While I am on record in recent days myself in suggesting that this coming fall may not be one of UK's most memorable pigskin seasons I'll also be the first to take a stand for Joker Phillips and "Operation Win" in season #2 in that the picture that several national media members and outlets are painting isn't near as bleak as some think.
This team still has a decent shot at pulling out 6 wins and remaining bowl eligible to keep the one positive streak going they have.
However, Chris Low from ESPN.COM who by the way presently resides in Knoxville doesn't see a very bright future this fall especially for the Cats offense.
Low arrived in K-town a couple years ago after spending 10 years in Nashville where he covered UT and SEC football for The Tennessean and to add to Mr. Low's ugly history of witnessing UK football he was born and raised in South Carolina. So, he does have a rather one sided opinion of witnessing UK quarterbacks and teams over the past few years having seen for the most part the UT game and a few scattered South Carolina games in recent years which is probably clouding up his observations a tad but in all reality what he has seen is all he has to go on.
Low has jump started the national charge once again by stating that UK football is headed into those deep SEC waters with a quarterback Morgan Newton that he says is 10th on a list of .................. yes 10 and if that's not a bad omen don't forget unless commissioner Mike Slive has thrown two SEC teams under the bus to the NCAA to keep The Vols out of the NCAA jailhouse there are still 12 teams in the SEC.
Upon first hearing this I immediately thought something doesn't click here, so I did some research and realized this isn't as bad as it appears in Low's ESPN.COM column. No, I'm not the eternal optimist for UK football but there are some items that need to be addressed before we all start throwing rope to both Newton and Phillips to keep Operation Win a float.
#1 - First and foremost two of the bottom five quarterbacks on Low's list play for the same school, LSU, (surely Newton is better than a backup) and two of the others reside in Gainesville and Tuscaloosa then Newton at #10. Now, real quick tell me the last time you can remember going into an SEC football season that Alabama, Florida, and LSU didn't have a quarterback rated in the Top 5 of the SEC. I can't remember that year personally ................. this may be the year that quarterback play in the SEC isn't a weekly feature.
#2 - This point has no effect on Newton or his competence or skill level as a college quarterback but it may be a hidden asset for UK's defense. Did anyone notice that Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, and Auburn didn't even rate a qb on Low's list. UK has Ole Miss and Miss. State at home this year and Vanderbilt is also on the schedule as always but in Nashville. That's three pivotal SEC opponents that won't throw tremendous quarterback fear into the face of Rick Minter's new defensive schemes if Low is correct in his assessment.
#3 - Low made no mention of the valuable experience that Newton got year before last when he lead UK to those big road wins against Georgia and Auburn. Yes, I'm aware Newton's passing stats in those two wins weren't sterling but he does have some success and experience in his past to build on.
If this wasn't enough karma from Low just days after the quarterback fiasco brought Big Blue Nation gloom and doom the "Guru of SEC sports writers" followed up with a bashing of the UK running backs predicting them as 12th best in the 12 team SEC for this upcoming season. So I'm guessing UK will bottom out the SEC in most all offensive statistics based on Chris Low's evaluation skills.
For my money Morgan Newton may not put up Tim Couch or Jared Lorenson numbers but he won't be last in the SEC with Randy Sanders schooling him.
As for the running back bashing those guys simply haven't been on the field yet because the depth chart is now stocked full of incoming true freshmen, a raw talent in redshirt freshman Brandon Gainer, and one shifty sophomore Raymond Sanders who can tote the mail and Mike Summers offensive line will see that the running game doesn't finish last in their statistical category.
The bottom line is at the end of the day or in this case UK's upcoming football season we will all look back and see that these two positions won't be the lone reason this UK team succeeds or fails or treads in water all fall.
SEC games are won in the trenches on both sides of the ball, always has, always will.
Does It Really Matter When UK and UL Play Football
Here we go again for the umpteenth time in the last 15 years or so. Either the media or U of L or both are complaining again about how or if the UK - U of L game is televised.
When will the sports fans and media in this state understand that it's not a hot topic to UK when the Louisville game is played in football nor if it's the 1st or 3rd weekend of the season or how and when it's televised.
For the last time UK is not responsible for getting U of L football national recognition.
The new SEC-TV contract with ESPN and CBS provides UK football all the publicity it needs to grow it's program, (one game a year does not make or break a Division One football program especially an SEC program).
Had UK not agreed to start the series in the early 90's U of L would not have Papa Johns Stadium and without the stadium do you really believe Louisville would have been invited into even the Big East . Yes, UK football in the early 90's was in one of it's darkest hours and needed the Louisville game to jump start ticket sales but it always had the SEC to fall back on financially and would have eventually survived the Bill Curry era. Louisville football on the other hand was treading water and having moderate success at the time but was at the crossroads as far as growing their program into solid Div. 1-A status and sorely needed the UK series to provide fodder that they could compete and needed a new stadium to do so.
