Mark Story

The 10 people on the spot in 2019 Kentucky college football

Mark Stoops uncomfortable basking in success

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops was asked Monday, March 4, 2019, if he had time to sit back and enjoy the success of last season. The Wildcats went 10-3 in 2018 with a win over Penn State in the Citrus Bowl.
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Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops was asked Monday, March 4, 2019, if he had time to sit back and enjoy the success of last season. The Wildcats went 10-3 in 2018 with a win over Penn State in the Citrus Bowl.

Before it starts, the 2019 college football season in Kentucky is unusual: For varied reasons, not one of our state’s three FBS head coaches enters the coming year under pressure.

Kentucky’s Mark Stoops just led UK to its first 10-win season in 41 years.

New Louisville head man Scott Satterfield and first-year Western Kentucky head man Tyson Helton each are inheriting programs that bottomed out — U of L was 2-10 and WKU was 3-9 a year ago. For that reason, both are looking at “free seasons.”

That is why you will not see a head coach on the list of the 10 figures most on the spot in 2019 Kentucky college football:

10. AJ Rose: Benny Snell has taken his Kentucky Wildcats all-time rushing record of 3,873 yards to Pittsburgh. Getting first call to fill Snell’s role will be Rose. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound redshirt junior from Cleveland (442 yards rushing, 6.2 yards per carry) will likely give UK more explosive plays than Snell. The question will be whether UK can replace Snell’s ability to close out games by running for the tough yards.

9. Ty Storey: As the primary quarterback at Arkansas last season, the 6-2, 225-pound Storey completed 57.2 percent of his passes and threw for 1,584 yards. Now a graduate transfer at Western Kentucky, Storey will presumably be counted on to end the revolving door that was the WKU QB rotation in 2018.

Former Arkansas quarterback Ty Storey is a graduate transfer at Western Kentucky for the 2019 college football season. WKU Athletics

8. Bryan Brown: New Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield brought defensive coordinator Brown with him from Appalachian State. A former Mississippi Rebels defensive back, Brown is assuming a big job: U of L surrendered 50 points or more in seven of 12 games a season ago.

7. Kentucky wideouts (not named Lynn Bowden): In Bowden (67 catches for 745 yards in 2018), UK returns one of the dynamic playmakers in the SEC. However, Kentucky has no other returning player who caught more than 10 passes last season. From among juniors Josh Ali (10 catches, 115 yards in 2018) and Isaiah Epps (eight catches, 76 yards) and redshirt freshman Bryce Oliver (eight catches for 105 yards in the Blue-White Game), UK desperately needs to find someone who can make plays down the field.

Kentucky wide receiver Josh Ali (82) caught 10 passes last season as a sophomore. Charles Bertram Herald-Leader file photo

6. Kentucky cornerbacks: UK lost its entire starting secondary to graduation. At safety, UK returns productive players in Davonte Robinson, Jordan Griffin and Tyrell Ajian. Kentucky has no player on its roster, however, who played a meaningful snap at corner in 2018. Junior college transfer Brandin Echols and redshirt sophomore Cedric Dort, who sat out last season after playing as a true freshman in 2017, were the number one corners in the spring game.

Kentucky cornerback Brandin Echols, a junior college transfer, appeared to be running first string for the Wildcats in the Blue-White Game.

5. Eli Brown: Now at Western Kentucky, the former UK linebacker actually made more plays (38 tackles) in his final season in Lexington in 2017 than he did last year (25 tackles) in his debut campaign at WKU. To improve a defense that allowed 421.6 yards per game last season, Western needs the 6-2, 220-pound Brown to play like a SEC-caliber LB.

Eli Brown at WKU.jpg
Former Kentucky Wildcats linebacker Eli Brown, right, had 25 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and two quarterback sacks last season in his first year playing for Western Kentucky. WKU Athletics

4. Brad White: With last season’s UK defensive coordinator, Matt House, gone to the Kansas City Chiefs, new Wildcats DC White is buying the stock “Kentucky defense” at a very high valuation. A season ago, the Kentucky defense was 23rd in the FBS in total defense (337.9 yards per game allowed). White’s task is to sustain UK’s defensive progress in spite of the Wildcats losing some of the best defenders in school history to graduation.

New Kentucky football defensive coordinator Brad White talked to the media on Thursday, March 7, 2019, about being the defensive play-caller. White replaced Matt House, who left UK to become an assistant with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs.

3. Juwan Pass/Malik Cunningham: If U of L is going to shock the world with a better-than-anticipated opening season in the Scott Satterfield coaching era, finding a productive quarterback will be vital. The choice from among Louisville’s returning QBs could not be more stark: Pass is most comfortable throwing from the pocket (1,960 passing yards last season); Cunningham (team high 497 yards rushing in 2018) is an explosive runner but less accomplished passer.

Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham (3) ran for a team-high 497 yards last season with five touchdown runs. Timothy D. Easley AP

2. Boogie Watson/Jordan Wright: With 21.5 tackles for loss and 17 quarterback sacks last year, Josh Allen turned in one of the epic seasons ever by a Kentucky defender. With Allen taking his talents to Jacksonville, it falls on returning UK edge rushers such as Watson (five sacks last year) and Wright (two quarterback hurries) to try to replace by committee some of the havoc UK is losing.

Boogie Watson
Kentucky linebacker Boogie Watson recorded one of his five sacks last season against South Carolina quarterback Michael Scarnecchia. Alex Slitz

1. Terry Wilson: Other than back-to-back clunkers vs. Texas A&M (108 passing yards, 54 on one play) and Vanderbilt (3-for-9 passing for 18 yards) last season, Wilson’s first year as Kentucky’s starting quarterback was a success.

Yet if the Cats are going to sustain last season’s momentum in spite of key personnel losses, UK is going to need more from the quarterback position than what “Terry Touchdown” was asked to provide a season ago.

UK quarterback Terry Wilson talks about the opening days of spring practice with the Wildcats football teams. Wilson is returning to Kentucky for his second season as the starter.


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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.