All weekend long, one name kept getting repeated to me in my conversations around the UK football program, David Cutcliffe. Now this may surprise you, but Cutcliffe is not exactly the sexiest name in the world, and until three weeks ago, I hadn’t thought about him in approximately five years. But now, he is a regular topic in UK football circles? Why? Because Cutcliffe’s name and the program he commands are worthy of discussion. The first part of this, you have heard me say before. I have been told by two sources close to Mitch Barnhart that he is a very big fan of Cutcliffe and if Kentucky ends up looking for a coach, he will be one of the main people considered. You may remember Cutcliffe’s resume. He was offensive coordinator at Tennessee and coached Peyton Manning and Tee Martin (and was also there while Mitch was there). He then went and became head coach of Ole Miss, where he coached Eli Manning and took the team to a Cotton Bowl victory. He then was fired, went back to Tennessee and now is the head coach at Duke, where he has the team off to a 5-1 start that represents the best in 20 years at the school. He is a coach that has been shown to mold successful young Quarterbacks with big arms (can you say Patrick Towles) and knows the SEC. He is also apparently a wonderful person and is someone Mitch knows and trusts. That is why you can be sure, that if a coaching vacancy comes, David Cutcliffe will be a target.
Now I have made my feelings about Cutcliffe known on radio. I am sure he is a solid coach and a fine guy, but I think UK needs new, young, fresh blood to command a program that has zero energy behind it at this point. But that is a discussion for a different day. The other reason that Cutcliffe has been spoken about a great deal is that he commands a Duke football program that may have taken a step over Kentucky. Yes, read that sentence again. Duke football is the laughingstock of the BCS. Without question, since Steve Spurrier left 25 years ago, Duke has been the worst program in the six major conferences. And for the most part, they have cared little about the sport. But not any more. They have just begun a $75 million football facility renovation and have made it their goal to compete in the ACC. While they havent beaten anyone great, neither have they lost to a Sun Belt team this year, and this season looks to be the first step to respectability. As one person around UK Athletics said to me Saturday, “if they can do it at Duke of all places, we have no excuses here.” Yes, the ACC is much worse than the SEC. Yes, this is a one year bump from Duke and they could crash back to landing quickly. And yes, saying anything good about Duke makes all of our skin crawl. But we always used to say that no matter how bad UK football became, we were better than Duke. But that now may have changed. And comparing our football program to the Blue Devils and the coach that will be on many people’s lips in a few weeks, is now a very sobering reality.
To the news:
— The big news of the week was of course the Harrison Twins commitment, and the first steps towards a 2013 class that might never be topped. The Twins are already getting ready, recruiting the other members of the class and trying to convince them to come and make history. James Young will be visiting Big Blue Madness this weekend and could be the next to join. He fits in naturally with the Twins and they have apparently spoken in recent days. It would be a surprise if he ended up anywhere else. Julius Randle visited Florida this weekend and it was a good weekend for his trip. The atmosphere in the Swamp was rocking and he sent out many pictures of Florida facilities (although oddly, mostly of the football sort). He will not be attending BBN due to homecoming (remember, these are kids), but will probably make an official visit again very soon. Andrew Wiggins originally was said to be attending BBM, but that may have changed due to a student holiday. He has not yet made his decision on whether to reclassify, but it could come any day. His coach said to us on Thursday that the deadline is for all intents and purposes, the first of November, when the McDonald’s All American ballots go out, as Wiggins will want to be on it if he becomes a 2013 player.
— The other big story is the announcement of a “Hard Knocks” like series about Kentucky basketball on ESPN. I think this will be unbelievably entertaining. John Calipari has given ESPN the rights to follow the team around for the next three weeks, documenting everything that happens in an unfiltered way. The series will run on three straight Wednesdays in October (the 17, 24 and 31) on ESPN and give the program unbelievable exposure and intrigue. It will follow the players and coaches on and off the court and is directed by a director who did films for the ESPN 30 for 30 series. It will be a fascinating look at the program unlike anything we have ever seen and is yet ANOTHER example of how Calipari does it differently (and better) than anyone else.
— Saturday was depressing for a number of reasons, but none more so than the injury to Patrick Towles. One would assume that if he is out for a long period of time, a medical hardship redshirt would be requested and given. But Towles injury also epitomized the “can we catch a break” season so far. His first drive was masterful, going 80 yards on 5-5 passing and showcasing why it is that so many believe he could be the best to come out of this state in recent memory. When you see a Quarterback that can be special, it is obvious and it translates immediately, and that happened with Towles. He generated excitement in an otherwise dead Commonwealth Stadium and had the possibility of belief in everyone’s mind. Then came a freak injury and now we are left not knowing the future. We will know more about his status on Monday, but until then, it will be Jalen Whitlow (who I thought played decently, but was ripped by Randy Sanders afterwards) and one assumes, Morgan Newton as the final resort. Does anyone know if Matt Roark has eligibility left?
— Saturday was very frustrating for a viewer for a variety of reasons, but none more so than the inexplicable play calling throughout the game. Right after Towles impressive 80 yard drive, the Cats came out the next possession and had all momentum deflated by three straight up the middle run calls that were each more frustrating than the one before. Then after the injury, Whitlow was given a limited amount of responsibility, which he handled relatively well when he got outside of the pocket and could make plays. But too often, he was asked to be a drop back passer (which didnt work) and given no chance by play calls that made zero rational sense. It culminated in the final drive for the Cats that saw UK run a draw play on 3rd and 12 that caused more grumbling than I have heard in Commonwealth in a long time. Tack on the decision to not use any timeouts and essentially let the game end on Miss State’s final possession and one wondered if the coaches were just glad to get off the field on Saturday and let the game end.
BIG BLUE MADNESS is Friday, Media Day is Thursday, and the UK Basketball Tipoff Luncheon is Wednesday. So there will be news flowing all week as we get ready for basketball to begin. Keep it here for everything we can talk about, as KSR is coming out like a wounded dog, ready to have a memorable week, starting with radio tomorrow morning at 10. See you there….