HOOVER, Ala. — Kentucky football unofficially kicked off Wednesday in the vast ballroom of The Wynfrey Hotel.
Mark Stoops, Stephen Johnson, Mike Edwards and Courtney Love provided enough information to fuel the football fervor until fall camp starts at the end of the month. SEC Country was on the scene in Hoover, covering everything from Mike Edwards’ ripped pants to the impact Lynn Bowden could have with the Cats.
Here are a few things we learned from Kentucky’s SEC Media Days. Click on the headings for the full story on each topic.
There were weeks of speculation regarding Bowden’s enrollment status, but Mark Stoops cleared that up Wednesday. He confirmed Bowden didn’t enroll in summer classes, but said he anticipates the top signee to be ready come training camp at the end of the month.
Bowden isn’t allowed to work out with the Wildcats until camp starts since he’s not currently a student. But count quarterback Stephen Johnson in the camp who’s ready to see him.
“We’re just waiting for him to get here,” Johnson said. “We’ve all seen his film, we’ve all seen his tape. He’s done a crazy amount of things with the football at his high school. It’s a matter of seeing him on the field when he gets here.”
Stephen Johnson has been told he’ll start against Southern Miss, but the quarterback competition is ongoing
If there was a shred of doubt as to who would take Kentucky’s first snap against Southern Miss, Johnson removed it Wednesday. The senior quarterback said he’s been told he’ll be the Week 1 starter.
And while that’s not necessarily news, Stoops is maintaining the narrative that all positions, quarterback included, are open. Kentucky’s preseason depth chart listed Johnson as the first-team quarterback with an “OR” between junior Drew Barker and redshirt freshman Gunnar Hoak for second team.
“Stephen has earned the right to be named the starting quarterback right now, but that’s today,” Stoops said. “Drew (Barker) was the starter last year as we were talking right here. Something happened, Stephen stepped in, did a heck of a job. He’s earned that right, but I expect Drew to come back and be better than he was.”
Kentucky has depth at quarterback, but the competition is likely not as open as Stoops suggests.
It’s safe to say no backup nose guard in the SEC was talked about more than Kentucky’s Matt Elam. It started when SEC Network analyst and former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy called Elam lazy and underachieving.
McElroy’s rant came out of nowhere, but it generated plenty of buzz. Elam hasn’t had the impact one might expect from a former 5-star prospect, but the 6-foot-7, 360-pound Elam might turn McElroy’s criticism into motivation.
Senior linebacker Courtney Love said he sent Elam a clip of the rant. Edwards talked with Elam about it and said Elam knows what he has to do. Johnson weighed in as well.
“Me and Matt didn’t talk about it personally, but seeing his attitude this morning at practice, it’s definitely not what they said yesterday,” Johnson said, referring to McElroy’s comments. “I’m excited to see what Matt has in store this season cause he’s gonna be one helluva player.”
Kentucky closed the season with seven wins in its last 10 games. The 2016 campaign included a win over Louisville — the biggest upset in college football last season — and a bowl berth for the first time in the Stoops era, and the first time since 2010.
As a result, the air around Kentucky’s SEC Media Days appearance was different.
“There’s definitely a lot of respect,” Love said, “that we’ve earned. It’s not just given to us. We’ve had to go out and earn that.”
Stoops and his Wildcats spoke with a calm confidence and all seemed aware that UK has the “SEC East dark horse” label.
“We know that we will be contending to be the SEC East champions and SEC champions,” Johnson said. “I’m really, really excited to see what we can do this year.”