By LARRY VAUGHT
While some Kentucky football fans were “disappointed” with Kentucky’s 9-3 finish mainly due to the loss at Tennessee, Southeastern Conference media members certainly feel that coach Mark Stoops did an outstanding job with a team that was picked to finish fifth or lower in the SEC Eastern Division.
Stoops was named SEC Coach of the Year Monday in voting by media members — and senior linebacker Josh Allen was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year as well. Stoops is just the fourth UK coach — Bear Bryant (1950), Fran Curci (1977) and Jerry Claiborne (1983) — to be named SEC Coach of the Year and Allen is the first UK player to be named SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
Kentucky had its best regular-season finish since 1977’s 10-1 mark and its 5-3 SEC mark was also UK’s first winning record in SEC play since 1977. Kentucky beat Florida for the first time since 1986 and had six wins over teams playing in bowl games. Four teams UK beat won eight or more games and Kentucky was ranked in the top 25 for 11 straight weeks.
Kentucky will play Penn State in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando Jan. 1, it’s first New Year’s Day bowl since 1998.
Allen had 84 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, five forced fumbles, six quarterback hurries and four pass breakups. He led the SEC in tackles for loss, sacks and forced fumbles. He set a record for UK single season and career sacks. Allen was named one of four finalists for the Ted Hendricks Award, which honors the nation’s top defensive end, on Monday, too. The other finalists for that honor include Jaylon Ferguson (Louisiana Tech), Clelin Ferrell (Clemson) and Sutton Smith (Northern Illinois).
Running back Benny Snell and offensive guard Bunchy Stallings earned first-team all-SEC honors. Snell, also a first team pick last year, has rushed for 1,305 yards and 14 touchdowns this season, both second in the SEC. Snell has 3,729 rushing yards — 15th best ever in the SEC and second best at UK. His 46 career rushing touchdowns rank third in league history behind Tim Tebow and Herschel Walker. Stallings has also been a starter the last three years when Snell ran for 1,000 or more yards each season.
Senior safety Mike Edwards was named to the second team after making 77 tackles with nine tackles for loss this year. He also had six pass break ups, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and two interceptions.