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First Pass to National Signing Day

Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

Since joining KSR, Matt asked that I evaluate recruits and provide detailed, understandable analysis prior to National Signing Day. This task is right up my alley. Roster/personnel evaluation has been a hobby of mine for many years. I’ve had the opportunity to participate in the past two UK Signing Day Shows and I have to admit, they’ve both been an absolute blast. Organized chaos overwhelms the facility as adult coaches behave like sugared up toddlers on Christmas. I was told that while walking by the set, DJ Eliot slugged me in the back of the head. I’ll give him that one.

But if that happens again next February, I’m throwing haymakers. If you watched the shows, you may have noticed that I’m continually shuffling a stack of papers. Following a completed segment, I toss a piece of paper on the floor. I spend countless of hours assessing both committed and uncommitted players. The number of prospects can fluctuate between 25 and 50. For each prospect, my evaluation starts with a “First Pass” sheet. I write these documents without interruption as I’m a firm believer in trusting my initial impression. Highlight films are not conducive for a thorough evaluation. I peruse Hudl to find actual game footage. (Hudl is an internet service designed for coaches to view prospective athlete’s video and is the greatest invention since the VCR.)

After the video session, I take a quick look at the recruit’s social media tendencies. Twitter provides a descriptive peek into an athlete’s character. Unlike professional recruiting folks, I’m not enthralled by the summer camp circuit or combines. While basic skills are certainly identified at these events, football is still a collision sport. The mere threat of physical contact can totally change a prospect’s assessment. I’ve watched 4.3-40 prospects with a 40-inch vertical leap that wouldn’t bust a grape in an actual football game.

To finalize my pre-Signing Day notes, I host a teleconference with fellow recruiting analysts. This group doesn’t include Rivals, 247, or Scout contributors. My confidential advisors are comprised of a car manufacturer, two doctors, a soldier, two attorneys, my wife, and a bean counter. We disagree on everything from pizza toppings to pulling guards but the diverse group offers quality control through opinionated and at times, heated discussions. To illustrate a “First Pass Sheet,” I’ll use 2016 QB commit Gunnar Hoak as an example. He’s a QB, and going to be a darn good one. He needs to get used to leading from the front.

2016 NATIONAL SIGNING DAY FIRST PASS SHEET

Name: Gunnar Hoak

Position: Right handed, pro-style quarterback

Measurables: 6’4 192

Hometown: Dublin, Ohio

High School: Coffman

Coached by: Mark Crabtree

Team record: 11-1

Home field surface: Artificial

Recruited by: Vince Marrow

Commitment date: 25 April 2015

Commitment status: Solid

Current star rating: 4 star

Film strengths: Intelligent passer with pocket composure. Technically sound in spread offense responsibilities. Suitable hand size. Quick, fluid delivery without hitch. Advanced sense of anticipation. Adequate torso strength on deep passes. Deceptively mobile with better than average speed. Natural leader, comfortable in pressure situations. Maintains focus throughout scramble drill to find open receiver. Efficient in immediate, shot-gun snap throws, three and five step drops. Can locate receiver and throw into tight windows vs. man/zone coverage. Familiar with passing tree, capable to make all required throws. Not influenced by rush.

Areas to improve: Typical of all incoming freshmen quarterbacks, requires upper body strength and development. Needs to add weight for durability.

Compares to: Connor Cook, Michigan State

Social media conduct: Respectful

Supportive teammate: Yes

Senior year honors: N/A

Academically eligible: Yes

Projected immediate impact: Dependent on Patrick Towles’ development/draft status. Best case scenario to redshirt but not mandatory. If necessary, could be a capable freshman back-up.

Miscellaneous: Threw for over 2000 yards and 30 TD’s as a junior. One of 12 Ohio commits. Multi-sport athlete that also excelled in baseball. Once broke his nose/face on outfield fence. Selfless competitor. QB with “it” factor. Excellent fundamentals, perfect fit for Dawson’s system. Cerebral football player with SEC quarterback ability.

Periodically throughout the summer, I’ll post committed player’s First Pass sheets. Please note that these documents are not proofread for grammatical or spelling errors. Merely summaries for me to use when the camera light turns red and producer yells “go” into the annoying thing in my ear.


6 things you need to know about Georgios Papagiannis

6 things you need to know about Georgios Papagiannis

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Yesterday, we found out that Greek 7-footer Georgios Papagiannis is still considering playing basketball in the States this upcoming season and Kentucky is on his short list. Papagiannis told Draft Express at the U19 World Championships in Crete that UK is one of three schools he’s interested in, along with NC State and St. John’s. He told Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn that Oregon is also in the mix.

With a decision expected VERY SOON, here are six things you need to know about the player we will now refer to Big Papa…

He got off to a strong start in the U19 World Championships

Papagiannis is averaging 11 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 4.7 blocks over three games in the U19 World Championships, and got off to a hot start against Korea, scoring 16 points, bringing down 16 rebounds, and blocking five shots. He was a perfect 8/8 from the floor and is averaging 68% shooting for the tournament.

Against Serbia, he threw down this impressive dunk:

His dad wants him to go to the States

Although Papagiannis insists he’s still torn over staying in Greece for another year or coming to the States for college basketball, his father wants him to head overseas. Papagiannis actually spent his junior year of high school at Westtown School in Pennsylvania, and his dad told Luke Winn that he wants his son to continue to play with guys his age to showcase his potential instead of being buried among grown men in the Euro pro leagues.

Eligibility won’t be a concern

Last summer, Papagiannis played with the Greek club team Panathinaikos, but he signed an amateur deal that will allow him to retain his eligibility in case he wants to play college basketball in the States. Sorry, NCAA, this is not Enes 2.0.

Do we need to worry about Slice?

St. John’s has been in the running for Papagiannis for a while now and could really use him now that big man Chris Obekpa transferred. And we know our man Slice could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves. Will this be the first recruit we could lose to our former assistant?

Dorsey and Papagiannis

Another battle with Oregon

Papagiannis is rooming with Oregon signee Tyler Dorsey at the U19s, and Dorsey is doing his best to persuade the big man to come back to Eugene with him. Interestingly, Winn reports that when the Oregon basketball staff visited Papagiannis in Athens a few months back, they realized Dorsey had some Greek blood in him and rushed to get him on the Greek National Team. In fact, Dorsey only got clearance from FIBA the day before the tournament started. And now he’s rooming with Papagiannis and whispering Nike sweet nothings in his ear. If that’s not blatant recruiting, I don’t know what is. Even Calipari is tipping his hat to Dana Altman a little bit there.

