LEXINGTON, Ky. – Terry Wilson will be back at the helm of what is expected to be a more balanced offense when Kentucky opens its season Saturday against visiting Toledo. After an up and down first season with the Wildcats, who will face the Rockets for the first time, Wilson is expected to do more with his right arm.
TV: Noon ET, SEC Network. LINE: Kentucky -11.5
Mark Stoops' team was able to enjoy its best season in 40 years by running the ball on better than 64 percent of its plays, with more than half those carries going to the departed Benny Snell, Jr. and by relying one of the nation's top defenses, but this season promises to be different. "It's definitely going to be explosive through the air," Wilson told the media. "We're getting the ball down the field and we're going to be able to move the ball." Wilson has his top weapon back from last season in 6-1 junior receiver Lynn Bowden, Jr., who amassed 67 receptions - a school record for a sophomore - for 745 yards and five touchdowns, including 13 catches for 166 yards against Missouri. With his top two quarterbacks and top two running backs returning, Rockets fourth-year coach Jason Candle expects this season to go more like 2017, when the they won 11 games and the Mid-American Conference title, than last season's disappointing 7-6 campaign, which stretched their streak of winning seasons to nine.
ABOUT TOLEDO (7-6)
The Rockets have pinned their hopes on starting quarterback Mitchell Guadagni staying healthy for the entire season, something he couldn't do last year. Despite missing seven games including the last five, Guadagni still threw for 13 touchdowns and ran for 428 yards and three scores. If the 6-2, 210-pound native of Hudson, Ohio, can make it through all 12 regular season games and a bowl appearance, he could approach 4,000 yards of total offense and 40 total touchdowns and be in the running for MAC Offensive Player of the Year.
ABOUT KENTUCKY (10-3)
A.J. Rose has some big shoes to fill, but said he believes he learned well from Snell, who left after three seasons as the program's leader in rushing yards (3,873), rushing touchdowns (48) and 100-yard games (19). "I learned to compete, every breath," Rose, who ran for 442 yards last season, told the media. "Whether it's practice, game, walk-through, whatever. Benny had a great career here - all-time leading rusher - and I am going to chase that the next two years." Rose has an experienced offensive line to run behind led by center Drake Jackson, left guard Logan Stenberg and left tackle Landon Young, who returns after missing all last season with a knee injury.
1. Kentucky has won 10 straight games against MAC teams dating back to 2006.
2. Toledo's 46 wins over the last five seasons are third-most among Group of Five schools, who consist of teams from the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, the MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt.
3. Josh Paschal, who missed much of last season while undergoing cancer treatment, is expected to fill the jack position vacated by NFL first round draft pick Josh Allen, who is Kentucky's all-time leader in sacks.
PREDICTION: Toledo 27, Kentucky 23