Kentucky looking to improve in first year under head coach Mark Stoops

(WIAT-CBS42, Sebastian Posey)

HOOVER, Ala. (WIAT) – Competing in the Southeastern Conference is never an easy task. For Kentucky, it’s been quite a struggle.

The Wildcats finished the 2012 season 2-10 (0-8 in conference play) and fired head coach Joker Phillips in the middle of the season. Now, Mark Stoops is the one who has the task of fixing a program that has struggled mightily in recent years.

Stoops, who has never been a head coach before, takes over a Kentucky team with 14 returning starters – seven on offense and seven on defense.

“[We’re] excited about the opportunity we have at Kentucky. We understand there’s a lot of hard work that lies ahead, but we’re embracing that process and working hard each and every day to improve this team,” Stoops said.

Perhaps the biggest question mark heading into the season is the uncertainty that surrounds the quarterback position.

The Wildcats’ three leading passers from a year ago all return in 2013. Couple that with the anticipated Air Raid offense that offensive coordinator Neal Brown brings to the table and the Wildcats have a chance to make important strides during the upcoming season.

“They’re all good. They’ve worked extremely hard. They’ve all done some very good things in the spring,” explained Stoops. “We’re just going to have to continue to work through that process right now. If anybody emerges and just takes the reins and becomes the clear-cut leader, we’ll name ’em. Other than that, we’ll continue to work through that process.”

The Wildcats are set to begin the season against in-state rival Western Kentucky. Normally, the Hilltoppers would be just another name on the schedule for Kentucky. This year, though, the Wildcats are a bit more motivated to open the season against the ‘Toppers.

PHOTOS: Kentucky Wildcats Media Day

In 2012, Western Kentucky came into Lexington and knocked off the Wildcats  32-31 in overtime. Now, the Hilltoppers enter the 2013 season with former Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino at the helm.

“I expect a very good team, good offensive mind. [Petrino] has had some great success,” Stoops said of Western Kentucky. “I’m sure they’re going to be very excited to play us. But we are, as well. That’s our first game of this new era of our program. We have an awful lot on the line. We can’t take anything for granted at Kentucky right now. We can’t just show up and beat anybody. We have to play very well. We have to play to the best of our abilities. That’s our job to be ready to play in that opener.”

“We’re looking forward to August 31. They disrespected our field celebrating that they won,” running back Raymond Sanders said. “We hear a lot of tweets and different things, so August 31 is the date.”

Copyright 2013 WIAT-TV CBS 42

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