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SEC season review: Kentucky Wildcats

For the first time since 2010, Kentucky will be playing in a bowl game. It didn’t look like that was going to happen after the first month of the season, but the team rallied behind fourth-year coach Mark Stoops and achieved its goal.

Here’s a look back at the Wildcats’ 2016 season.

Best moment: Take your pick of game-winning field goals from Austin MacGinnis. The first came in October when MacGinnis drilled a 51-yard field goal as time expired to knock off Mississippi State, 40-38. It was in the middle of a three-game SEC winning streak that was critical to Kentucky making a bowl game. The second came against Louisville in the season finale. MacGinnis was true from 47 yards out in the closing seconds to help the Wildcats stun Lamar Jackson and Co. and take back the Governor’s Cup.

Worst moment: If blowing a 35-10 lead to Southern Miss in the season opener wasn’t bad enough, the next week Kentucky played maybe its worst game ever under Stoops. The Wildcats were thoroughly dominated on the road at Florida in a game that quarterback Drew Barker had more interceptions (three) than he did completions (two). The final score was 45-7, but it could’ve been worse. “There’s not a lot to say other than we got our butts kicked,” Stoops said.

Player of the year: Center Jon Toth. It would have been easy to pick one of the two running backs who went over 1,000 yards, but the fact there were two guys who reached that milestone proves that the offensive line had as much to do with why Kentucky finished third in the SEC in rushing as anybody. And Toth, a first-team All-SEC selection by The Associated Press, was the anchor for that group. The senior has started 47 straight games, the longest active streak in the nation, and according to the school, he leads the team with 69 knockdown blocks.

Breakout player: LB Jordan Jones. Some of you non-Kentucky fans reading this still might not know Jones. That needs to change. The sophomore linebacker led the Wildcats with 100 tackles and 14 tackles for loss. He also recorded four sacks, nine quarterback hurries and forced a fumble. This was a guy who had just 10 tackles all of last year.

Play of the year: The 51-yard field goal to beat Mississippi State had more impact, but the best play from that game and from Kentucky’s season came on a 40-yard touchdown pass from Stephen Johnson to Jeff Badet. It wasn’t your typical touchdown pass, though. Johnson lined up as a wide receiver to the left, got the ball on a reverse, and chucked it downfield to a wide-open Badet, who caught it and ran across the goal line. It was the perfect trick play.

2017 outlook: Now that Kentucky has finally made a bowl game, what’s next? Based on what we saw in the Louisville game, this team might be on the verge of contending in the SEC East. The offense returns nine starters, including both 1,000-yard rushers – Stanley "Boom" Williams and Benny Snell, and the defense is expected to get eight starters back. It also doesn’t hurt that the Wildcats trade Alabama for Ole Miss on the schedule for 2017.