His birthday is Friday

Papagiannis says he wants to make a decision about his future very soon, possibly by the time the U19 World Championship ends on July 5. Friday, July 3rd is his birthday…that sounds like the perfect day to announce to me.


Clowns, Captains, and the summer grind

For college football programs, summer months focus on weight lifting, conditioning, summer school, and the oft-mentioned 7 on 7 drills. Player-position coach interaction is mostly off-limits as UK’s High Performance Staff is tasked to prepare the team for fall camp. Players are counted on to organize and lead on the field activities. Just what does this mean? Let’s take a peek.

First, I have to explain a theory I have about the two different types of team leaders: Clowns and Captains.

Clowns – Typical goof off guy with intent to skirt the system and do as little as possible to maintain their status as college football players. This classification tends to love being a football player more so than loving the game of football. Result is less subsidence and more flair.

Captains – Leaders by nature, these players provide a responsible example to impressionable rookies and veterans alike. Jerry Claiborne defined integrity as how one acts in the absence of observation and supervision. Captains are the epitome of integrity. This high character group loves the game of football and enjoys the process as much as the result. Coachable is another applicable term.

Clowns and Captains are usually evenly divided, 10% for each.  Whichever group (Clowns or Captains) is stronger will pull the majority (80%) along its path and greatly influence a team’s personality. In an un-supervised environment such as the summer months, having a majority with captain influence is paramount. If Clowns rule the off-season locker room then summer activities are a waste of time. Now back to the summer grind.

7 on 7

You’ve probably heard the term, now let me explain. This competition is a mock-game scenario featuring 7 offensive players vs. 7 defensive players. A simpler description would be to imagine a two hand touch football game without the OL and DL on the field. Offensive and defensive plays are called by the participants, not coaches. This develops continuity and increases basic scheme familiarity. Organically led, the usual process is for the QB and a defensive rep (a LB or DB) to solicit participation, assign a time/location, and perform mundane logistical support such as providing footballs or other equipment needs. At times, this drill can become heated and a source of locker room bragging rights. If properly executed, 7 on 7 or Pass Skeleton, can be a useful tool in player development. Remember, attendance is not mandatory and effort is not scrutinized by coaches. A sloppy or ill-fated 7 on 7 can do more damage than good. Effective layer leadership and accountability are essentials.

Weight Training

Kentucky’s weight training is directed by Corey Edmond and his staff. This group is vitally influential during the off-season as they are the only coaches allowed to have daily player interaction. Dismiss any pre-conception you may have about pumping iron. Today’s strength and conditioning coaches are more like scientists than high sock wearing yell-aholics as depicted in bad football movies. Each position and player for that fact have a specialized weight lifting routine. For example, offensive guards require brute upper body strength and lower body explosion where receivers are trained for speed and quick change of direction. Their work-out plans are designed for those distinct needs. Summer months are commonly used to maximize strength gain. During-season lifting sessions are purposed for maintenance. Freshmen tend to make the most gains as their first summer is at times their introduction to a nutrition plan and dedicated weight room instruction.

Conditioning

Same as weight training, conditioning is directed by Coach Edmond. Modern-day football conditioning leans more towards a scientific formula than merely requiring athletes to run laps or wind-sprints. This is a developing field with new techniques surfacing on an annual basis. Pre-season training camp used to be the time of whipping players into shape, today’s athlete is asked to be year-round game ready. Both strength and conditioning training work in concert with UK’s High Performance Program. Led by Erik Korem, his staff is considered revolutionaries in their field and offers the best consolidation of resources in program history. In addition to strength and condition; Korem focuses on nutrition, sports science, and sports psychology to meet a wide variety of student athlete needs. Validation of this all-encompassing program can be seen through player development and the fact that seniors are now staying in Lexington to train for their NFL futures.

Summer work-outs are a necessary grind. With NCAA time restrictions, practice sessions do not have time allotted for strength and conditioning. Summer time dedication is mandatory. High Performance advancements are critical in the arena of player safety. Developing bigger-stronger-faster athletes is the ultimate goal but molding a healthier and more durable player is also important. Times have drastically changed since my playing days as our nutrition plan was pizza buffets and lifting routine emphasized curls and bench pressing maximum weight in one repetition. However, one constant remains. The Captain and Clown theory remains timeless and generationally constant. Summer time is more about developing and identifying leaders than bench presses and sprints. Mark Stoops desperately needs his Captains not the Clowns leading his team into 2015.


All-UK Team: Claiborne to Stoops

For those that reference a Twitter timeline as a historical benchmark, I feel responsible to provide an objective Kentucky Football perspective. Social media has significantly skewed the definition of “great” and its first cousin, “best.” I thought it would be fun to dig into recent history and construct an All UK Team from 1983-2015 — or from the Jerry Claiborne era forward.

*****

OFFENSE

QB, Tim Couch: After being preposterously used as an option quarterback, Tim historically flourished under Hal Mumme.  Debatably Kentucky’s G.O.A.T.

WR, Randall Cobb: One question I’ll go to the grave asking, why in Hades did Cobb not get the ball against Tennessee?

WR, Craig Yeast: Made YAC (yards after catch) a cool late 90’s catch phrase. 

TE, Jacob Tamme: A fierce competitor, Cats haven’t had a TE since.

OT, Antonio Hall: The piano playing Renaissance man was a nasty Tackle between the chalks.

OT, Todd Perry: Prior to Larry Warford, Todd was the last Wildcat OL drafted for way too many years.  Was a long-time pro.

C, Jon Toth: One of two current players on the list, Toth was my 2014 Offensive MVP. 

OG, Dermontti Dawson: The Pro Football Hall of Famer is one of, if not the, greatest Center in NFL history.  But, Dawson actually played Guard at Kentucky.

OG, Larry Warford: NFL All Rookie team and one of the best in the business. 

FB, Andy Murray: Led the team and SEC in knock-down blocks.  To my knowledge, Murray is the only UK FB with a 100 yard rushing game.

RB, Moe Williams: 429 total yards against South Carolina.  299 yards rushing, 57 receiving, and 73 from kick-off returns. Have a day Moe.

RB, Mark Higgs: Electric RB with an remarkable highlight reel. Quick starting, long striding runner with surprising power.

*****

DEFENSE

DE, Bud Dupree: Bud had to be on the team, but at what position was the question. The current Steeler was the 22nd player selected in the 2015 NFL Draft.

DE, Dennis Johnson: One of only two nationally top ranked high school players to ever sign with the Wildcats.  Played his first varsity football game as a 2nd grader.

DL, Oliver Barnett: Ollie’s 26 year reign as UK’s all-time sack leader was threatened but not surpassed by Bud Dupree. 

DL, Jeremy Jarmon: Robbed of his last season, Jeremy’s personality was Karl Anthony Towns like but he was a relentless pass rusher on Saturdays.

