Joker Phillips finished his career as the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats with a career record 13-24 and an SEC record of just 4-20. 2012 was the worst of the three years for Phillips as his team finished in the basement of the SEC East and went just 2-10 overall and 0-8 in the SEC.
Coming into the 2012 season, the Wildcats had lost Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy Jr off their defense and looked to take a step back on that side of the football but there was hope that the offense would improve. I tabbed Kentucky at 4-8 before the season while the Kentucky faithful were looking more at 5 or 6 wins. Even with those low expectations, winning two games was too much to keep Joker around for another year.
Kentucky now turns to Mark Stoops as he takes over for Phillips. Stoops has a background as a defensive guy, as did Rich Brooks who was fairly successful before Phillips took over, who coached most recently at FSU. Stoops turns to Neal Brown to handle the offensive duties and if his tenure at Texas Tech and Troy is any indication he will be throwing the ball around a bit.
Coming into 2012, Kentucky was the 12th most experienced team in the SEC (only Auburn and Mississippi State had less experience according to Phil Steele). Despite the youth, Phil Steele still has them listed 53rd in terms of returning starters for the 2013 season.
Offensively, Kentucky has been dead last in the SEC the last two years in points scored (17.9 in 2012 and 15.8 in 2011) so it will be crucial that Brown gets these guys up to speed on his system. The Wildcats have three young QBs in Maxwell Smith, Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles and it will be interesting to watch this spring and fall to see if one of those guys takes to the new system and jumps out in front of his peers. Kentucky has talent at RB with Raymond Sanders and CoShik Williams but have struggled to keep their guys healthy. The loss of offensive lineman Larry Warford will hurt.
Defensively, Kentucky took a step back in 2012 allowing 6.3 more points per game than in 2011. They will be better on defense this season with Stoops, they almost have to be. Whether or not they are significantly better as a whole will be whether or not the offense can get going and how early in the season they can get going. The schedule, at least in the early going, is not going to be Kentucky's friend in 2013. After starting with two very winnable mid-major games they play Louisville, Florida, South Carolina and then Alabama. Ouch. Winning those first two games (against WKU with Bobby Petrino and Miami, OH) will be a big key for Stoops getting this young team to believe in 2013. Despite the tough schedule, it's impossible to believe that this team won't be better than they were last season. The question is how much better will they be?