By Eric Crawford, WDRB Sports
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ATLANTA (WDRB) – The University of Kentucky football team has more returning defensive production than any team in the Southeastern Conference.

It has the league’s leading returning rusher in Benny Snell Jr., a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the past two seasons.

But it has reached this point for Kentucky: After missing out on some opportunities to climb the league ladder in the past two seasons, observers around the SEC are going to have to see the Wildcats take the next step to believe they can do it.

The predicted order finish won’t be released until Friday. But don’t expect Kentucky to climb too high in the Eastern Conference picks.

“We expect more,” Stoops said. “We've been close. We've done some good things. I'm proud of the work that we've done, that we look forward to making a big jump this year. We return some players with experience. We returned some talent. We returned some players that decided to forego the NFL and come back to do more, to play with a chip on their shoulder, to win some football games. We're tired of being close in some. We want to win and get over the hump.”

They’re fine goals. But the “how” of them won’t be answered on media day.

A big part of whether those goals will be met rests on the performance of a quarterback who hasn’t been named yet, and who won’t have taken an NCAA Division I snap. Stoops said he’ll be in no hurry to make a decision between redshirt freshman Gunnar Hoak and junior college transfer Terry Wilson.

“I think it would be reckless to make that decision before it plays out,” he said. “It’s obviously a very unique situation, but the flip side of that is I feel like these guys aren’t very inexperienced. They haven’t taken a college snap in a game for us or anything like that, but they’ve been around. Gunnar’s been in our system. He understands it very clearly and has been around our program for some time. And obviously with Terry, having the experience of going to Oregon, going to a junior college, playing a lot of football, they’re both very poised and very confident.”

While the lack of an experienced starter likely dampens expectations for Kentucky, Stoops says he sees his two top options as providing a variety of opportunities for the Wildcats.

“Gunnar is a guy I have great confidence in. . . . He’s very poised and very accurate, makes good decisions. He can make all the throws and I like the leadership that he brings and the confidence that he has. And with Terry, he’s very athletic. He brings a skill set that I’m sure you can see fully until he gets into games, because the scrimmages are never completely live, and in a way I think that hinders him some. But he’s a very confident guy, works very hard, he can run and throw, so we’ll see where it goes.”

“We just look forward to Benny being Benny and doing what he does,” Stoops said. “Of course I just mentioned it goes hand in hand with the offensive line and tight ends. But I like the quarterback situation. I like where we're at. I feel very confident with it.”

One thing Stoops knows he’ll need, regardless of who is quarterback, is production from Snell, who despite his numbers and accomplishments in the league doesn’t quite get the respect of backs from bigger schools. It’s something he said he intends to earn.

“I think I’m underrated, I think Kentucky’s underrated,” Snell said. “But you just have to win. That’s what you do to change that.”

Until that happens, expect the expectations to remain tempered, except within the UK football complex.

“We’re worrying so much about ourselves that we really don’t pay much attention to that,” Stoops said. “I know we’re very confident in our building and feel very good about what we have and what we’re doing, the position we’re putting ourselves in. And you can’t really worry about that, because if you’re not doing the things necessary, not putting in the hard work this summer, and taking things to another level worrying about our back yard, then the talk is cheap. It doesn’t really mean much. It’s a matter of whether we’re doing things to put ourselves in position to win games. I like our football team. I like the talent on our football team, I like the players we bring back and I like our attitude. I hope we have a chip on our shoulder no matter what we’re rated. That’s what I ‘m looking for.”

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