Kentucky had an incumbent starting quarterback, but the UK head coach nevertheless declared the QB job open going into spring practice.
The consensus opinion was Kentucky had to get more consistent quarterback play if the Cats had any hope of snapping a string of losing seasons.
The situation with Patrick Towles and UK football entering 2015? Yes, but it was also the scenario facing Kentucky and its returning starting QB, Andre Woodson, going into the 2006 season.
If Mark Stoops' third season as Kentucky head coach is to include the positive breakthrough for which UK backers so yearn, a lot rides on one question: Can Towles make the same kind of dramatic progression from his first year as a starter to his second that Woodson did from 2005 to 2006?
"That's a great question," Woodson said last week. "It's always hard to tell."
On the surface, the similarities between Towles entering 2015 and Woodson entering 2006 are many.
Both were four-star, in-state (Towles from Highlands, Woodson from North Hardin) quarterback recruits who committed to UK early. Both claimed the Wildcats starting job as redshirt sophomores.
In their first seasons as UK starters, each showed early promise.
Towles was razor sharp in his first start of 2014, throwing for 377 yards in a rout of Tennessee-Martin. Midseason, he was stellar against a formidable SEC foe, running for two TDs and passing for 390 yards and two scores against then-No. 1 Mississippi State.
Woodson was razor sharp in his first start of 2005, throwing for 278 yards and two TDs in a near-upset of Louisville. Midseason, he was stellar against a formidable SEC foe, throwing for 335 yards and a score against No. 17 Auburn.
After displaying tantalizing promise early in his initial season as UK's starter, Towles appeared to get beaten down physically as a losing season took its toll. In Kentucky's final four games of 2014, all losses, Towles completed only 50.8 percent of his passes.
After displaying tantalizing promise early in his initial season as UK's starter, Woodson appeared to get beaten down physically as a losing season took its toll. In Kentucky's final three games of 2005, all losses, Woodson completed only 31 passes total and threw no touchdowns.
So after Towles ended 2014 on a bit of a downer, the Kentucky brain trust of Stoops and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson declared that another touted in-state QB recruit, Drew Barker, would be given a chance to compete with Towles for the starting job.
So after Woodson ended 2005 on a bit of a downer, the Kentucky brain trust of Rich Brooks and offensive coordinator Joker Phillips declared that another touted, in-state QB recruit, Curtis Pulley, would be given a chance to compete with Woodson for the starting job.
"Curtis, he had a lot of talent, no doubt," Woodson said. "So going into that spring practice, I wasn't too sure what was going to happen."
What happened was that Woodson, pushed to the brink, fought off Pulley's challenge. Then, in his second year as a starter, the 6-foot-5 pocket passer from Radcliff grew into one of the best QBs in UK history.
As a junior, Woodson threw for 3,515 yards and 31 touchdowns and led UK — 9-25 in the three seasons prior — to an eight-win season that included a victory over Clemson in the Music City Bowl.
The next year, a senior Woodson threw for 3,709 yards and 40 TDs and Kentucky beat eventual national champion LSU, No. 9 Louisville and Florida State (Music City Bowl) en route to another eight-win campaign.
"I think the thing that changed for me the most, really there were two things," Woodson said. "Number one, from that (prior) year of starting, I learned so much about reading defenses and how to work through progressions, how to identify blitzes and coverages.
"The other thing, I really learned how to study film and how hard you have to work to be a successful quarterback in the SEC. I wouldn't have said it at the time, but I wound up being glad that Coach Brooks and Coach Phillips made me fight so hard to keep that job. Maybe the same thing will happen with Patrick."
Stoops said this month that the 6-5 Towles has "a leg up" in his battle with Barker to remain Kentucky's No. 1 QB.
If Kentucky — 9-27 in the three seasons prior — is going to get back in the business of going to bowls, it needs Towles to make the same big step forward Woodson did at exactly the same stage of his career.