DL, Corey Peters: Louisville Central star quickly developed into a run stopping DT with pass rush ability.  A rare and valuable combination.

LB, Chris Chenault: 482 tackles with a single game mark of 28 against Vanderbilt.

LB, Marty Moore: Moose was a beast. Every time I see Marty I try on his Super Bowl ring.

LB, Wesley Woodyard: Cerebral competitor, the Tennessee Titan can still be seen playing the game he dearly loves on Sundays. Arguably the best Wildcat leader in 30 years. 

CB, Trevard Lindley: Great hips and instinct that translated into game day interceptions. Will never forget the sunny Tuscaloosa afternoon match-up between Trevard Lindley and Julio Jones.

CB, David (DJ) Johnson: The Louisville Male product was a lock-down CB that enjoyed a successful NFL career.  Had crazy yet superb hair if you care to research.

S, Melvin Johnson: There have been hard hitting DB’s at UK and then there’s the face mask bending Melvin Johnson. Only scout team player I ever feared. Physical, brutal hitter.

S, Paul Calhoun: Third team All American Safety and Punter. Safe to say that feat may never be repeated.

*****

SPECIALISTS

K, Austin MacGinnis: Nearly broke all Kentucky kicking records, Austin will be called upon to keep the Cats in games this fall.    

P, Tim Masthay: Current Green Bay Packer was a much watch in warm-ups.  Clutch player.

KR, Derrick Abney: A threat to score on every return, Abney was a field position changer with TD threat.

So there you have my team.  I’m fairly certain some will agree, others won’t.  Would be interested in feedback.


1 Night, 7 Dreams Realized: The Cats’ Paths to the Draft

1 Night, 7 Dreams Realized: The Cats’ Paths to the Draft

draft-yo

Tomorrow night, seven Kentucky players will wait to hear Adam Silver call their name and punch their ticket to basketball’s most elite club. The wait will be longer for some than others, but if all seven go, the feeling of relief, accomplishment, and pride will be universal.

As Kentucky fans, we feel like we know these players better than anyone, but on the eve of the biggest night of their lives, I thought it would be good to go back and look at the blood, sweat, and tears that got them here.

karl-yo2

KARL TOWNS

Then…

In fourth grade, Karl’s dad told his son he wasn’t able to afford Christmas presents. To make up for it, a few months later, Karl Sr. withdrew most of his savings and built Karl a basketball court in the backyard, digging the holes, spreading the gravel, and painting the lines himself.

“I leveled it as best I could,” Karl Sr. told Bleacher Report’s Jason King. “It wasn’t beautiful, but it was enough for him to practice on.”

For months, they couldn’t afford a real basket, so they practiced on one from Fisher-Price.

Now…

It’s pretty much a given that Karl will be drafted first by the Minnesota Timberwolves, becoming the third number one pick in the John Calipari Era at Kentucky alongside John Wall and Anthony Davis. It’s a crime we only got one year with a kid like Karl; however, in that year, he had a monster impact, becoming UK’s go-to guy in the post and possibly the best ambassador the program’s ever had.


willie-yo

WILLIE CAULEY-STEIN

Then…

Willie and his older brother Bryce moved in with their grandparents when Willie was four. Willie’s mother was working full time and his father was no longer in the picture, and by the time his mom got back on her feet, the boys were settled in their new life in Spearville, Kansas, population 813.

When Willie was in high school, he struggled to keep up with his academics while traveling with the MoKan Elite AAU team. His grandparents agreed to send him to live with the family of one of his AAU teammates in Olathe, nearly five hours from Spearville. Willie’s grandmother Norma Stein told Jason King she “bawled for a month straight” after Willie left, but she and her husband knew it was the right call.

Now…

Norma’s sacrifice paid off. Willie is projected to go anywhere from 4th to 11th in the Draft and, during his three years at Kentucky, became a fan favorite. After arriving on campus as a project, Willie developed that raw talent over time, and by his junior season, was one of the most explosive, dynamic, and versatile players in college basketball. Definitely the most entertaining.


booker-yo

DEVIN BOOKER

Then…

Devin’s father, Melvin, was a legend at Missouri, racking up All-American honors and spending most of Devin’s early childhood playing pro ball overseas. In their rare time together, Melvin noticed what a good basketball player his son was becoming, and once his career was over, he convinced Devin to move from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Melvin’s hometown of Moss Point, Mississippi so he could help him develop his game.

Devin did, and the two drove 200 miles each weekend during the offseason so Devin could play for the Alabama Challenge, the best AAU team in the area. After missing most of his son’s life, Melvin was determined to make it up to Devin by turning him into an NBA prospect.

[Bleacher Report]

Now…

Thanks to the “Year of the Shooter” in the NBA, Devin is now projected by many to go in the top ten of the Draft. That’s crazy considering he was probably the least talked-about commitment in UK’s 2014 recruiting class. Booker made a name for himself as a shooter during the season, and if he goes in the top ten, no one will question his decision to leave after one year.


trey-yo

TREY LYLES

Then…

By now, you know that Trey’s dad, Tom, had a career as an R&B singer, but he also played pro ball in Canada. Trey was born in Saskatoon and after a few years, the family moved to Indianapolis, where 10-year-old Trey and his dad would go to the gym every day at 6 a.m. His dad told The Star Phoenix that Trey would look forward to their workouts so much he would wake him up every day at 5 a.m. Lyles Sr. would put a weight vest on Trey and make him go through drills, including jumping rope with a five-pound rope.

“His workouts were brutal, they were gruesome,” Tom said. “But I wanted him to understand that if you’re going to do this, in order for you to be the best, you have to understand how to work, and every moment on this court has to be productive.”

[The Star Phoenix]

Now…

NBA teams love Trey’s unique size and versatility, making him a projected lottery pick. Although an injury delayed his debut with Kentucky, he quickly became the team’s x-factor, capable of driving the lane and shooting a mid-range jumper, moves so smooth they put his dad’s old tunes to shame.


dakari-yo2

DAKARI JOHNSON

Then…

Dakari grew up in Brooklyn in a house with his mother, Makini; younger brother, Kamani; grandmother; and uncle. His father, Thomas Johnson, a 6’10” center for St. Francis College, was not in the picture. Makini, a former basketball player herself, ably handled the duties of both parents while Dakari’s uncle filled in as a father figure. Dakari’s neighborhood was rough and riddled with gangs, and one day, a ten-year-old Dakari was chased by teenagers, who threw glass bottles at him.

