by KEVIN FARIS
Since UK announced their "Gam3Day Ready" promotion with billboards across the Bluegrass, I have been wearing my 3D glasses non-stop. It's very strange seeing everyday life like it's Avatar, although if, like Avatar, the Blue people prevail this season I won't be complaining.
UK's first A.B.(After Brooks), kicks off today and the mood of the fanbase, at least the ones I have talked to, can best be described as cautious optimism. (By the way, if Operation: Win doesn't work out, Cautious Optimism would make a great motto.)
Joker Phillips is a known commodity, having been Coach in Waiting for the past few seasons, but any thought that he would settle for the status quo was quickly swept aside when he jettisoned some veteran position coaches for new hires with reputations for quality recruiting. The best recruiter among these new hires may be Tee Martin (yes, the former Tennessee Volunteer quarterback) a Wide Receivers Coach who has played a major part in helping Joker assemble a 2011 recruiting class that ESPN has ranked in the Top 25.
|Photo 2009 UK vs U of L by Alex Orlov|
Why optimism ?
- Randall Cobb (WR/QB/RB/PR/KR/BADASSMAN)- Mel Kiper, Jr. called Cobb one of the best players in the country, and he is certainly one of the most versatile. Cobb will be the best player on the field today, by a wide margin. It's not even close. As long as Cobb is at UK, UK will have a chance to win. If you haven't seen it already, look for this guy and his sign at UK games at home and on the road.
- Schedule- College football is all about the schedule, and UK's works out pretty well, provided they take care of business against UL today. The Florida game should be the only one where UK is a big, heavy underdog. Every other game, they have a good chance. This is a major step from a few years ago.
- Talent upgrade- The most underrated part of the Rich Brooks era is how UK did not completely disappear after the Woodson/Little/Burton group left. The talent upgrade has been steady and while UK is young, they are not without experience and talent. For today's game, the depth advantage UK has over UL should play a part.
- Derrick Locke (RB/KR)- The speedy senior is a pre-season All SEC selection and if he has a big game today, or any day, that means UK is in position to win. If Cobb is the best player on the field today, Lock is probably #2.
- Mike Hartline (QB)- I feel bad for Hartline. It is obvious that UK fans don't really trust him, although UK coaches always seem to. I had an argument with my friend Lee because I said Hartline was the safe choice for Joker while he believed him to be the least safe. I thought he was safe in that he is a known commodity, low risk/low reward. Lee feels he is the least safe, because the backlash against him if he screws up and/or loses the UL game will be so strong that it will spillover to Joker as well. I think we're both right. The younger QBs have a higher risk/reward factor, but coaches are generally a conservative bunch who like experience and upperclassmen (See Brandon Stockton starting over Rajon Rondo).
- Still Hartline- I just had more to say because the decision to start Hartline is the one most fans are worried about. I feel that we know what Hartline can do. And it isn't much. He can play well against bad teams, and worse against good teams. His supporters like to point to the one half against South Carolina, but that was only two quarters and his performance (9-14 for 139 and 1 TD) was very good, but not exactly Tim Couch. I hope I'm wrong, but the general sentiment seems to be that Hartline cannot win a game by himself, which is what you would like to see from your QB.
- Defense- UK lost a lot on defense and Coordinator Steve Brown's popularity is just slightly better than Hartline's. The D-Line in particular is inexperienced and the announcement that former walk on Luke McDermott will start has people a little worried. A Rudy type story is always good, but Rudy never actually started a game. The potential is there, and a lot of the new starters have game experience, but the ability to stop the run will dictate a lot about how good this team can be.
- History- The main reason the fanbase is cautious is because, although UK has come a long way in the past few years, especially with 4th quarter comebacks, we are still the team with long losing streaks to UT, UF, and South Carolina. For UK fans to forever shed the "cautious" tag before their optimism, they need to beat these teams. Could it happen this year? I've given up on trying to predict this, because I only end up disappointing myself.
(But first, my daughter is crying and will only stop if I dance with her to her favorite new song)