Sidelines with John Clay

Kentucky’s defense likely to take a stat drop, but how far?

Last college football season, Kentucky experienced the second-highest jump in the very important category of scoring defense, climbing 68 spots from 74th in 2017 to sixth in 2018. Only Cincinnati, from 93rd to eighth, executed a bigger move.

What goes up must come down, right? Without Josh Allen, Lonnie Johnson, Mike Edwards, Darius West, Jordan Jones, Derrick Baity and Chris Westry, to name a few, the UK defense is expected to take a statistical tumble in 2019. But how far might the fall be? Let’s look at the numbers.

Over the last five years, 14 of the 50 schools that finished in the top 10 in scoring defense one season repeated that feat the next. That’s 28 percent. Here are the 14:

  • Clemson: No. 2 in 2017, No. 1 in 2018
  • Washington: No. 5 in 2017, No. 5 in 2018
  • Fresno State: No. 10 in 2017, No. 3 in 2018
  • Alabama: No. 1 in 2016, No. 1 in 2017
  • Wisconsin: No. 4 in 2016, No. 1 in 2017
  • Washington: No. 8 in 2016, No. 5 in 2017
  • Clemson: No. 10 in 2016, No. 2 in 2017
  • Wisconsin: No. 1 in 2015, No. 4 in 2016
  • Ohio State: No. 2 in 2015, No. 3 in 2016
  • Alabama: No. 3 in 2015, No. 1 in 2016
  • Michigan: No. 6 in 2015, No. 2 in 2016
  • Alabama: No. 6 in 2014, No. 2 in 2015
  • Alabama: No. 4 in 2013, No. 6 in 2014
  • Stanford: No. 10 in 2013, No. 2 in 2014

Twenty-four of those 50 finished in the top 20 the following season. That’s 48 percent. Here are the other 10:

  • Alabama: No. 1 in 2017, No. 12 in 2018
  • Georgia: No. 6 in 2017, No. 14 in 2018
  • Michigan: No. 2 in 2016, 13th in 2017
  • Ohio State: No. 3 in 2016, 15th in 2017
  • LSU: No. 5 in 2016, No. 14 in 2017
  • Auburn: No. 7 in 2016, No. 11 in 2017
  • San Diego State: No. 6 in 2015, No. 17 in 2016
  • Temple: No. 4 in 2014, No. 17 in 2015
  • Wisconsin: No. 6 in 2013, No. 17 in 2014
  • Utah State: No. 7 in 2013, No. 12 in 2014

Thirty-one of the 50 finished in the top 30. That’s 62 percent. Here are the other seven:

  • Penn State: No. 7 in 2017, No. 23 in 2018
  • Wyoming: No. 9 in 2017, No. 28 in 2018
  • Appalachian State: No. 9 in 2016, No. 21 in 2017
  • Clemson: No. 3 in 2014, No. 24 in 2015
  • Penn State: No. 7 in 2014, No. 26 in 2015
  • Louisville: No. 2 in 2013, No. 24 in 2014
  • Michigan State: No. 3 in 2013, No. 22 in 2014

Now, let’s a look at those who took a big plunge. Let’s limit it to teams that finished in the top 10 one season, then dropped all the way to the 80s or worse the following season. There are seven of those:

  • Virginia Tech: No. 4 in 2017, No. 85 in 2018
  • UTSA: No. 8 in 2017, No. 87 in 2018
  • Missouri: No. 5 in 2015, No. 89 in 2016
  • Marshall: No. 10 in 2015, No. 197 in 2016
  • UCF: No. 9 in 2014, No. 118 in 2015
  • Bowling Green: No. 5 in 2013, No. 108 in 2014
  • North Texas: No. 8 in 2013, No. 86 in 2014

Here are the five biggest ranking drops from teams that finished the top 10 in one season:

  • UCF fell 109 spots from No. 9 in 2014 to No. 118 in 2015
  • Bowling Green fell 103 spots from No. 5 in 2013 to No. 108 in 2014
  • Missouri fell 84 spots from No. 5 in 2015 to No. 89 in 2016
  • Virginia Tech fell 81 spots from No. 4 in 2017 to No. 85 in 2018
  • UTSA fell 79 spots from No. 8 in 2017 to No. 87 in 2018

Here are Kentucky’s rankings in scoring defense since 2009:

  • 2009 - 43rd (22.7)
  • 2010 - 72nd (27.4)
  • 2011 - 53rd (24.7)
  • 2012 - 86th (31.0)
  • 2013 - 90th (31.2)
  • 2014 - 95th (31.3)
  • 2015 - 68th (27.4)
  • 2016 - 86th (31.3)
  • 2017 - 74th (28.2)
  • 2018 - 6th (16.8)

Read more:

Grouping SEC football coaches into tiers

SEC football defensive coordinators for 2019

SEC football offensive coordinators for 2019

It will take more than one year to convince UK football skeptics

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John Clay is a sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A native of Central Kentucky, he covered UK football from 1987 until being named sports columnist in 2000. He has covered 20 Final Fours and 37 consecutive Kentucky Derbys.
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