UK is facing several problems coming into the 2013 football season. Above all else is one of the toughest schedules in UK history. Alabama is added to the schedule, while the SEC East’s 2 projected top teams, Georgia and South Carolina, are both on the road. Not to mention UL likely will have their best team in school history, the WKU game will be on a pro-WKU field. Plus the permanent cross-division rival, Mississippi State, is also a road game. The introduction of new offensive and defensive schemes, plus a bunch of new players, also means the growing pains will be large for UK this year. And that’s fine. Because the recruiting has catapulted to an unheard of level, it seems the offensive side will be much more exciting, and Mark Stoops has fans clamoring for what the future might bring.
But let me say, the leap back into some kind of competitive football might come as soon as 2014. I always considered the Mark Stoops project to be at least a 3-year project. It requires putting a couple recruiting classes together to start winning on a weekly basis. And that may still be true if you ever want to think UK could compete for an SEC East crown. But, a bowl game is not out of the question for 2014. A couple major reasons:
1. THE SCHEDULE
-UK loses WKU off the schedule, which is no longer a gimme win. They keep a MAC school, Ohio, and then they play UL at Papa John’s. That might seem like a harder game but keep in mind Louisville will be breaking in a new QB and many other key skill players. There will be a lot more question marks at UL than UK coming into the game in 2014. Plus, UK will have their full compliment of 2 great recruiting classes. The other scheduled non-conference game is UT-Martin. The Cats now get Georgia and South Carolina at home, plus Mississippi State. And Vanderbilt will be back at Commonwealth as well. Missouri, Florida, and Tennessee will be road games.
2. 2ND YEAR OF OFFENSE AND DEFENSE
-By 2014, every player on the UK roster will have a full year of the offensive and defensive schemes under their belts, except for the incoming freshman. Hopefully, those freshman will have been studying the playbook by then though. It can not be understated how big of a deal that is going to be. Some of the things that will have to be covered this summer and fall will not have to be in 2014 because it will already be habit. Practice habits, effort, and scheming will all be second nature for these kids.
3. THE COMPETITION GETS WORSE
-What? How can the competition get worse in the SEC? Well, for me, teams begin and end with their QB. UK will be facing 6 of 8 SEC opponents with a SENIOR QUARTERBACK starting this season. That includes 4 of the 6 SEC East opponents. Of the teams we know coming to Commonwealth in 2014, we know that South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi St, and Vanderbilt will be starting new QB’s. That can often lead to team’s being wildly inconsistent and lead to a greater chance for an upset. Make no mistake, UK will still be underdogs in most of these games in 2014, but I like their chances of upset a lot more because of the quarterback situation.
4. RETURNING STARTERS
-I think returning starters is an overused statistics because I am not sure you want a bunch of returning starters from a team that wins 2 games, BUT UK is likely to return 10 of 11 starters on the offense in 2014 and 8 of 11 on defense. That kind of experience can be invaluable, especially in a new coaching situation. I doubt any other team in the SEC will bring back more in 2014 than Kentucky.
Certainly I am going to enjoy this season like the rest of you. I am very excited to see what Mark Stoops and Co. have in store. But I’m realistic and recognize this is not the year to become a threat to SEC opponents. Some might even argue it might be 2015 or 2016 before that happens. But as I have shown, I think Year 2 of the Stoops Era has a real potential to be a big year for the Cats. Let’s hope I’m right.
Addition to Yesterday’s Post: I gotta admit that I made a mistake in yesterday’s post about my Top 10 players of the last 10 years at Kentucky. In the post I clearly stated that I was ranking guys based on their abilities more than their careers at UK. But the reality is, that using that criteria only, of course Rajon Rondo and Eric Bledsoe would have been much higher than they were ranked, and Chuck Hayes and Gerald Fitch lower. What I based my rankings of were the talent of the player AND how they utilized that talent at Kentucky. Rondo never got close to using his total talent at UK, thus why he was dropped. While Hayes used every ounce of his. Just a correction, go back to hating.