It all starts this Saturday down in Music City at the Tennessee Titans’ L.P. Field with kickoff slated for 7 p.m.
Too late to worry about not having enough reps for the freshman in fall camp or in-juries not being 100 percent healed, or as one of my all-time favorite NFL coaches, John Madden, said one particular year after having a tough and trying preseason: “It’s too late to worry about the horse being blind, just load the wagon and see how far down the road he’ll take us.”
In plain simple football terminology, it’s time to strap the helmets on tight and go to war. But before my crystal ball gives it’s annual fearless predictions on UK football, let’s take a last minute look at what type of product Mark Stoops will put on the field offensively:
Quarterback - It appears entering the first game that Stoops and OC Neal Brown have decided on a two-headed monster at QB in redshirt sophomore Maxwell Smith and true sophomore Jalen Whitlow. The book so far on each is that Smith has the better arm, especially in accuracy and a slight better grasp of the scheme, while Whitlow can get yards with his legs and make busted plays turn into positive plays. It also appears Ft. Thomas Highlands phenom Patrick Towles and true freshman Reese Phillips are headed for red shirt years unless injuries occur to Smith or Whitlow, or heaven forbid both flop in the production department.
It says here Smith will get the nod to start the WKU game and never look back with Whitlow settling into the classic backup role with maybe a few token surprise plays mixed in here and there.
Running Backs - I can’t get out of my mind what Mark Stoops said at a public speaking appearance in Hazard this summer: “Don’t take all this air raid talk to heart. We will have a credible running game, I’ll see to that myself.”
Translated, we will see a very different version of the spread offense than what Hal Mumme run with Tim Couch, Dusty Bonner, and Jared Lorenzen, and I can’t see the defensive minded Stoops making 4th down decisions with the river boat gambler type mentality that Mumme did with his offense. Seniors Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George will tote the mail early in the year and they’ll be productive, but they won’t be durable enough to make it very deep into the season before sophomore Dyshawn Mobley and all-purpose back Jo Jo Kemp, a true freshman, come on the scene and get all the touches they want.
Receivers - Quite possibly this position is the biggest upgrade in pure talent, athleticism, and raw speed on the UK roster, but it will take time — maybe several games — for roles to be defined and chemistry to be developed between receivers and quarterbacks. Look for the lone true veteran junior Demarco Robinson to lead the pack early in receptions, but it won’t take long for the multi-talented freshman trio of Ryan Timmons, Alex Montgomery, and Jeff Badet to have a positive impact on the air raid offense. Junior college transfer Javess Blue came into camp a little late, but reportedly has caught up quick and will get plenty of passes thrown his way. What everyone in BBN and the media has not talked about all preseason and basically overlooked is the deep and seasoned tight end position. Look for Brown to go to these veteran players early and often in the first three or four games.
Offensive Line - One of the best things about the air raid offense is that its quick release pass patterns aids the offensive lineman in not having to hold their blocks very long against those big lean quick defensive lineman you see on all SEC teams. Also, the run blocking schemes are more suited for lineman that usually re-side in the UK camp, meaning many times they are out-weighed and many downs physically dominated by those huge SEC defensive lines, but look for this UK line to hold their own in this type offense by using their quickness.
The left tackle spot or backside of a right handed QB is the most important position on an offensive line, and UK will have its most talented lineman there in junior Darren Miller. The rest of the line is dotted with decent size and experience and a rotation of about seven quality players with which to work.
More than likely you can look back at the end of this season and see that the defense will have improved from 2012, but you’ll also be able to trace all wins attained this year back to the offensive side of the ball. This year, UK must outscore its opponent to be victorious, but in the future the defense will more than hold its own.
It’s that time of year again and I’ve really grown to dislike doing this, but here I go again with my 2013 UK football forecast :
WKU - As I’ve said many times in recent months, last year’s WKU win or upset was a classic case of fool’s gold with the assistance of four picks. That won’t happen this year, but due to first game nerves and the hidden respect Bobby Petrino still demands, it will be close. I’ll say UK 34 WKU 27.
Miami of Ohio - Doesn’t take long for fans to return to Commonwealth Stadium and welcome their new leader, Mark Stoops, UK 38 Miami of Ohio 13
Louisville - Everybody keeps talking about the Louisville team that beat Florida. I keep thinking about the Cardinals that lost to Syracuse and UConn, and the team that narrowly beat South Florida, Rutgers, and Southern Miss by two, three, and four points respectively. And don’t forget the OT gift win that Cincinnati gave them. But I’m not foolish enough to be the only media member in the Commonwealth to pick a UK upset, so I’ll go with the flow and say Louisville 38 UK 28.
Florida - Don’t believe for a minute that the Gators have softened offensively, nor that the streak will end this year Florida 28 UK 10
South Carolina - Reportedly the ole ball coach has went all soft on us and been very complimentary of Mark Stoops. He won’t be on this day South Carolina 31 UK 10
Alabama - Don’t bring any women or children to this one. Bama has always been special on defense. This year they’re special in every phase of the game Alabama 41 UK 3
Mississippi State - Here is where we get the first glimpse of the Mark Stoops toughness mentality he is trying to instill in the Wildcats’ program, and don’t forget, this is where UK has had a quirky win or two on the road in the past. Stoops’ first true upset comes this day. UK 24 Mississippi State 21
Alabama State - Last pigeon to pluck out of the sky for 2013, and everybody gets a chance to play. UK 41 Alabama State 13
Missouri - The Tigers’ QB James Franklin will come into this game licking his chops, but he’ll leave licking his wounds. UK 28 Missouri 20
Vanderbilt - Everybody wants to jump on the Vandy bandwagon after a 6-6 year and only one true winning season. Three of last year’s five SEC wins came against the absolute worst teams Auburn, UK, and UT have fielded at their schools in many decades. Anybody remember how fast and hard UK fell after similar success under Brooks? Look for the Commodores to take a step back this fall, and don’t forget this is the other SEC school that UK has had success in the past beating on the road. This game will be close and special like in many of the past years. I’m going put this one in the win column UK 28 Vanderbilt 24.
Georgia - I love Mark Richt, but I think he’s headed for another one of those underachieving seasons that he’s known to have occasionally. UK, however, won’t be able to capitalize. Georgia 30 UK 17
Tennessee - I think UT and UK were very similar last year in that their records did not indicate their talent level, and their coaches were destined to fail. Many people for some reason think this game will be UK’s to lose, I guess because it’s at home. I see that too but I can’t pull the trigger. Tennessee 30 UK 27
Final analysis - I polled 22 of the statewide media contingent members that I have a personal friendship with who have covered UK football for at least the last 15 years, and some over the last 25 years. With 15 of the 22 having responded at this writing, the general consensus was it will be a losing campaign with the majority of the predictions being in the 5-7 range.
I think everybody keeps thinking about how bad last year’s efforts were, but I don’t think that team was as bad as the 2-10 record indicates. They had about every bad break that can occur and they lost a very productive quarterback after their third game.
This is a new year, new coaching staff, new attitude, and best of all new look on both sides of the ball. Call me foolish, but I think this team is capable of pulling six wins out of this season.