Starting receivers Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews, quarterback Mike Hartline, and tailback Derrick Locke have all moved on. WR La’Rod King is the only starting skill player returning from last years Kentucky squad. However, the Wildcats return 4 of 5 starters on it’s offensive line. All-SEC second team right guard Larry Warford leads a veteran group that includes 3 seniors and 2 juniors. With untested players at two receiver spots, quarterback and tailback you can bet that Head Coach Joker Philips will be relying heavily on his run game. Sophomore tailback Raymond Sanders will have to grow up quickly if the Cats are to make it to a school-record setting 6th consecutive bowl game.
Sanders saw limited playing time behind Derrick Locke last season. He rushed only 68 times for 254 yds and 3 TDs as a freshman. As the starter, Sanders can count on many more touches this season but will face many fronts stacked against the run unless junior QB Morgan Newton and the new receiving corp can get on the same page quickly. Sanders is a versatile back that can catch as well as he runs. Last year he caught 16 balls for 114 yds (7.1 avg) and a touchdown.
The East crown is a little more attainable this year than in seasons past with Tennessee and Florida both in transition. It is not as sexy when your offensive line is the strength of the team as opposed to a stud QB but having a strong line might be even more important, especially in a conference that prides itself on running the ball, controlling the clock and playing defense. If there is a Division Champion in Lexington, it will be up to Raymond Sanders to find the holes and keep the chains moving. Watch for him.