The Kentucky Wildcats finished with a 5-7 (2-6 SEC) record in 2015. The season was either a huge success or monumental failure, depending on who you ask.
Many fans will note that the Wildcats — who won a combined five games in 2012 and 2013 — matched their win total overall and in SEC play midway through the season. Others will acknowledge that the team started at 5-1 — one game away from securing its first bowl game appearance — and ended its season on a six-game losing streak.
Either way, Kentucky’s expectations will increase in head coach Mark Stoops’ third season. He has an improved roster that could be considered underrated.
Here’s five players to watch for the Wildcats in 2015.
RB Stanley “Boom” Williams
While most of the Wildcats’ offense went absent during the team’s losing streak, Williams emerged as the team’s best running back. Kentucky used several backs throughout the season but the true freshman proved to be the most consistent and finished with a team-best 486 yards.
Williams capped off his debut season with a career-best 126 yards and two touchdowns against Lousiville — who ranked as the No. 2 rushing defense at the time. The freshman also averaged 6.6 yards per carry, the fourth-most among SEC players who played in 75 percent of their team’s games and had a minimum of 4.0 rushing attempts per game.
Williams should see an increase in production in 2015. The sophomore will emerge as a breakout star and the feature back for the Wildcats.
TE C.J. Conrad
Conrad was the top prospect in Kentucky’s 2015 recruiting class. He rated as a four-star prospect and was the No. 11 overall tight end.
Conrad enrolled early in January which gives him an advantage for playing time as a true freshman. It also doesn’t hurt that departing senior tight ends Ronnie Shields and Steve “Sting Jr.” Borden combined for five catches for 62 yards.
Kentucky is thin at tight end and the freshman should make an immediate impact in 2015. Conrad should see plenty of targets as the Wildcats look to replace two senior wide receivers in Javess Blue and Demarco Robinson.
DT Matt Elam
Elam was one of four four-star prospects from Kentucky’s 2014 signing class. He rated as the No. 13 defensive tackle and No. 2 player from the Bluegrass State, behind fellow signee Drew Barker.
Elam saw limited action as a nose guard in his debut season. But after arriving at 393 pounds, he didn’t have the stamina to be an every down lineman.
In 2015, Kentucky expects to see a more durable Elam on the interior line. He should see more playing time and use his 6-foot-7, 300-plus pound frame to his advantage.
LB Josh Forrest
Josh Forrest emerged out of the shadow of inevitable first-round draft pick Alvin “Bud” Dupree to become one of the SEC’s most consistent linebackers. The junior recorded a team-best 110 tackles — fifth in the conference — and was named to the Dick Butkus preseason award watch list.
Forrest will now assume the role of a veteran leader in Dupree’s absence. His numbers should, however, remain high especially if he’s playing behind an improved, experienced Elam in the trenches.
DB A.J. Stamps
Stamps earned third-team preseason All-SEC honors during SEC Media Days. He led the Wildcats with four interceptions, was fifth in tackles with 56 and started in all 12 games.
Stamps has experience winning as a member of East Mississippi Community College’s 2013 JUCO national championship team. After the departures of Dupree and Za’Darius Smith, Stamps is considered to be the best player on Kentucky’s defense.
The senior is poised to earn attention from NFL teams in next year’s draft after what should be a dominant season. Alongside Marcus McWilson, Stamps makes up one of the SEC’s most underrated safety units that should create a difficult matchup for opposing quarterbacks.