This season has eight games slated for Kroger Field starting with the opener August 31st against Toledo. However, the Cats are being forecast by many national publications to finish sixth in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division and not even win six games to be bowl eligible by some.
"People were happy when we won seven games. Now we want to win more, win big games," said UK recruiting director Vince Marrow. "I want them to keep disrespecting us because it drives us. We don't look for them (predictions) to motivate us but it just pisses me off. It really does."
Many national analysts are looking at the loss of linebacker Josh Allen, the national defensive player of the year and running back Benny Snell, UK's all-time leading rusher, off last year's team along with the graduation of five defensive backs. However, Marrow and UK coaches are focusing on who is back.
"We are way ahead of where some people think we are. I know our roster. I know some things to worry about and I know some things that are really, really good," Marrow said.
He says running backs junior AJ Rose and sophomore Kavosiey Smoke will give UK a "different type dude" in the backfield. Same with Justin Riggs taking over for C.J. Conrad, a three-year starter, at tight end. Junior center Drake Jackson and senior guard Logan Stenberg rank among the top SEC linemen. Offensive tackle Landon Young is back after missing last year with a knee injury.
"Just let people keep sleeping on us," the outspoken Marrow said. "It makes me mad but it also helps us because we know we are better than other people think."
"We put a lot on Drake and that doesn't get recognized by pretty much anybody except our coaching staff and me. Would I say he is under appreciated? In general, he probably is and that is true for most linemen but in our building, we all know how good he is," offensive line coach John Schlarman said.
Junior receiver Lynn Bowden, a former top 100 recruit, was a breakout star last year with 67 catches for 745 years and five touchdowns. "He'll do even more this year," Marrow said.
Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism offensively is junior quarterback Terry Wilson. He completed 180 of 268 throws for 1,889 yards and 11 scores with eight interceptions and ran for 547 yards and four scores. Oddly, he's rated near the bottom of SEC quarterbacks by some preseason publications. "I love that stuff even if I don't understand how anybody can say that," Marrow said.
On defense, junior lineman Quinton Bohanna emerged as a premier player last year and 6-9 lineman Calvin Taylor could be the best UK player that seldom gets mentioned.
Senior linebacker Kash Daniel should be the inspirational leader on defense. He had 84 stops last year — just four less than Allen had.
"It's not like I am the only guy who can lead the defense. I am just one piece of the puzzle. Every leader in some aspect has to be vocal," Daniel said. "When I was a kid I was always working my tail off to reach this dream of being at UK and being a starting linebacker. I live, eat, breath to be a better player."
A healthy Josh Paschal, who redshirted last year after being diagnosed with skin cancer before the season started, could be a huge plus this year. Linebacker Jamar "Boogie" Watson also figures to play a more prominent role.
Linebackers coach Jon Sumrall believes both Chris Oates and DeAndre Square, who played as true freshmen, could be rising stars on defense.
"Both are instinctive and that is one of the best attributes you have to have to be a good inside linebacker," Sumrall, a former UK linebacker, said. "It is not always about certain measurables but is about instincts and awareness and both of them have that."
Marrow admits an inexperienced secondary could be a reason for concern. However, he believes players who have been waiting for a chance to play, junior college signees or even true freshmen can develop into a solid unit.
"Plus if our defensive front is as good as I think it will be, then that is going to help the secondary," Marrow said.
Kentucky also has several freshmen who could help, especially at receiver or on special teams.
"Just let people keep sleeping on us," the outspoken Marrow said. "It makes me mad but it also helps us because we know we are better than other people think. It was the same way last year and we won 10 games.
"The good thing is that people who matter — recruits — know we are better and we keep getting better players. That's what I know that some of these national guys don't. We had guys that have not played much yet who are going to make their names known and be stars. Just wait and see."