Makini knew it was time for a change. She moved her boys to Lexington, Kentucky, where Dakari attended Sayre, but after Makini lost her job and struggled to make ends meet, they had to move to Newark, New Jersey to live with her sister. There, Dakari attended St. Patrick High School, where he played with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who became a surrogate big brother. Once MKG left for Kentucky, Makini was able to move the family to Florida so Dakari could attend the prestigious Montverde Academy, where he flourished and eventually started on the path back to Lexington.

[Courier-Journal]

Now…

Many of us questioned Dakari’s decision to declare for the Draft, but his stock has been on the rise ever since. Seven footers with good hands are a hot commodity in the league, and FiveThirtyEight.com calculated that Dakari has the lowest chance of being a bust in the pros of any top prospect. Don’t buy it? Look at Nazr Mohammed.


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THE HARRISON TWINS

Then…

The Twins grew up in the suburbs of Houston, where their father, Aaron Sr., owned a car lot. The two played against each other in their driveway every day and in the summers, washed cars at their dad’s lot. Aaron Sr., a former military man, was notoriously tough on his boys, instilling hard work and dedication both on the court and off.

A childhood of intense driveway battles gave the Twins the reputation as the most competitive players on the AAU circuit and some people misinterpreted that drive as bad attitudes. While they were better off financially that most of their fellow prospects, the Twins battled that bad rap throughout high school and college despite being two of the most polite, grounded, and respectful kids I’ve met.

[MaxPreps]

Now…

Andrew is projected to go in the second round, but the jury’s still out on Aaron. Even if Aaron’s name isn’t called, he’ll join a practice squad this summer, maybe even for the same team as his brother. The Twins went through their ups and downs at Kentucky while under immense (and mostly unfair) scrutiny, but on a team full of stars, there was no one I trusted more with the ball. Especially when the chips were stacked against them.


Enjoy this, guys. You’ve earned it.

 


Jamal Murray is your newest Wildcat

Jamal Murray is your newest Wildcat

murray-announcement2

 

Once again, it’s going to be a very fun basketball season for Big Blue Nation, especially with Jamal Murray adding his name to the mix. Murray is projected to be one of the best guards in America and he’ll fit right in with Tyler Ulis, Isaiah Briscoe, Mychal Mulder and Dominique Hawkins in Coach Cal’s backcourt.

If you’re new around here and don’t really know Murray or what he’ll bring to the table, allow me to give you a brief rundown of your newest Wildcat. He is very, very good.

 

Jamal Murray
Shooting Guard
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6’5”, 180 lbs.
Toronto, ON (Athlete Institute Basketball Academy)

Top247: No. 10 overall, No. 1 SG
247 Sports Composite: No.30 overall, No. 7 SG
Rivals: No. 15 overall (2016)
ESPN:
Scout: No. 12 overall, No. 2 PG

(Some of those rankings haven’t been updated.)

Watch him BLOW UP in the 2015 Nike Hoop Summit:

And then watch his mixtape:

What they’re saying:

https://twitter.com/SethOnHoops/status/613837571618119680


From their old Kentucky home to Commonwealth Stadium, Part Three

What do these three Kentucky Basketball legends have in common: Kenny Walker, Frank Ramsey, and Tony Delk? Answer is a couple things. Their jerseys have all been retired and now hang in Rupp Arena Rafters. Also, the three are listed as second in major UK historical, career records. Walker is the 2nd leading scorer, Ramsey is number two in rebounds, and Delk is runner-up for career steals.

What if I told you that Kentucky Football’s second all-time leading tackler’s jersey was not hanging in the Commonwealth Stadium Ring of Honor? Doesn’t make sense, right? It’s time for the University to right this wrong by adding Chris Chenault to that list of all-time greats. More on that later. Here are the reasons why he signed with the Wildcats:

Chris Chenault, LB, Lexington Henry Clay –The All SEC LB and team captain is the second leading tackler in UK history and was later drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals. Prior to signing with Coach Jerry Claiborne, Chris was a two-way player for his home town, state champion Blue Devils.

Q: Please tell the BBN about your recruiting experience.

Chenault: I really liked Florida but Coach Charlie Pell and the Gators were about to go on probation so I quickly took them off my list. I liked Tennessee also and actually gave them a verbal commitment while I was visiting Notre Dame. On the flight back from South Bend I saw Lexington from the window of the plane and never felt so glad to be home. I was now a very confused young man. I told my mother and father that I had narrowed it down to Kentucky and Tennessee. I also told them I had given a verbal commitment to Tennessee but was really not sure and wanted to talk to UK one more time to make my decision. Kentucky was an up and coming program. I always loved KY football but wanted to be sure they were going to really try and compete in the SEC. Kentucky was a challenge and I wanted to be a part of that so Kentucky it was.

Q: Growing up in Lexington, how unique was it to take an official visit to UK?

Chenault: My host was UK great George Adams and he told me about the advantages of going to Kentucky and that I would feel like I was away at school. He was right. I never knew how big UK was and football would take up all of your time along with academics. We rode around campus and I met future UK football Head Coach Joker Phillips and Gordon Jackson who would become one of my closest friends in the future. I never ate so much in my life during my visit. We ate at every restaurant in the city just about. I was very excited to be going to UK and play football.

Q: Why did you sign with Kentucky?

Chenault: My decision was based on family. I wanted to give my family the opportunity to see me play every home game. My main concern was the health of my mother Mary Carter Chenault.   My mother was dying of breast cancer and her health was going downhill fast. My father Philip Chenault worked at the Campbell House Inn and they let him off to take care of my mother and Coach Claiborne was very supportive of my situation. I soon realized that family is not always blood borne, UK became an added member to me and they would always ask about my mother. I chose UK because the football team and Coaches cared for me and my family.

(more…)


From their old Kentucky home to Commonwealth Stadium, Part Two

Continued interviews featuring Kentucky high school football stars who signed with the Wildcats. This post features three more Kentucky greats: QB Pookie Jones, FB Andy Murray and DE Dennis Johnson.

Pookie Jones, QB, Calloway County – Little known fact about yet another Kentucky Mr. Football, Jones was coached in high school by former UK, and current Cal offensive coordinator, Tony Franklin. Another note, Pookie may be the nicest human to ever walk the earth. As an all-state football and baseball player, the two-time UK team captain chose the Cats over Dr. Tom Osborne and the Nebraska Cornhuskers. After terrorizing SEC defensive coordinators he was drafted by the MLB’s Colorado Rockies. Pookie’s enjoyed business success in Lexington and remains heavily involved in youth baseball instruction.

Q: Other than UK, what other schools did you consider?

Jones: Nebraska, Tennessee, Louisville, and Penn State

Q: Tell us about your official visit to UK.

