By - Ira D. Combs
Director / Syndicated Columnist
Tri State Sports Media Service Inc.
Let's play a little of good news and bad news this week .
Good news - UK as expected all off season now has a credible and productive starting quarterback in Maxwell Smith with several promising young receivers to build a passing attack around and another young QB to build continuity and depth at this very important position for the future of the program . They are set for the foreseeable future at the playmaking positions but need time to develop consistency .
Bad news - UK obviously now must go back to the drawing board to build another defense good enough to give itself a chance to beat a quality opponent .
Good news - UK has enough young defensive players in both quality and quantity in all the important departments of size , speed , and athleticism to build that defense .
In the very important but unknown news department - Will Big Blue Nation and the Commonwealth's media contingent stay off Mitch Barnhart enough this year to give the present head coach and his staff enough time to accomplish the above mentioned task .
Answer , we shall see but sunday afternoon's exhibition at Louisville didn't buy Joker Phillips and his staff any more time , it actually put them squarely behind the eight ball with very little wiggle room each saturday as they start the tract thru the 2012 season .
Now that we've witnessed four quarters of live game action of this Kentucky football team it appears the 2012 version is headed toward the direction of another classic example of what has been a thorn in this program's side for many years especially the last 10 . Two steps forward from last years team in a couple phases of the game (offensively and parts of the kicking game) but three steps backwards in other phases (defensively and turnovers) .
As I've said on many occasions in this column UK is what I call a developmental program meaning it must spend one or in many instances two years on it's players in the weight room and on the fundamental fields in order to get two or three years of productivity from them on the game field but it simply can't seem to get both sides of the ball to peak in the same year due to lack of experience and / or lack of talent and playmakers on one side of the ball .
This year it appears to be the defensive side that is lacking in size , speed , and / or talent at a couple positions and just simple game experience at a few other positions .
This years initial outing with arch rival Louisville was a classic example of the final score didn't indicate the game , yes the Cats got a pretty good spanking ( especially the defensive line ) but their could have easily been much more to build on and not near as much negativity that the coaching staff and players will now have to endear if the two Wildcat fumbles deep in the red zone would have materialized into touchdowns . The mental game is so sensitive and delicate with today's football players that a final score of say 32 - 24 would have went a long way with those tender ears that the UK freshman and sophomores are going to have to deal with now on the internet and talk show circuit this week until they can crack the win column and put a few more touchdowns on the board and produce a few 3 and outs defensively .
Next Two Weeks Can Provide Some Confidence & Momentum But It Must Be Earned
Kent State (Sat.) Sept. 8th at 7:30 ESPN3 and Western Ky. University (Sat.) Sept. 15th at 7:00 ESPNU are the opponents the next two weeks on the UK schedule with both games being played at Commonwealth Stadium and they were punched in as wins long ago and rightfully so but UK must go out on the field and produce with intense play because by all rights the talent level and speed of the game across the board should be in the Cats favor . This is when those young Wildcats get a baptism of continuous reps during the week and on saturday to catch up with the juniors and seniors in execution and performance .
But make no mistake today's gap of talent between the mid major football player and a player at a BCS school has closed drastically in recent years .
If the Cats can accumulate 375 yards of offense in it's season opener on the road against the favorite to win the Big East conference it should top out at 450 to 500 yards against it's next two opponent's in Commonwealth Stadium but the real interesting treat will be how Rick Minter makes his defensive adjustments in personnel and / or schemes getting ready for SEC play the next two weeks .
Observations From Week # 1 Of College Football
# 1 - Didn't Urban Meyer look like a picture of health just several months removed from Gainesville , Fla. and complaining of having life threatening issues with stress , cardiovascular troubles , and extreme emotional problems . You can drink that kool aid if you want to folks , I'm not , he looked refreshed and peachy because he looked across to the other sideline and didn't see Nick Saban , Les Miles , Steve Spurrier , nor Mark Richt and a boat load of extremely big and fast football players to compete against . Keep a keen eye on the Ohio State recruiting scene the next few years and see if ole Urban don't drop down deep into the south for some of that southern speed and athleticism .
# 2 - Under the category of be careful what you ask for you may get it . Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he wanted an early season challenge to better prepare his team for the Big Ten . Well , they got one from The Tide but I doubt the Wolverines will see that type challenge again in the Big Ten this season .
# 3 - I like the new rule of kicking off from the 35 instead of the 30 and spotting the ball on the 25 instead of the 20 for all touchbacks . It will keep those horrific high impact tackles in the return game to a minimum number yet create a few more kickoff returns instead of touch backs which will generate a little more excitement into the game .
# 4 - I simply detest a female broadcaster or even a sideline reporter trying to explain anything about football to me and I'm not alone either . Several friends of mine both in the media profession and simple common everyday football fans have told me on many occasions it's the biggest turn off in sports television today . When I'm not traveling to cover the Cats live I turn on the UK radio network and tune out the audio of the TV crew and listen to Tom Leach , Jeff Piecoro , and Dick Gabriel give their take on the game and it is always very insightful and many times entertaining with this crew . By the way did anyone notice the slight tweaking of the UK radio network's pre game show . Oscar Combs , the former long time owner and publisher of the Cats Pause is joined this year by the very likable Neil Price for the segment of the pre game show leading up to the coach's show with Tom Leach and other pre game programming . The old saying around the UK press corps is if the Big "O" don't know nobody knows when it comes to UK sports history .
# 5 - I'm very interested to see how the John L. Smith and Arkansas marriage plays out thru this fall .
Closing out this weeks column and on another SEC note we all know now what it did to the SEC when South Carolina and Arkansas joined in 1992 now it's followed by Texas A & M and Missouri in 2012 ...... whew .... let's hang tight for awhile guys and not go down that road to four major 16 team conferences . I don't think Vandy , Ole Miss , UK , and Miss. State can take much more of a beating than they have the last few decades . Besides beating on a bunch of ponies like those bottom four cellar dwellers mentioned above it can cause withdrawal not to mention along with the constant every weekend pounding that will eventually cost the leading thoroughbreds in the stable a shot at college football's new Kentucky Derby with the new four team playoff system on the horizon .
Right now it's quiet obvious the BCS champion must go thru the SEC first but if this conference realignment and scheduling trend continues it may be going thru the west coast or the mid west in the near future or god forbid maybe thru South Bend and none of us want that to happen .
You can go online at www.combsbrothersonkysports.com for more coverage of UK football and basketball as well as KHSAA football and basketball and the Cincinnati Reds .