Kentucky is no stranger to coaching changes in the football program. The Wildcats have shuffled through four head coaches since the 2000 season and, despite flirting with some unprecedented success last decade under Rich Brooks, have seemingly been in perpetual rebuilding mode since Paul "Bear" Bryant was allowed to depart Lexington in the 1950s en route to legend and lore at Alabama.
After saying farewell to likeable yet unsuccessful alum Joker Phillips in the wake of a 2-10 campaign in 2012, Kentucky tapped into two successful brands for their latest attempt to get it right in the SEC's game of choice: the Stoops family and the Florida State Seminoles.
Mark Stoops, the younger brother of Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops and former Arizona head coach Mike Stoops, gets his first shot at running a program after spending the last three years as Florida State's defensive coordinator. During that time, the Seminoles went from a No. 108 national ranking in total defense to No. 2 last season.
It's something of a departure for a UK program that has often gone with an offense-first mentality when it came to hiring head coaches.
"I'm a defensive guy," Stoops said upon being introduced as the new UK boss in December. "This is the SEC… We have to build this foundation with great defense. There's no way around it. If you don't play great defense, you're not going to win consistently."
Stoops, however, made an intriguing choice for offensive coordinator when he brought in former UK player Neal Brown from Texas Tech. Under Brown's version of the "Air Raid" offense, the Red Raiders were one of the highest-scoring teams in the country.
The marriage of Brown's offense and Stoops' defensive track record has Kentucky fans giddy. Coming off a strong recruiting effort on national signing day, the UK staff stoked excitement levels to new highs when more than 50,000 fans attended the Blue-White Spring Game at Commonwealth Stadium. A typical spring game in recent years would draw between 5,000-10,000.
Now comes the hard part.
The Wildcats will face one of the nation's most challenging schedules in 2013, a brutal slate that includes defending national champion Alabama, expected SEC challengers in South Carolina, Florida and Georgia, and a non-conference matchup with BCS contender Louisville.
Kentucky doesn't have the personnel to put a scare into those programs just yet, but the cupboard isn't completely bare. The Wildcats have six starters returning on both offense and defense with some young players emerging as potential stars.
A trio of talented sophomore quarterbacks – Maxwell Smith, Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles – battled in the spring for a job that won't likely be settled until fall camp, but UK should be in capable hands with any of the three. Raymond Sanders, Josh Clemons, Jonathan George and Dyshawn Mobley offer a solid rotation of runners with Sanders serving as a dangerous pass-catcher as well.
The biggest question on the offensive side of the ball will be who will catch the ball in Brown's pass-happy scheme? Receivers Demarco Robinson and DeMarcus Sweat are two players who need to step up big this season, and the Cats could get a lift from highly-touted junior college signee Javess Blue.
On the defensive side of the ball, UK has what is expected to be one of its best defensive lines in recent memory with Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble inside at tackle and budding star Alvin Dupree teaming up with elite junior college signee Za'Darius Smith to pose a strong duo at end.
Senior Avery Williamson brings experience and leadership in the middle of the unit after leading UK with 135 tackles last season. The secondary is perhaps the biggest concern on defense with several young and/or untested players in the mix.
2013 SEC Football Preview: Kentucky
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