Scout.com/Jeff Drummond

Four Downs: Kentucky Wildcats will face several elite QBs in 2016

Playing in the Southeastern Conference, Kentucky's schedule is always an enormous challenge from one season to the next. But it figures to be an even bigger test in 2016 with two of the league's top quarterbacks on the Wildcats' slate and two of the nation's top quarterbacks featured among the non-conference opponents.

In this edition of AllWildcats' "Four Downs," we take a look at what could be the best signal callers the UK defense will face this season.

1. JOSHUA DOBBS, TENNESSEE

Dobbs led the Volunteers to a surprisingly lopsided 52-21 victory over UK last year at Commonwealth Stadium after the Cats had been narrowing the gap against their oldest rival in recent years. The UK defense had no answer for Dobbs' dual-threat abilities as the 6-foot-3, 207-pounder passed for 233 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for another 51 yards and two scores. He's coming off a junior season which saw him pass for 2,291 yards and 15 touchdowns with only five interceptions on 344 attempts. To put that in perspective, Dobbs only threw it to the opposition about once every 70 attempts, an extremely impressive ratio. He also rushed for a net 671 yards and 11 scores. Tennessee averaged 35.2 points per game in 2015, and with talented running back Jalen Hurd returning behind Dobbs this season, that figure is expected to grow. 

2. LAMAR JACKSON, LOUISVILLE

Somehow, inexplicably, Lamar Jackson wasn't the Cardinals' starting quarterback when they rolled into Commonwealth Stadium on Nov. 28, 2015. After getting down 21-0 to the Wildcats, however, UofL coach Bobby Petrino pulled the plug on Kyle Bolin and brought Jackson off the bench late in the first quarter. About two hours later, the Cards were celebrating a 38-24 victory over the Cats in one of the most disheartening games the UK fans have experienced at CWS. Jackson was almost single-handedly responsible for the turn-around, rushing for 186 yards and passing for 130 in only about three quarters of action. His scrambling ability will keep 12 defensive coordinators up at night in preparation for the 6-foot-3, 196-pound sophomore this season. He only completed 54.7 percent of his passes last season and had a poor 12:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but those figures are expected to improve dramatically in his second year under Petrino and eight other starters returning on the UofL offense.

3. NICK MULLENS, SOUTHERN MISS

The season-opener for most SEC clubs is usually a cakewalk. That certainly won't be the case for UK, and Mullens is a big reason why. The Golden Eagles' all-time leading passer -- he eclipsed NFL Hall of Famer Brett Favre's school record last year -- brings a dangerous right arm to Commonwealth Stadium on Sept. 3. As a junior, he completed 63.5 percent of his passes for an eye-popping 4,476 yards and 38 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. Southern Miss averaged 43.5 points per game and will return the 16th most-experienced team in the country for 2016, according to national football analyst Phil Steele. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder does not run much (minus-92 net yards last season) which should be a relief to the Cats, but his passing ability against what is expected to be an outstanding UK secondary should be a great matchup in the opener. 

4. JACOB EASON, GEORGIA

Eason was the nation's No. 2 high school quarterback prospect and No. 7 overall recruit in the Class of 2016, according to Scout. He was the USA Today National Offensive Player of the Year after passing for 3,585 yards, 43 touchdowns and only six interceptions at Lake Stevens (Wash.) High School. The owner of a huge arm and prototype NFL frame, Eason was an early enrollee at Georgia. The 6-foot-5, 211-pounder had a great spring game, passing for 244 yards and a touchdown, leading many to believe he'll ultimately be the Bulldogs' starter by the time they face the Cats on Nov. 5 at Commonwealth Stadium. There is already pressure on first-year UGA coach Kirby Smart to hand the keys to the talented prospect. Freshmen at this position -- no matter how gifted -- typically experience their fair share of struggles in the SEC, but Eason will potentially have eight games behind him by the time he sees UK. 


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