Part one in an eight part series previewing the 2010 Kentucky Football Wildcats: Quarterbacks
Very frequently, some inquiring Kentucky football fan seeks to drink from the vast fount of my Kentucky Football knowledge. This off-season, the most oft-repeated question is who will be the Wildcats’ quarterback? Humbly, I respond that their guess is as good as mine… only less informed and reasoned.
For the decade extending from the late 90s to the late aughts, the largely moribund Kentucky program experienced remarkable stability and unprecedented talent at the quarterback position. Tim Couch, Jared Lorenzen and Andre’ Woodson were all multiple year starters and NFL-caliber talents. Since Woodson’s graduation, however, it’s been a bit of a quagmire, and the Cats once again stare at an uncertain future under center in 2010.
Mike Hartline: 6-6, 206 Sr. Canton, OH (Glen Oak)
With his long, lean frame, it’s only natural that the senior quarterback has become such a lightning rod for Kentucky fans in his time with the Cats. Hartline is far and away the most experienced player in the quarterback derby, as he enters fall camp for the 5th time, and has 21 games under his belt. Hartline has had his moments. He was named the most outstanding player in the Cats’ 2008 Liberty Bowl victory over East Carolina. He also provided Kentucky’s lone win over the always delightful Bobby Petrino, with two 4th quarter touchdowns against Arkansas in 2008. But Hartline has also been inconsistent. His career interceptions surpass his career touchdown passes. (16 to 15.) And with his age and level of experience, one has to wonder if he has already maximized his ability, while the younger competitors have significantly higher ceilings.
Morgan Newton: 6-4, 235 So. Carmel, IN (Carmel)
It would have been nearly inconceivable to any football prognosticator to look ahead at Kentucky’s 2009 season and forecast that true freshman Morgan Newton would start eight games, would go 5 and 3 and would win 3 SEC road games, including starts at Auburn and at Georgia. It would have been entirely inconceivable (you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means) to learn that all of that occurred, and that Newton may not start the opener in 2010. Yet Newton struggled with his passing accuracy in costly late season losses, and in the Music City Bowl loss to perpetual Kentucky Bowl opponent Clemson. Newton was asked to do very little last season as the Cats went Ã¼ber-conservative in his starts. Yet his numbers were respectable for a true freshman. (Check the freshman numbers of Tim Couch and Andre’ Woodson if you disagree.) Newton completed 56% of his passes and threw 6 touchdowns to only 3 interceptions. In fact, his passing efficiency, which I believe is computed through a joint effort of NASA & MIT, is actually slightly superior to Hartline’s. 109.7 to 107.5. He also possesses the dual threat element Hartline lacks, having rushed for a net 130 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2009.
Ryan Mossakowski: 6-4, 221 Fr-Rs. Frisco, TX (Centennial)
Mossakowski is considered to be one of the more naturally gifted quarterbacks Kentucky has seen in many years. Despite a severe high school shoulder injury, he is blessed with a powerful arm. Like Newton, Mossakowski was a high school All-American who put up amazing numbers. For his career at Centennial High School, Mossakowski threw for 7,433 yards and 51 touchdowns. This was despite missing half of his senior season. Not limited to being strictly a pocket passer, Mossakowski also ran for 20 touchdowns in his prep career. Still, he had an up and down spring, and must dramatically increase the speed with which he makes decisions in the pocket, a limitation that is standard for young quarterbacks in major college football.
There’s no question that Joker Phillips would love to have an established quarterback with a death grip on the position entering the fall. That said, Kentucky’s quarterback situation is not as dire as the naysayers would have you believe. Hartline has limitations, but is a seasoned veteran who has won more games than he’s lost at Kentucky. Morgan Newton thrived in a season in which he was unfairly thrown to the wolves before truly learning how to play quarterback at the Division 1 level, and ended up on the coach’s 2009 SEC All Freshman Team. Mossakowski is a tremendous talent who was given the benefit of a redshirt year to fully absorb the offense and completely heal. The Cats also have the safety net of multi-talented stud Randall Cobb, who will certainly take multiple snaps at quarterback out of Kentucky’s Wild-Cobb formation.
So who will it be? It depends on the question you’re asking. Hartline may well start the Louisville game. There is no doubt that he knows the offense and can “manage the game” with more effectiveness than this challengers. He’s also 2-0 as a starter vs. the Cards. But Hartline’s arm strength, or lack thereof, reveals itself against top level competition. In his career against non-conference foes, Hartline’s numbers look very impressive. 62% completions, 7 TDs, 3 interceptions. Against SEC teams, however, those numbers look much more pedestrian. 52% completions, 8 TDs, 12 interceptions. I believe that this is because SEC defenses know Hartline cannot beat them deep, and thus they take away his short passing game and stymie the Cats’ passing attack. I truly believe Joker desires a wide open passing game, and Hartline will not ultimately give him the rifleman he needs at the position.
Mossakowski will be the favorite of the drunk guy who sits behind you in the stadium. That guy always likes the new guy because he hasn’t seen him screw up yet. He also read about Moss on the message board and heard he could throw a pigskin over them mountains Uncle Rico style. I, too, think he may be great some day, but he will not be a major factor this season barring injury.
Ultimately, I think the guy who gets the lion’s share of the reps will be Newton. Of course, he has the size, athleticism and pedigree. But more than anything, he has the non-quantifiable winning presence you need at quarterback. This same presence that led his high school team to multiple state titles led the Cats to historic road wins in Athens and Auburn. Obviously, he must improve his accuracy, but what true freshman major college quarterback doesn’t? If Kentucky is to exceed expectations, it must be Newton who gets them there.
Next up: Runningbacks