Jones: Al Baker showed me around. I think he was disappointed because I wanted to head back to the hotel early. I was a kid from the country and wasn’t used to the bright lights of Lexington.

Q: How would you describe the current state of the UK Football program?

Jones: I think we’re heading in the right direction but it takes time. The SEC is the most competitive conference for a reason and it usually takes coaches longer to achieve their goals due to the conference grind.

Q: What was your deciding factor in choosing UK?

Jones: My dad. He was big on me getting my degree and C.A.T.S (Center for Academics and Tutorial Services) just opened on campus. That made my choice much easier.

Dennis Johnson, DE, Harrodsburg – College coaches and accolades poured into Harrodsburg as Johnson was named as Kentucky’s Mr. Football, USA Today National Player of the Year and Sports Illustrated National Player of the Year. Dennis is in the same category as Tim Couch and considered as one of Kentucky’s all-time greatest athletes.

An unknown fact about Dennis Johnson is that he played in his first high school varsity game as a six-year-old second grader. At UK, Johnson continued to dominate and was an All-SEC performer who was later drafted by the Arizona Cardinals. Today, Dennis Johnson is the Woodford County Head Football Coach, a traditional path for a member of the First Family of Kentucky Football.

Q: What other schools did you visit before committing to UK?

Johnson: Notre Dame, Florida, Colorado, and Miami

Q: What is your take on the state of the UK Football program?

Johnson: I think our program is improving. I love Coach Stoops and his staff. Regardless of what anyone says, you have to have players to win. We are bridging the gap with other SEC schools but it takes time to build a football program to be a contender in the SEC.

Q: Every player has their own pre-game ritual or superstition, what was yours?

JohnsonThe few rituals I had were wearing the same shirt every game. I wore it in high school, college and in the pros under my shoulder pads. I had written my favorite scripture on it in marker (Philippians 4:13). I also liked new cleats every time I could get them because it made me look and feel good.

Q: Why did you sign with UK?

Johnson: I signed with UK because Hal Mumme and his staff had brought a lot of excitement to the program, plus I had 4 guys from my hometown who were playing for UK.

Q: What is your best UK moment?

JohnsonBeating LSU my freshman year at their place.

(more…)


From their old Kentucky home to Commonwealth Stadium: Part One

From their old Kentucky home to Commonwealth Stadium: Part One

Barry Westerman | UK Athletics

Photo by Barry Westerman | UK Athletics

Given the significant upgrade in prep football talent, Kentucky is now relevant in the national recruiting dialogue. Following this pleasant rise, I started thinking about past Kentucky stars that developed into UK legends. So, I dusted off the old Rolodex (contact list for you young’uns) and dialed up former in-state high school football players that later developed into UK stars. I presented them with six questions focusing mainly on why they chose UK.

Segment One will feature Jared Lorenzen, Marty Moore, and Donte Key. Segment Two will have comments from Tim Couch, Chris Chenault, and Pookie Jones. Segment Three includes Andy Murray and Dennis Johnson.

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Donte Key, LB, Franklin Simpson – As a Wildcat, Donte is best known for his game saving interception that secured Kentucky’s victory in 1994’s inaugural Governor’s Cup. At Franklin Simpson, Key was an all-state, two way performer and a must get for Bill Curry. Donte followed the same path as former home-town greats Joker Phillips, Lester Boyd, and Kerry Beard by signing with Kentucky. He picked the Cats over UCLA and Tennessee. Today, Mr. Key still lives in Lexington and works as a Federal Probation and Parole Officer.

Q: Why did you sign with Kentucky?

Key: The Fans. On a visit to a game, some random person yelled across the parking lot to me which surprised me that they knew who I was and said, “Come play for the Cats, we love you.”

Q: What is your best memory from your UK playing days?

Key: Being a part of the rebirth of the UL rivalry game, which we won!

Q: What has being a UK Football alumnus done for your life after football?

Key: Staying in Lexington has been great and people know you and watched you play. Still being recognized has opened some great opportunities for me and my family.

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Jared Lorenzen, QB, Fort Thomas Highlands – Tim Couch’s records were perceived as untouchable but they didn’t last long as the Highlands High School All American and Mr. Football quickly scorched through previous milestones. Upon his campus arrival, Jared immediately captured BBN hearts by his larger than life personality. And, the kid could flat out play. Lorenzen departed Lexington as UK’s all-time leader in several passing categories. As a professional, his career pinnacled when his New York Giants won the Super Bowl. Throughout the years, Jared has remained universally revered and is a KSR regular.

Q: Other than Kentucky, what were your final five schools you considered prior to signing with the Cats?

Lorenzen: The U (Miami), Wisconsin, Boston College, Michigan, and Michigan State.

Q:What was that one moment when you were certain that you wanted to be a Wildcat?

Lorenzen: Hal Mumme was the first coach to call my house on the day it was allowable. He called me at 12:01, just after midnight. I thought if he took the time to call me now and wanted me that badly, then I had to give this serious thought. Plus, it did help that they had the greatest QB in the country there, Tim Couch.

Q: Why did you sign with UK?

Lorenzen: Easiest question I get asked. Why? Because I wanted to continue the tradition that Tim and Hal had started. Playing for the home state team doesn’t get any better. I was playing in front of my family and friends every single game, you can’t describe in words what that is like.

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An epic and unexpected night with The Rolling Stones

An epic and unexpected night with The Rolling Stones

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I should start this post with a disclaimer: I am not a music person. I am especially not an oldies person. While most of my friends listened to oldies with their parents in the car growing up, I listened to talk radio, 104.5 (the CAT!), or whatever gospel station my babysitter had on. I went through the typical indie rock phase in college and folk phase when I moved to Nashville, but for the most part, the radio in my car stays on 90’s on 9 or ESPN.

So, with all of that in mind, when The Rolling Stones announced they were coming to Nashville, I was excited because they’re legends, but I wasn’t bouncing off the walls like a lot of people, including my husband. He bought tickets and as we headed downtown, I looked forward to a fun night, but didn’t have huge expectations.

Even if I had, the Stones would have exceeded them. Here’s why:

They made a mockery of the old jokes

Everyone likes to make jokes about how old the Stones are. And they are old, ranging from ages 68-74. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are 71, two years older than my dad, a fact that provided blistering perspective throughout the night.

Pardon the cliche, but The Rolling Stones have gathered no moss. Jagger bounced around the stage like a kid hopped up on Mountain Dew. Richards, the original Captain Jack Sparrow of #TeamNF, prowled around like a bag of bones bound together with silk scarves. Guitarist Ronnie Wood, the youngest at 68, struck pose after pose in skinny pants and glittery sneakers. The only band member who looked his age was drummer Charlie Watts, who wore a simple t-shirt and dad jeans and looked like he dropped in from the set of “Empty Nest.” But he still rocked it. They all did, for two and a half hours, and as someone less than half their age, I want their energy; it was so infectious and in-your-face that after only a few songs, I felt guilty for complaining about being tired from the walk over the pedestrian bridge.

