By - Ira D. Combs
Co Director & Syndicated Columnist
Tri State Sports Media Service Inc.
The newly realigned 14 member Southeastern conference launches it's initial football season with the South Carolina at Vanderbilt game thursday night ( ESPN 7:30 ) and ends the first weekend of play on sunday afternoon with our annual Governor's Cup game at Papa Johns Stadium in Louisville .
It will be four days of couch potato heaven for us college football junkies .
By the way for all you folks across the Commonwealth and especially my media cohorts the UK - Louisville game is the only in state rivalry game within the SEC being played on the first weekend again but I'm sure that's because our history obviously shows we've figured out all the positives this gives our two flagship universities since we have such a rich and successful history to draw from in the gridiron sport across this hoops crazy Commonwealth .
Just had to beat that dead horse one more time , I'll move on .
Anyway I'm sure the Alabama vs. Michigan game down in the Jerry Jones Texas Palace saturday ( 8:00 ABC ) will draw the most interest nationally along with the Auburn vs. Clemson game ( 7:00 ESPN ) in the Georgia Dome the same evening . The thursday night South Carolina at Vandy game ( 7:00 ESPN ) and the friday night Tennessee vs. N.C. State game ( 7:30 ESPNU ) at the Georgia Dome will both have those unique week night time slots for the entire nation and free world to lock in on as well .
That leaves the rest of the SEC playing those traditional opening game dead pigeon opponents to work the kinks out for a new season with the Cats and Cards ending the weekend sunday evening with what could be the most entertaining game of the infant season . At least recent history shows it to be a closely fought game going down to the wire .
Cats Will Improve Offensively In 2012 But It May Not Show Up Record Wise
UK at Louisville - Louisville is not the 25th best team in the country right now but if it's young and talented QB Terry Bridgewater gets any help at all they could be by season's end with it's very accommodating schedule . UK on the other hand should be better , especially offensively , but because of it's conference affiliation could still end up status quo at 5 - 7 or worse . UK has to much youth at the play making positions ( which usually produces early season turnovers in hostile environments ) that the Papa Johns Pit will confront them with and let's not forget Hal Mumme's famous quote , " Louisville lives for the day it can beat Kentucky " . Louisville - 24 UK - 17
Kent State at UK - On UK's new Heroes Day the Cats will enjoy a comfortable home opener . UK - 38 Kent State - 10
WKU at UK - UK's Maxwell Smith , LaRod King , and Demarco Robinson will establish themselves as solid play makers for the remainder of the season . UK - 41 WKU - 13
UK at Florida - Muschamp's Gators don't have as big a teeth as Urban Meyer's did but they still have enough bite to swallow the Cats . Florida - 38 UK - 13
South Carolina at UK - Don't know about you but I've not forgot what Marcus Lattimore did the 1st half the last time he came to UK , he had over 200 yards of offense himself . Of course we all know what happen the 2nd half but it won't happen again this year . South Carolina - 38 UK - 21
Mississippi State at UK - A quirk in scheduling provides UK with a home game with Dan Mullen's Bulldogs for a 2nd year in a row . UK will finally take advantage of a rare gift from the SEC office and finallty beat Dan Mullen after having come so close in recent years . Mississippi State will be ranked also when they arrive . UK - 24 Mississippi State - 21
If the Cats are 3 - 3 at mid season they will have a puncher's chance of being anywhere from bowl eligible to an unthinkable 7 - 5 at season's end .
UK at Arkansas - It will be interesting at this point of the season to see if John L. Smith enjoys running with the big boys of the SEC as much as he did the bulls in spain , but THE HOGS will have to much fire power for the Cats this year . Arkansas - 38 UK - 21
Georgia at UK - Another brainstorm by the folks in the UKAA having the # 6 ranked Bulldogs as the Cats Homecoming opponent . Although word around campus is the old grads are tired of seeing cream puffs for HC , well , be careful what you ask for alumni you may get it . Georgia - 41 UK - 21
UK at Missouri - UK takes it's first ever trip to the show me state and they will be very competitive but I can't see such a young team finishing well in the 4th quarter on the road in a hostile environment . Missouri - 27 UK - 20
Vanderbilt at UK - Yes , I know what Vandy did to UK last year but that was last year and in Nashville . This year will be a more typical version of these two football programs with a hard fought extremely competitive game with UK pulling it out in the 4th quarter in the friendly confines of Commonwealth Stadium . UK - 31 Vanderbilt - 21
Samford at UK - Samford is in Alabama but don't mistake their players with the Crimson Tide and this is one of those rare weekends that Big Blue Nation can enjoy one of those rare friday night saturday afternoon basketball / football experiences at Rupp Arena and Commonwealth Stadium . UK - 41 Samford - 17
UK at UT - Coming out of spring practice across the SEC I thought Derek Dooley may have the surprise team of the SEC with Tyler Bray and Darick Rogers leading the way but it appears Dooley still has many problems on and off the field . If the Vols are not bowl eligible going into the UK season finale the Cats could start a short streak of their own but that's that old iffn game as Jerry Claiborne used to say . UT - 30 UK - 17
Oh , by the way I can't see where throwing the Beer Barrel off Jellico Mountain has helped the problem or image of alcohol on college campuses either , especially in the SEC . As a matter of fact bringing the old traditional barrel back may be the only thing that puts a little gusto back in this series with the direction these two programs are going in .
There you have it and I might add there is very little margin of error between this being anywhere from a 3 - 8 to a 7 - 5 season but I'll split the difference and say 5 - 7 .
Bottom line is I really wish the schedule makers would have saved that Missisippi State and Vanderbilt home game scenario for one more more year when the Cats could have had Louisville , Vandy , MSU , and UT at home all in the same year with a more experienced team and continue on every other year with the new SEC rotation but you can't have everything when your in the SEC , especially when you’re a basketball school fighting for respect and trying to be competitive in football at least every other year .
Experts Think Cats Are Better But Maybe a Year Away
Having been involved in media type work and covering the Cats for the past eight years I've enjoyed developing friendships with a select few during that time as well as having some of them come on board and being guest columnist on our website www.combsbrothersonkysports.com each week during the football and basketball seasons . Listed below is a small collection of media folks who have given us their thoughts on who will win the Governor's Cup and how the Cats record will play out for 2012 :
Lonny DeMaree / Ky. Sports Report / UK = 6 - 6
Brian Milam / WKYT (CBS) / Louisville = 5 - 7
Ryan Lemond / WKYT & Big Blue Insider / UK = 6 - 6
Dan Rieffer / WTVQ (ABC) / UK = 7 - 6 ( Minor Bowl Bid )
Jeff Drummond / Fox Sports / UK = 5 - 7
Mike Cameron / Lex. ESPN Radio / WLXG " Sports Huddle " / UK = 7 - 5
Keith Taylor / Winchester Sun / Louisville = 4 - 8
Columnist Note - Not enough room to break down the UK offense like I had planned to do with this column but in a nutshell the UK offense will go as QB Maxwell Smith goes if the WR position is as good as reported . Plenty of good depth in running backs , only real concern is offensive line's youth and depth but that could be hidden if the young players on offense take to the newly installed hurry up offense that was used sparingly in the spring Blue - White game .