The Memorial Day holiday weekend means that preseason magazine season has officially arrived. We’ll have to wait a few more weeks before Phil Steele’s college football encyclopedia arrives in July, but Athlon Sports is here to give us an outstanding summer appetizer with the college football countdown well under 100 days.
The 2023 edition includes playoff picks, win/loss predictions, All-American teams, all-conference teams, a betting guide, and full write-up reports on all 133 FBS teams. Football is coming. But none of those is Athlon’s best feature in the yearly magazine.
The staff speaks with anonymous coaches every offseason and gets thoughts throughout the coaching industry on each Power Five team. An SEC assistant coach dished on the Wildcats this offseason.
High expectations for the new-look offense
Mark Stoops was willing to pull the plug quickly on Rich Scangarello. Right after the disappointing 2022 regular season ended, Kentucky began an offensive coordinator search. The Wildcats were able to reel Liam Coen back to Lexington, and the move could be a game-changer that will include some creative scheming to help this offense score points.
“The change back at offensive coordinator [to Coen] is going to be a huge swing for them, even with [Will] Levis leaving for the NFL,” one anonymous assistant said. “They’re going to go back to a different SEC era, what you’d expect an Iowa guy like Mark to want to do — find wrinkles and formations and new-age stuff to run the ball and control the clock and help the defense.”
Kentucky has established a winning recipe under Stoops and that is not changing. The Wildcats use a ball-control offense and shrink games. However, the recipe could look different since the positional strengths for the offense this season are at wide receiver and tight end. The newest quarterback could also make a big difference.
“If the QB transfer [Devin Leary] hits, they’re going to be as good as they’ve been in recent years.”
Efficient transfer portal usage
Will Levis and Wan’Dale Robinson were former transfer additions who went on to become second-round NFL Draft picks after time spent at Kentucky. Dare Rosenthal, Jacquez Jones, Tayvion Robinson, and Keidron Smith became instant starters in Lexington. UK’s staff attacked the portal again in the offseason adding likely starters at quarterback, tailback, left tackle, and right tackle. Former Texas State transfer Zion Childress is stepping into the starting lineup after one season on campus.
Kentucky does a good job filling needs in the transfer portal.
“No one talks about how good they are in the portal. This is not a portal roster — they want you in the system long term — but they sneak out and plug position needs really well, like the kid from Virginia Tech [Tayvion Robinson] at WR, and the year before it was the guy from Nebraska [Wan’Dale Robinson],” one anonymous SEC coach said.
Kentucky still wants to be a recruit and development program, but the transfer portal plays a significant role in the roster-building process of this SEC football organization.