Now, after dealing with so many unknowns, Stoops finally gets to prepare for a familiar opponent with the Florida Gators coming to town on Saturday.
"It will be another great challenge as we all know," Stoops said. "A very solid team on all phases. Been very familiar with Florida having played them the past three years and knowing quite a few players on their team."
During his time as defensive coordinator at Florida State, the Seminoles won twice in three meetings with the rival Gators: 31-7 in 2010 and 21-7 in 2011. Most recently, Florida came away with a 37-26 victory last November.
The No. 19/20 Gators have won two of three to open the season, and Stoops sees a team not much different than the one he prepared for 10 months ago.
"They want to be physical," Stoops said. "They're very good defensively, as good as maybe anybody we will play this year. So very good, very talented, very physical defensively and offensively, the same thing. They want to control the football, keep the time of possession and be physical in the run game, and, again, take their shots off of that."
This week, however, it will be a different quarterback taking those shots. Returning starter Jeff Driskel sustained a broken tibia during Florida's 31-17 win over Tennessee and has been replaced by redshirt sophomore Tyler Murphy. Murphy completed 8-of-14 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 84 yards and another score in relief.
Stoops said UK will need to account for Murphy's play-making ability, but it's not as if Driskel was a statue in the pocket himself. Driskel ran for 408 yards and five touchdowns in 2012, including 35 yards and a score against Kentucky in a 38-0 win.
"I think both guys can run the ball a little bit when they want to," Stoops said. "Certainly Murphy showed some athleticism and some speed, and I'm sure they'll want to use him from time to time."
But no matter who lines up at quarterback, Florida's strength remains the same: defense. The Gators are allowing just 212.3 yards and 14.7 points per game and have created eight turnovers, including six against the Volunteers. Stoops says that starts with the defensive line.
"I mean, they're very disruptive," Stoops said. "Very dominant up front, and their secondary is fabulous. I mean, they cover the heck out of you. They're very good players in the secondary. I've known quite a few of those guys for some time, very good."
Stoops not reaching for motivational ploys
With his team set to face Florida, Stoops faced logical questions about possible external motivation from a couple different sources. His answers should come as no surprise.
First, he was asked about UK's streak of 26 consecutive losses to Florida. He didn't wholly discount the notion that the streak is on his team's mind, but it will by no means be a focus during the Wildcats' preparation.
"Well, you've heard me talk enough that we won't get all into all that," Stoops said. "Sure, I think it's motivation, I do. I think it needs to be talked about, but that can't be the focal point. We have to get better each and every day, each and every game. And that's what we're worried about and that's been our message since I've been here is just to get better."
His response on the subject of former UK head coach Joker Phillips returning to Commonwealth Stadium was much the same.
"I wouldn't think that that would give any extra motivation for us," Stoops said. "I think we ought to be pretty motivated as it is to prepare to play a very good football team."
And even if Stoops were the kind of coach who relied on bulletin-board material to get his team ready to play, he wouldn't use Phillips' return to that end.
"I think most people around here have good feelings about Coach Phillips and the work that he's done at Kentucky," Stoops said. "He's a very good person and good coach. I don't think that will have any bearing on the game."
Depth chart updates
Due to the bye week, UK hasn't released an updated depth chart since before the Louisville game. That changed on Monday.
Eyes, as always, went immediately to the quarterback position, where Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow are once again listed first separated by an "OR" after Smith was listed as the sole starter the previous two weeks. The same is true at running back, where true freshman Jojo Kemp has played his way up from third and will compete with Raymond Sanders for the right to start this week.
Another notable change came in the secondary, as Cody Quinn is once again a starter at cornerback opposite Nate Willis. Quinn battled an ankle injury throughout fall camp and during the first two weeks of the season, but played extensively against U of L off the bench.
At strong-side linebacker, Josh Forrest moved ahead of Kory Brown, who is working his way back from an injury of his own. But if UK follows a similar game plan against Florida as it did vs. Louisville, the starter at that position may not matter as much. The Cats relied heavily on a look with three down linemen and Alvin Dupree and Jason Hatcher standing up on the edges. Considering the effectiveness of the package, it stands to reason that Stoops will use it extensively again.
"Jason Hatcher and Bud were in there as well when we were doing some of the odd stuff and trying to get a little bit bigger and give them some new wrinkles and some new things," Stoops said. "We'll continue to build on that package."
Smith, Rumph expected to play
The bye week came at a good time for two important contributors on each side of the ball.
Smith, the sophomore quarterback, hurt his shoulder against Louisville and missed much of the second half. He didn't throw in practice last week, but Stoops expects him to return to action on Monday evening.
"He'll be on a pitch count," Stoops said. "We'll keep an eye on how many throws he's making, maybe, just to let him ease back into it for a day or so."
Stoops didn't say when Donte Rumph will practice, but he expects the senior defensive tackle to be ready come Saturday.
South Carolina game time set
Television selections for Southeastern Conference games on Oct. 5 were announced Monday and UK's game at South Carolina will be at 7:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports Net. Additionally, the matchup with Florida this weekend will be on ESPNU at 7 p.m. ET.