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Each song made me want more

Going in to the night, I thought I could name a few handfuls of Stones songs (once again, music novice here). As is with most classic rock groups, I knew more than I thought I did. This wasn’t just my first Stones concert, it was my first stadium concert, so experiencing the songs I’ve heard for years in movies, life, etc. in a larger than life setting was pretty amazing. (Also interesting: this was the first rock concert ever at LP Field.) The set picked up steam as it rolled on, starting with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” taking a Music City detour with Brad Paisley joining in on “Dead Flowers,” and finishing with “Brown Sugar” before a sweet encore of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” featuring the Belmont choir, and, of course, “Satisfaction.” The show ended around midnight, but the good vibes kept me bouncing on the long walk home.

The backup solo on Gimme Shelter is downright chilling

A few years ago, I saw “Twenty Feet from Stardom,” an excellent documentary about backup singers. If you haven’t seen it, it’s on Netflix and deserves a night of your time. One of the best parts was the story of Merry Clayton, a backup singer who performed the iconic solo on “Gimme Shelter.” Clayton was very pregnant at the time and got a call to do the part in the middle of the night. She walked into the studios in her pajamas with curlers in her hair and absolutely nailed it. The audio is chilling.

Merry doesn’t perform with the Stones anymore, but Lisa Fischer made her proud, belting out the verse and giving LP Field goosebumps on a night “hotter than a monkey’s bum,” according to Jagger. Speaking of…

We should all want moves like Jagger

There’s a reason Adam Levine coined that phrase and a reason it’s now stuck in your head (sorry). Everyone knows about Mick Jagger’s moves, but to fully appreciate them, you need to see them in person. At 71, Jagger is still effortlessly cool, wiggling around the stage in a tight black t-shirt, pants, and a blouse that he uses more like a boa. He’s incapable of standing still, constantly pumping his arms to the crowd, clapping, kicking, and scooting across the stage. Just watching him is exhausting. I never thought I’d say this in my entire life, but Mick Jagger is still hot, and if that sentence makes you want to throw up, well, sorry (not sorry). Watch him slither around the stage for two and a half hours and then we’ll talk.

The crowd was a show in itself

I expected that the crowd would be a good mix of generations, but seeing the Stones’ original fans come out for the show was almost as entertaining as the show itself. From late afternoon on, they walked around Broadway in vintage fringe like giddy schoolkids, and at the concert, they seemed high on nostalgia (or whatever else hung in the air at LP Field). The Stones play like they did back in the day and their older fans tried to party like it too, which means there are probably quite a few hungover baby boomers around town today. (I see your Advil and raise you some Gatorade.)

The rest of the crowd was made up of all ages, everyone excited and grateful for the chance to see the Stones before they’re gone; however, by the end of the night, Mick, Keith, Charlie, and Ronnie made it very clear they’re still alive and kicking. In fact, they showed us they still do it better than anyone.


Willie Cauley-Stein: A Hairstyle History

Willie Cauley-Stein: A Hairstyle History

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Today, Willie Cauley-Stein worked out for the New York Knicks, who have the fourth pick in next week’s NBA Draft. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost five years since we first heard of Willie, and even harder to believe that since then, the gangly sidewalk chalk artist/football player has evolved into a potential top ten NBA draft pick.

Willie has transformed off the court as well, from a clean-cut teenager into a trendsetter who, like most college kids, took full advantage of his time at school to experiment with his look. That style evolution will most certainly continue in the NBA, but before he embarks on that journey, let’s look back at five years of Willie Cauley-Hairstyles

(All pictures via 247 Sports or KSR unless otherwise noted.)

2010:

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Willie first came onto the recruiting scene in the summer of 2010, when he began playing with Spiece Mo-Kan. As a 16-year-old, Willie Cauley hadn’t yet experimented with his hair, keeping it clean cut and casual.

2011:

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Willie becomes a bigger name on the recruiting circuit and with the exposure come his first new hairstyle. Willie starts growing a fro with a bleach streak, something we’ll see later in his career at UK. Willie committed to UK in November 2011, which is around the time this picture of him surfaced:

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Willie’s wearing a hat (Kansas at that!), so this picture has nothing really to do with his hair, but it would be wrong to do a retrospective on him and not include it.

Spring 2012:

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In spring 2012, Willie faced off against Nerlens Noel in the All-American Championship, a nice preview of what was to come at UK in the fall. Willie trimmed his hair back down and got rid of the bleach streak, but showed off some new facial hair. Yes, that is a line beard.

Fall 2012: Freshman Year

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As a freshman, Willie first identified with UK fans as the big guy with the headband. The headband became a part of Willie through his UK career, and in turn, an integral part of many fan theories. More on this later.

Spring 2013: Freshman Year

Willie grew out a beard but quickly shaved it after UK’s humiliating 30-point loss at Tennessee. He debuted a cleaner look with a shaved in curl for UK’s Gameday game against Missouri:

Fall 2013: Sophomore Year

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If his freshman year was for facial hair, sophomore year for Willie’s hair…hair. Willie came to campus with a mini-fro, which fluctuated in size throughout the first part of the season. Against Baylor, he went back to his high school roots and bleached a streak into the fro, a foreshadowing of things to come:

Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics

Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics

Willie wasn’t done yet. On December 10, Willie shocked the world with his blond Gumby look, as seen first on Kentucky Sports Radio:

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Comparing Stoops’ Troops to Other Success Stories

Comparing Stoops’ Troops to Other Success Stories

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We all know year three of the Mark Stoops era is an important one.  For the first time in his head coaching career, there are expectations.  The expectation – go to a bowl game.  After a “rebuilding” season in year one and a second year full of flashes of greatness, the football program is taking the gloves off with a stadium renovation.

Stoops recruited his way into a raise, but the lack of a bowl appearance still has the fanbase questioning whether or not this will work.  The resounding sentiment seems to be, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”  It can be frustrating for an optimist, but it’s hard to blame them considering Kentucky football’s past.  We tend to compare what we see on the field to what we’ve seen in the past.  However, that comparative logic fails because we only compare Kentucky football now to Kentucky football in the past.  Instead, we should be comparing Kentucky to other programs that have been in similar situations in recent years.

The following three coaches are seen as some of the brightest in the business, taking below-average/mediocre programs to the next level.  As you’ll see, Stoops’ recruiting has the program poised to make a similar giant leap in year three.