UK obliged and has been rewarded with Louisville being nothing but a thorn in UK's side in the publicity department when discussing the particulars of the series when contracts have been drawn up every four years .
By the way for all those who stated that by UK - UL starting a football series it would drastically improve high school football in the state take a look at the items I researched below:
#1 - The Commonwealth's high schools were producing annually anywhere from 12 to 18 Div. 1-A college football players in the early 90's yet still after almost 20 years of UK-UL football the state is still producing 12 to 18 Div. 1-A college football players each year.
#2 - If it's still that important that these two universities must play football for the high school programs to grow and prosper then someone explain to me how we had 284 high schools playing football in 1993 yet today we have only 205 high schools playing football although school consolidation and KERA must take their fair share of blame in this department.
#3 - This item is a bad reflection on both UK and UL. If both schools who from the get go said they wanted this series to help grow high school football then why hasn't either hosted the high school football state finals for the past two years and it appears won't for coming years either.
Playing this series has done nothing for high school football nor has it enhanced UK football in the least but it jump started Louisville football squarely into solid Div. 1 - A status and for that what has Louisville done over the years .
Nothing but throw up anything and everything it can think of negatively toward UK football.
Personally, I wish UK would drop Louisville and look seriously into starting a series with a Va. Tech or Penn State or Miami of Florida, at least on the years they would play a team with this type tradition and national recognition it would mean something if a win was produced and in the years of a loss it would come without a complete dismantling of the program by the media which is what happened when a Louisville loss produced negative fodder from all angles since the series started in the early 90's.
I'm betting that these type schools wouldn't cry over a date to play either or if it's on ESPNU, ESPN2, or The Disney Channel.
Louisville and the local media are most likely going to be a constant thorn in your side UK no matter what direction you go in, it's time you do something in the scheduling department that will enhance UK football even if it's a gamble of sorts in getting bowl eligible.
You've now got the TV money from the SEC contract to fall back on let the Big East and Louisville carry their own weight for a few seasons.
Piecoro On 2011 UK Football Team
On a recent visit to cover a Reds home stand at Great American Ballpark I had a chance to spend some time with one of my favorite UK personalities Jeff Piecoro who has a summer gig with Fox Sports Ohio where he host their pre and post game shows for the the Reds TV Network. Piecoro of course played football at UK back in the day and presently is Tom Leach's side kick on UK's radio team. He paints a little better picture for UK football that does Chris Low of ESPN.com although he was reluctant to speculate on an actual record for this fall Piecoro seemed somewhat excitied about UK's defensive possibilities saying he can see this team as being similar to a couple teams he played on when the defense started the year out holding the fort down and keeping the Cats competitive in games with a chance to win in the 2nd half of games early in the year while the offense and their young backs and receivers gain valuable confidence and game experience for the SEC stretch run in late October and November where the Cats should have a few SEC games winnable at home.
Piecoro got the opportunity to see the spring game and a couple other practices and was impressed with the change Rick Minter made by moving Winston Guy up closer to the line for more run coverage and blitz packages and away from a few pass coverage responsibilities. Piecoro also mentioned that he expects the Cats defensive line to be stronger than the last two years with Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph with one year of game experience under their belt and Collins Ukwu and Mark Crawford seasoned veterans now.
Kickoff or not to Kickoff
That quaint little tidbit that Georgia's coach Mark Richt and Rutgers coach got started a few days ago about dropping kick offs in college football will never make it to the rules committee to be voted on. CBS and ESPN will nix that thought process and probably already have. Got to have time after a TD is scored for those two and three minute million dollar commercials to run and specialty teams meeting with their coaches and lining up for the kickoffs provide the time not to mention time for those networks to showcase their own little Queen's of the Gridiron for those ridiculous 15 second coach interviews during the same time span of the game broadcast.
But one wonders would watching a football game without kickoffs be like watching a basketball game without all those jump balls we had to deal with until the possession arrows were established , I don't think so kickoffs produce points and points produce excitement.
What are they going to do to start the contest just lay the football on the 50 yard line before each game and have a scrum to decide possession henceforth the old southern phrase made famous years ago when you had two bad teams playing on the same football field ............ " looks like a bunch of mules fighting over the last turnip in the garden ".
I can't see football without kickoffs in my lifetime but I never thought I would have to pay for a drink of water or watch a man marry another man on TV either.
You can go online to www.combsbrothersonkysports.com for more coverage of UK basketball and football as well as KHSAA basketball and football .