Kentucky football added another chapter to its long and historic annals of “what ifs” Saturday when it let a season-changing win slip away the second half into the hands of No. 5 South Carolina.
What if Maxwell Smith, UK’s starting QB, who is just now raising eyebrows on the SEC scene, doesn’t go down with an ankle injury? It appeared early on that Carolina was ripe for the picking.
What if the Cats’ even younger but extremely physically talented freshman QB Jalen Whitlow doesn’t pick the last possession of the first half deep in the red zone to produce his first freshman mistake, which possibly cost UK at the minimum three points and in all likelihood seven points and would have set up UK with a 24-7 halftime lead? That alone would have produced a very interesting fourth quarter no matter who the Kentucky QB would have been the second half.
Big Blue Nation and the majority of the state media contingent that covers UK football will in their own unique ways tweak their opinions and views of Joker Phillips, Mitch Barnhart and the state of UK football in general with Saturday’s latest exhibition. Some will soften and some will max out with anger.
As for myself, having given the last 30 years of my life to high school athletics as a coach and AD, I have a little different perspective than most of those two groups when giving my analysis, and it hasn’t changed in the least if you’ve visited this column on a consistent basis.
Kentucky football is what it is, which is a football team that is developmental in nature and wins in two to five-year cycles, mainly because of its recruiting base and limitations. The head coach and leader of this program is important; it would be foolish of me to say he isn’t, but I personally don’t see UK ever being a consistently winning top 25 college football program like many of BBN and a few of the state media contingent have said countless times over the last few years. And that assumption on my part is regardless of who the head coach is.
I understand everybody’s frustration with losing a couple games last year and early this year to programs that even UK hasn’t experienced much head on failure to in the past decade, but you must understand that the core of each college football team changes every other year, and at some schools every year. At the present time the core of this particular Kentucky football team is made up of extremely young players, but you can see the pure raw football talent come out across the roster every Saturday. The reason you see it is as much of how this veteran coaching staff coaches them as anything.
You won’t get, and can’t buy, a better college football coaching staff for a developmental type program than one that has Mike Summers, Randy Sanders and Pat Washington leading the offense, and Rick Minter, David Turner and Mike Cassity leading the defense. That’s not to mention Greg Nord and his specialty team expertise with all the above on the recruiting trail.
Kentucky football at the present time may be the rare exception that very few consider, and that is the fact that the lieutenants who do all the core coaching duties are much more important in their rolls than the General is in his, and the troops he is leading into war every Saturday.
In closing for this week’s lead column on UK football, I must mention that it appears all the critics of Joker Phillips, Mitch Barnhart and UK football in general missed again on the attendance angle, and that is really of a moot point with the stand that Barnhart has taken on his coach over a year ago. All last week there were figures of 30,000 or less showing up for the Carolina game all across the various media outlets, both in print and electronic, and especially the talk show and social media circuit.
Then just under 50,000 showed up. To be exact for those of you who persist, the officially announced figure by UK was 49,810.
Actually, can we all just drop the attendance angle of criticism on UK football? That is old school criticism and a horse that has been beaten way too often. Everybody gets it. If you win they will come, if you don’t they won’t. Come up with something a little more creative and showcase your knowledge of college football, especially UK football.
NCAA records have correct documentation that no Div. 1 A football team with the losing seasons that UK has experienced been even remotely close to the attendance figures that UK has. There is no more of a loyal core sports fan base than the 35,000 to 38,000 season ticket holders that has shown up at Commonwealth stadium the past 40 plus years.
Besides, the total attendance figures are as much a result of who the opponent is and whether it’s an SEC game or a non-conference game, not to mention the student body’s mind set of deciding whether it’s a weekend to go home or stay on campus and party.
NCAA men’s basketball preseason Top 25
With this coming weekend being the first weekend in and most college football teams being at the half way point with their sixth regular season game, we all know it’s real close to that first college basketball practice, which is the unofficial start of basketball season in our Commonwealth. So, I’ll provide my loyal readers of this column with my crystal ball take on what could be another special college hoop season, even though I don’t think a Top 25 college basketball poll should be discussed, debated or for sure voted on until Jan. 1 each year.
#1 – Florida: Billy the Kid has the Gators back in the hunt this year, and with two big commitments already on board should keep them in the hunt for the next few years.
#2 – Louisville: Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear will be studs and Dening will be better. If Siva can develop a little more consistency, Cards may dance in the Georgia Dome.
#3 – Indiana: Crean has brought Hoosiers back to the elite of college hoops and added a couple more sweet recruits for some quality depth.
#4 – Kentucky: Most schools get a year of reprieve after an NCAA championship, but not in Kentucky. If Noel, Poythress and Goodwin are the real deal, maybe an Elite 8.
#5 – Michigan: Talented freshman McGary will make Wolverines top 10 for sure, and with a little luck top 5.
#6 - N.C. State: Surprise, surprise, as Gomer Pyle would say. Gottfried leads the Wolfpack to its first dream season since Jimmy “V” days.