Be prepared, it’s a lot of numbers (all from 247 Sports’ Composite Ranking) but take your time going through them and you’ll see what I mean. 

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Entering his 8th season as the head coach of the Baylor Bears, Art Briles has been considered a Top Five coach in all of college football by multiple ESPN pundits.  Baylor was about as average as it gets when he took over.  He’s since won two Big 12 championships and led his team to a “New Year’s Six” bowl this season.  He was never a stellar recruiter in his first three years, but he managed to sign eventual Heisman trophy winner, Robert Griffin III.  Like Stoops, his first two years lived up to the traditional Baylor standard before going to a bowl in year three.

first three mullen

A better way to compare recruiting is to look within the conference.  Like Stoops, Mullen was considered one of the best coordinators when he was hired from Florida.  After starting with a bang in his first recruiting class.  The successful Gator Bowl win over Michigan in year two continued the momentum, allowing him to sign Heisman trophy hopeful, Dak Prescott, in year three.

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If you want to feel good about where Stoops stands, just look at what Charlie Strong did.  Another high-profile coordinator from Florida, Strong had an easier schedule to get to bowl games, but you cannot ignore his recruiting success.  His year two class featured Teddy Bridgewater, the NCAA single-season interception record holder (Gerod Holimon), and 10 NFL draft picks in 2015.  His Sugar Bowl win over Florida was more than enough to earn the head coaching job at Texas.

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Stoops consistently out-recruited Strong and Briles, with comparable numbers to Mullen.  If you believe in the numbers, than you should believe that this team will be better than your preconceived notions of Kentucky football.  The common denominator of all three coaches: a phenom at the quarterback position.  Stoops got a phenom – Drew Barker- but Patrick Towles will be the man that ultimately determines the fate of the immediate future of the program.

The point is: the talent is there.  At the very least, look at what Briles, Mullen and Strong did with equal-to-lesser recruits.  If you believe Stoops can develop talent (which you should) then you should have no problem believing that this program is destined for a spectacular season in 2015.


Between the Ears of a Quarterback

Playing quarterback can be fun and exhilarating.  Playing quarterback can be sad and lonely. Whether experiencing an upward emotional trajectory that follows a touchdown pass or on the dreaded and unavoidable trot of shame back to the sidelines after throwing a pick-6; what goes on between a QB’s ears is as important as arm strength. I once had a wise man tell me that one’s inner voice is actually personality vocalized. Deep, I know, but I promise it relates to football.

Quarterbacks can be fickle so that inner-voice must be loud.  Normally diva by nature, QBs are confusing yet vital humans that at times can be misunderstood. This doesn’t come by nature, but by pressure from playing team athletics’ most challenging position. Just how quarterbacks handle the pressure cooker of being the face of the program has a prevailing result on seasonal outcome.

This is the first of three posts that will examine the quarterback position. The first focuses on the three, non-negotiable personality traits, or the inner-voices of a successful QB:

   

Confidence

While making a play call, QBs must convince teammates that the play is going for a score regardless of private doubt. Uncertainty and fear result in pre-snap doom.  At times, I can look at a QB’s eyes and body language to gauge this trait. In relation to quarterback’s confidence level, it is not related to the all too common false bravado witnessed during team’s tunnel exits, but more so an aura of expected excellence. Confidence is tested following both success and failure.  Great quarterbacks have the ability to learn from prior mistakes, register it in a mental file, and move on to the next play.  This is described as having a short memory. 

On the other hand, a quarterback can continue to mentally deliberate prior errors which can and often does lead to alarm.  A hesitant QB is inefficient and a team liability. Regardless of positive or negatively, early play confidence level greatly impacts the final score.

Courage

Throwing the football is the easiest part of the position. Ok, I’m sure you must have thought you read that wrong, so here it is again: Throwing the football is the easiest part of the position.

Having the guts to take calculated risk and make what I describe as “courage throws” separates the pack. Leading or throwing a receiver open within small windows is not a simple task and can be a scary proposition. Normally these passes are over the middle or between sideline defenders, and the result of the QB anticipating defensive voids. This is an area that Patrick Towles must and I feel will improve.  Courage throws are Drew Barker’s strength.

QB competitions will also be discussed later, but that dynamic often dampens these type passes as quarterbacks tend to play it safe to increase their likelihood of winning the job. When I hear Mark Stoops describe the lack of separation, this is a factor I envision. I suspect on-field play may look different than practice. I relate this to teaching a kid to ride a bike. In practice, training wheels are still on as Daddy Dawson motivates and corrects. Standing alone in front of 60,000 of the BBN’s best and brightest can be as intimidating as taking that first solo ride on your Huffy.  Game time or when the training wheels come off, it’s time to either pop a wheelie or crash into the ditch.

In UK Football history, the list of first year starting quarterbacks with winning records is miniscule. Mental exercise: try to name five. Patrick Towles was close.  His 12 game indoctrination is invaluable. A different type of courage is required in the pocket. Standing tall against an impending pass rush with an imminent collision as a result is well, uncomfortable. I have confidence that both Patrick and Drew have this trait nailed.

Competitiveness

Good ones want to win.  Great ones would cut out their own (or your) spleen to win a rock skipping contest on Golden Pond.  Enough said.

Remember, this is the first of three QB posts before pre-season camp begins.  Once that starts, it’s wheelie or ditch time for either Patrick Towles or Drew Barker.


The Lawnmower and The Refrigerator

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Ok young’uns, history lesson to follow… 

This post is not about a grass cutting machine and a kitchen appliance. Once there was a Chicago Bear Defensive Tackle named William the “Refrigerator” Perry. The “Fridge” skyrocketed into a late 80’s and early 90’s cult hero by scoring touchdowns and throwing knock-out blocks from the fullback position. In his prime, Perry was graciously listed at 6’2 335 pounds. Bears Head Coach Mike Ditka stumbled upon using the Fridge as a short yardage back after watching him run five yard sprints. Chicago defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan (Rex Ryan’s dad) initially refused to play him on defense. A ten year NLF career produced five rushing yards and three touchdowns. League snobs called it a gimmick. The mere threat of using Perry on the goal line kept defensive coordinators up at night.

On the football field and at weight lifting competitions, Clay County’s Jacob Hyde was a familiar name across the mountains. A prom picture was taken with the 6’2 330 football player cruising a riding lawnmower to his high school prom and fast-tracked him into Appalachian folklore. Overpowering opponents and iron garnished accolades as college scholarship offers soon followed. Initially committed to Joker Phillips prior to his departure, both Stoops and Hyde honored his prior pact. Higher ranked DT’s later signed, Hyde saw his potential for defensive minutes becoming limited. What didn’t falter was his attitude and appreciation for an opportunity.  Accepting a proposition to help his team by playing situational fullback was discussed.  Whatever to help the team, an expected summary of Hyde’s personality.

