SEC PREVIEWS: New-look Wildcats

Now that the Southeastern Conference has won an unprecedented five straight national football championships, the question isn't if the league can continue the streak, but which team seems the most likely to pull off the feat. Look inside as continues its look at the SEC with this preview of Tennessee.

With four different teams (Auburn, Alabama, LSU and Florida twice) winning national titles in the past five years plus three Heisman Trophy winners (Tim Tebow, Mark Ingram and Cam Newton), winning the SEC championship has become the single most important factor in determining leading candidates for college football's top team and individual honors.

The SEC publishers have tabbed Alabama as the overall favorite to win the league championship and make its way to another BCS title game. LSU drew strong support both as the second choice in the SEC West and for the overall title with South Carolina getting the nod over Georgia for the SEC East championship. All 12 teams will be previewed in their predicted order of finish over the next couple of weeks.



The Kentucky Wildcats will be a team with a much different look than in recent years. The Wildcats lost major contributors in Randall Cobb, Derrick Locke and Mike Hartline on the offensive side of the ball. While that is a lot of touchdowns and yardage missing from the Wildcats' squad, there are returnees on the offensive side of the ball who will be able to make some noise.

The Wildcats are in a rare position at quarterback, losing a three-year starter, but returning a quarterback with valuable starting experience in SEC play. Kentucky will look to junior quarterback Morgan Newton to carry a big load on the offense not only as the main cog of the passing game, but also as the leader of the offense. Newton has a big arm and knowledge of the offense, but what is most impressive is that he's improved his downfield touch on his throws and his short passing game as well.

Questions in the passing game for the Wildcats come from the wide receiver spots. While they have a couple of players returning who have significant playing time in the SEC in junior LaRod King and senior Matt Roark, the Wildcats will rely on some inexperienced players like redshirt sophomore Brian Adams and some incoming freshmen for depth. Adams had a great game in the Blue-White scrimmage and looks to be a star in the making, but consistency will be the question for this group as a whole as well as Adams individually.

Kentucky also returns an experienced offensive line. Senior guard Stuart Hines leads the way at one guard, while Larry Warford will take up space on the opposite side of the field. Matt Smith returns at center after an excellent year anchoring the middle of the Wildcat line. The questions come on the outside where Chandler Burden will return from injury in the spring and Billy Joe Murphy will step in at right tackle after swinging all over the field last season. If this group can hold its own and open holes for the running backs, it will make the Wildcats that much more effective.

And with the running game, Kentucky will be breaking in a new starter with this inexperienced unit. While Derrick Locke is gone, the Wildcats do return a lot of talent with sophomore Raymond Sanders, redshirt freshman Brandon Gainer and redshirt sophomore Jon George. All three made splashes in the spring, but Sanders looks to be the starter going into the summer with freshmen Marcus Caffey and Josh Clemons getting the opportunity to earn playing time as well.

On the defensive side of the ball the Wildcats lost four-year contributor Ricky Lumpkin and Shane McCord. The Cats do have talented young players who could develop into better pass rushers and run stoppers. And they return virtually all production from the linebackers and defensive backs. Additionally the Wildcats will play more of a 4-2-5 defense this season with hybrid linebackers and pass rushers. New Co-Defensive Coordinator, Rick Minter, came away encouraged by what he saw from this group and believes it has a chance to play well on the defensive side of the ball. On the defensive line Kentucky will have a young group of players led by junior defensive end Collins Ukwu who had a great spring. Taylor Wyndham is an undersized defensive tackle who may swing back out to the outside at defensive end next season, with improvement from sophomore Donte Rumph and redshirt freshman Brice Laughlin. Senior Mark Crawford will also provide depth on the defensive line.

Danny Trevathan, Avery Williamson and Ronnie Sneed look like they'll anchor the linebackers. Trevathan was one of the best linebackers in the nation and looks like a perfect fit for Minter's attacking style of defense. Ridge Wilson will spend time as a rush end and as a linebacker. Winston Guy, who started at safety last season, will also play a significant role at linebacker, but can also cover in the passing game.

At defensive back the Wildcats have moved Martavius Neloms from corner to safety where he can use his physical nature more in run support. Replacing Winston Guy at safety is sophomore Dakotah Tyler who had a good spring as a starter. Randall Burden returns at one corner where he's the most experienced defensive back on the Wildcat team. The other corner is Anthony Mosley, who played a lot last season as the nickel back.

While the Wildcats are a very young team this year, the athleticism is steadily improving and the new system in place on the defensive side of the ball should take some of the predictability out of the Wildcat game plan each week.


SEC West
Alabama (1)
LSU (2)
Arkansas (3)
Mississippi State (4)
Auburn (5)

SEC East
South Carolina (1)
Georgia (2)
Florida (3)
Tennessee (4)

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