#7 – Baylor: Bears lost a lot to NBA, but reloaded impressively. However, the question is can young Scott Drew lead them to the promised land?
#8 – Syracuse: The Orangemen have more depth than anyone in Div. 1, plus they added a stud in 6’ 10” DaJuan Coleman.
#9 - Michigan State: It will be tough to replace Draymond Green, but Izzo has done it before and will again.
#10 – Duke: Even with Rivers gone to NBA, “Dookies” still have plenty quality players returning and a new stud freshman in 6’ 8” Amile Jefferson.
#11 - North Carolina: Roy Williams lost a lot, but the Tar Heels are one of maybe five teams that can reload just as impressively.
#12 - Ohio State: Sullinger promised Motta two years, so he’s gone but there are more bullets in the gun.
#13 – Kansas: If Bill Self didn’t prove his worth last year, then he will this year to those who don’t know or understand college basketball.
#14 – Arizona: West will be significant again in college hoops, and Arizona will lead the way.
#15 – Memphis: The Tigers will exit Conference USA as champs and enter the Big East in 2014 just as competitive as ever.
#16 – Creighton: Doug McDermott is returning and that makes this team VCU, Murray State and Butler all rolled up into one team for 2013.
#17 – Alabama: Anthony Grant will be rewarded in 2013 for the tough love he administered to his elite players last year.
#18 – Marquette: Buzz Williams has taken the Warriors to back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances and to the Big Dance every year since joining the Big East in 2005, but gets no respect.
#19 – Texas: Rick Barnes had one of the youngest rosters in the Big 12 last year, and is now adding a top 5 recruiting class to that. I’ve probably underrated them.
#20 - Notre Dame: Mike Brey has consistently taken the Fighting Irish to heights Digger only thought about, and in the tough Big East not against pigeons & ducks.
#21 – VCU: Shaka Smart stayed in Virginia for a reason, so don’t take this team lightly again. You’ll be foolishly embarrassed if you do.
#22 – Gonzaga: The far west’s second best team.
#23 - Florida State: Any team that wins three games against North Carolina and Duke in the same year has to have something left in the tank for the next year.
#24 - San Diego State: Steve Fischer has slowly and solidly built a consistently-winning college basketball team, and this year one of the top 25 in USA.
Tie #25 – Maryland: Lot of big expectations coming out of this ACC school’s fan base, and they will have a solid season, but I can’t go much higher than bottom of top 25.
# 25 – Tennessee: One more recruit like Jarnell Stokes and Cuonzo Martin may have his own Ernie & Bernie show.
Special Note - Until the NCAA decides the UCLA Bruins’ fate with their two highly skilled but presently ineligible freshman recruits, I held off rating them. But if they do become eligible throw the Bruins in the mix at the top.
College basketball programs to keep an eye on
Missouri - Lost three starters from last year’s top 5 team, but they are entering the SEC and maybe the returnees are good enough to get Tigers into the Big Dance in March.
South Carolina - Frank Martin has many contacts throughout the south, especially in Florida and Georgia where many talented players nest. But it may take a couple years to be serious.
Kansas State - Can Bruce Weber sustain what Martin started? It’s hard to sell Manhattan, Kansas unless you have unique talents or resources.
St. Louis - Has Rick Majerus’ health finally caught up with him with the many tireless hours coaches must devote to their teams.
Butler - Is the King of the Mid-level Div. 1 schools run behind them now that Coach Cal’s new one-and-done theory has been proven to be successful for elite Div. 1 teams?
Rating the Top 10 NCAA Division 1 basketball conferences for 2012-13
#1 - Big East - Last hoorah for this conference with Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame leaving in the near future.
#2 - ACC - All of a sudden Tobacco Road just got a little more interesting when Mark Gottfried rolled into town and Leonard Hamilton solved Tobacco Road.
#3 - SEC - Missouri and Texas A&M bring quality hoops programs to conference, and Florida is back to Top 10 status and Bama has reloaded.
#4 - Big Ten - Indiana is finally back and Michigan is close behind, plus the Spartans and Buckeyes are solid and no weak sisters are below those four.
#5 - Big 12 - Kansas, Texas and Baylor can’t carry the torch forever, but Oklahoma St. will be better and hopefully Kansas St. will offset the mess at TT.
#6 - Pac 12 - Until UCLA and Southern Cal solve their problems and resurface, I can’t put this conference any higher.
#7 - C-USA - Memphis is still in C-USA and Houston is on the rise again, but this conference is about to bottom out with its studs heading up east.
#8 - Missouri Valley - Creighton raises the bar for this conference and maybe for the rest of the NCAA when all is said and done in March.
#9 - Atlantic 10 – Butler, U Mass, Xavier and VCU all are still well-respected across the college basketball landscape.
#10 - Mountain West - Steve Fischer coming to San Diego State has raised the bar for the rest of the conference to make hoops significant out west.