Hyde and Perry are virtually listed as the same size, however, the eye test favors Jacob when projecting as a FB. With an estimated 500 pound bench press, he’s believed to be the strongest current Cat and perhaps one of the stoutest in program history.  I read and heard about Hyde to fullback and was hesitant to believe the dialogue was sincere.  Initially I assumed it was most likely a spring practice smoke screen deflecting attention from the quarterback competition. I had to see for myself and attended UK’s open spring practice.  Man was I ever wrong.

Compactly built for a 300 pound plus athlete, Jacob moved with an ease equivalent to previous fullback DJ Warren. After looking comfortable coming out of his stance and exploding through the line of scrimmage, the next sound I heard was a volatile block on a linebacker. High fives and offensive celebration ensued. Defenders appeared as if it had a traitor within its ranks, but also happy for their universally revered teammate. Offensive coaches nodded in approval as if they’d found a secret weapon that was transitioning from concept to reality. Shannon Dawson had found a situational fullback. 

As a high school student, the Bears and the Fridge were must-see television.  As an adult, I’m anxious to watch Hyde in his new part-time role. Generationally separated, the Lawnmower may have never heard of the Refrigerator. But for us older folk, I can’t help to smile when I think of both crossing the goal line. 

Finally, listed as number 66 on UK’s current roster, my goal is to “urge” long-time UK Football equipment manager Tom Kalinowski to issue 00 to Hyde, a number that can be worn at both positions.  #Hydeto00 Get it trending BBN!


The Dogs of Fall

UK Football coordinators Shannon Dawson, DJ Eliot, and Vince Marrow hosted Kentucky Sports Radio on Thursday of last week. The first segment was radio gold and featured tales of their off-the-field dog problems.  Stories about the Eliot dog’s excessive barking, Dawson’s pet with a cut leg, and Marrow’s misplaced canine, literally made me laugh so hard I spit Diet Coke all over my computer. Following Shannon Dawson’s singing; Vince Marrow’s swooning over the Cavaliers, and DJ’s Johnnie Fever impersonation, football was eventually discussed.  More importantly, the two hours offered a casual look into Kentucky’s football leadership. Consequentially, the early pooch talk led me to start thinking about just which games will the Cats be considered an underdog:

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South Carolina

Based on location and Spurrier legend, Carolina will be slightly favored. As last season revealed, the talent gap between the two teams has significantly closed. Both squads will be coming off games that will define improvement and impact expectation.  Kentucky will have played a good Louisiana Lafayette team as South Carolina goes head to head with its border rival, North Carolina. In reality, I see this one as a toss-up. A day game would most benefit Kentucky’s chances as it lessens the Gamecock faithfuls time to tailgate in cabooses. The winner of this game will take a giant step towards bowl eligibility and conference credibility.

Florida

The visiting team will have Gators written across their helmets but this year’s Florida team may look a little different.  Due to recent underachievement and a coaching change, current Gator perception will lead to a “this year or never” mentality that will heighten expectation.  Florida will most likely be undefeated following early games versus New Mexico State and East Carolina, both in the Swamp. Personnel analysis indicates this could be a barn burner. In what possibly may be Mark Stoops’ most anticipated game in three years, I expect the BBN to tailgate and cheer with vengeance.  UK will get the home team three points but depending on how well Florida plays against East Carolina, the Gators will be most likely favored by less than a touchdown. Much like South Carolina, I consider this a pick ’em game.

Missouri

I don’t hide my respect and admiration for Gary Pinkel.  All he’s done is leap frog the establishment by developing three star players and winning back to back SEC East championships.  At this point in the season, the Tigers will be 3-0 and ranked.  Southeast Missouri, Arkansas State, and Connecticut will be mere speed bumps prior to their trip to the Commonwealth. IF Kentucky beats Florida, then Missouri becomes Mark Stoops’ latest and perhaps most significant hurdle in the “turnaround” process. Losing DE Marcus Loud will hurt, but as it’s annually proven, defensive linemen excel and develop under Pinkel. Missouri will be favored by 6-8 points, but I carefully lump this game in the same pick ’em and winnable category as Florida. 

Auburn

The traveling war birds will be coming off a bye week to meet UK in Lexington’s first ever Thursday night college football game. Starting on Tuesday of game week, the BBN will be prepping for the Tigers.  With two dessert items (Jacksonville State and San Jose State) mixed in with challenges against Louisville, LSU, and Mississippi State, Auburn will be tested. QB Jeremy Johnson will have five starts under his belt and possibly in the middle of a Heisman race. Based on the outcome in Baton Rouge, the visitors could be anywhere from a 7-12 point favorite. However, Thursday nights have produced historical craziness. I’m not a betting man, but the over on this game could be close to a hundred. Expect the unexpected.

Mississippi State

Sandwiched between Louisiana Tech and an open date, Miss State will be running full throttle when the Cats visit StarkVegas. Dog’s best player, Dak Prescott, has a kennel full of pass catchers that will present matchup problems for the Kentucky secondary. MSU lost 20 players to the NFL and graduation but are still talented and extremely well coached. This game is dangerous based on schedule timing and may be another high scoring affair.  Mississippi State will be favored by a touchdown or higher.

Tennessee

Fresh off a trip to Tuscaloosa, the Fighting Smokies will be beat up as they navigate the construction zone also known as I-75 north to Lexington.  But, their puppy youth has grown into Great Dane sized talent. Depending on how UK has fared, stuck in between Alabama and South Carolina could be an advantageous spot for the Cats.  Volunteers will be favored but not likely by double digits.

Georgia

The Dawgs will return from Jacksonville to the friendly confines between the hedges for this one.  The World’s Largest Cocktail Party can lead to a six day hangover. Predicting the Georgia win/loss record can be less accurate than calling your shot and winning the Lotto Powerball. The Dawgs are again loaded and have the SEC’s best collection of RB’s and LB’s, as well as perhaps the preeminent offensive line in college football.  Questions at QB remain, but Georgia will be a significant favorite in this one. UK’s trip to Athens is its most difficult schedule encounter.

I would label Kentucky’s 2015 schedule as manageable. In appearance, the only game that will be categorized as “unwinnable” will be the trip to Georgia. But, on certain fall Saturdays the Dawgs can mirror the line made famous in Drew Franklin’s favorite movie, Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.”  Just which Georgia team will show up?  The one that thumped Louisville, Clemson and Missouri or the other that lost to Georgia Tech, South Carolina, and Florida?

Time will tell.  September 5th can’t get here soon enough.