the offense and to watch its potential signal callers.
“We’re really excited about all those guys,” he said, adding redshirt freshman Danny Clark to his mix. “The thing you guys don’t get to see is the practice on an everyday basis, the workouts on an everyday basis. Those three guys bring it. … They’re all really good.”
Conrad has seen Hoak, Wilson and Clark working on their strength and stamina this summer.
But there are things happening behind the scenes with the quarterbacks during the summer — when coaches aren’t allowed to work directly with the players — that have Conrad most excited.
Those things will be the key to a successful transition from Stephen Johnson for two seasons to whoever is the next Kentucky quarterback.
“It’s been the best player-led summer as far as attendance, participation, just guys locked in … since I’ve been here,” Conrad said.
The UK tight end broke down what makes Hoak and Wilson potential starters for Kentucky, noting that Hoak might have been a quiet kid when he arrived on campus, but he’s grown into a leader.
“He’s more vocal than you guys think,” Conrad said of the 6-foot-4, 206-pound sophomore from Dublin, Ohio. “When he first got here, he wasn’t. He was exactly what you guys think. He was very quiet.
“Now I can see he’s got a lot more confidence and has done a lot better job of being vocal. He’s a guy that’s there every single day.”
Johnson, who helped lead UK to back-to-back bowl games during his two seasons as the starter, didn’t necessarily have experience or a large leadership role early on.
“Stephen wasn’t that loud at first, either,” Conrad said. “It’s all about confidence at the end of the day, and you can see that confidence building up.”
Hoak is an accurate passer, Stoops noted, something that Hinshaw has said will be mandatory this season while he tries to get Kentucky’s completion percentage up in the 65-70 range.
Running back Benny Snell says Hoak has that capability.
“Gunnar is a pocket passer. He’s very accurate,” Snell said. “He can put it where he wants to.”
Snell had similar things to say about Wilson, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound sophomore from Oklahoma City.
“He has a great arm, very versatile and he can run,” the junior said. “That’s going to help the run game a lot.”
Stoops isn’t sure Kentucky’s fans — or even its coaches — have seen everything that Wilson is capable of quite yet.
“He’s very athletic,” the UK coach said. “He brings a skill set that I’m not sure you can see fully until you get into a game situation.
“In scrimmages, we’re never completely live and that hinders him some. … He’s a very confident guy, works extremely hard. He can run and throw.”
UK’s senior tight end said Wilson has impressed everyone with how hard he works.
“He’s there every single day and is a guy you can rely on,” Conrad said. “You’ve got guys who come in mid-year and sometimes they take a while to transition, but I haven’t seen any bumps in his road so far. He hit the road running.”
But Stoops made it clear he’s in no hurry to name a starter anytime soon.
“It would be reckless to make that decision before it plays out,” he said. “Let’s just see where it goes.”