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Does UK Have Another Quarterback Competition?

Morgan Newton competed with then-quarterback Mike Hartline in his freshman and sophomore seasons.


Morgan Newton competed with then-quarterback Mike Hartline in his freshman and sophomore seasons.


In two years as head football coach at Kentucky, Joker Phillips and his staff have made both good and not-so-good decisions in selecting a starting quarterback in fall camp. In his first year at the helm, Joker stuck with Mike Hartline, a decision that was unpopular with fans but proved to be the right choice. The guy who many Kentucky fans wanted to see take-over Hartline’s spot was a younger, and seemingly more talented, Morgan Newton.

Newton had won games on the road at Auburn and Georgia as a freshman, and after backing up Hartline for another year, he was the obvious choice for his replacement in 2011, right? Well, we all thought he was the right choice, but it turned out that Max Smith was the right man for the job last year all along. Unfortunately for the Cats, it took until the eighth game of the season for the right man to start taking snaps under center. In Joker’s third year, he’ll need to have the right guy out there much earlier than that in order to see a fourth season as UK’s head coach.

After completing more passes for more yards in four SEC games than Newton did starting in a total of seven games (including WKU, Central Michigan, and Jacksonville State), Max Smith enters the 2012 season as the clear choice to take over as the permanent starting QB job, but Joker mentioned yesterday at SEC Media Days that the QB position is deep and the starting position is potentially up for grabs. Maybe Joker’s comments were just “coach-speak” to keep all of the QB’s motivated, but here were Phillips’ remarks from yesterday concerning the position:

Again, from top to bottom, the position at quarterback, we feel we are as deep as we’ve ever been talent-wise, okay. We may not be experience-wise, but we feel like we’re as good as we’ve ever been talent-wise with Morgan Newton, Maxwell Smith, and Jalen Whitlow, who just walked on campus.

Although Smith is the overall fan-favorite to take over the position this year on a full-time basis, there’s a small but loud minority of fans pulling for incoming freshman Patrick Towles. The 4-star recruit out of Fort Thomas, KY wasn’t mentioned by Phillips yesterday in the particular comment he made above when discussing the QB position, but almost certainly Towles was simply an error of omission, someone who Joker intended to talk about but did not. Or possibly, the omission of Towles was not a mistake at all and Joker has plans of redshirting his top recruit of the incoming class this season.

I don’t actually think that there is a real competition for the #1 starting spot this season. Max Smith should end up being the starting quarterback without much controversy on Sept. 2nd. However, overall I agree with Phillips that UK is deep in the position and there will be legitimate battles to decide the #2, #3, and #4 spots on the depth chart. If things don’t go according to plan early, we could expect to see several of these guys and maybe all of them in action. If Jalen Whitlow doesn’t find himself as one of the top three quarterbacks, then we could even expect the 3-star athlete out of Alabama to see time on the field as a WR.

The bottom line is that Phillips is right on the depth of the position, and ultimately four guys pushing each other to be better is a good thing for the program. Last year, Morgan Newton didn’t have serious competition in the summer and didn’t appear to be prepared to lead the offense at any point in the fall. Max Smith should almost certainly be the starting QB against Louisville on Sept. 2nd, but let’s hope that the talent around him pushes him to be better this season, similar to the way that Newton and even Randall Cobb, and Curtis Pulley too before he was booted off the team, pushed Hartline to improve each year he was at UK.

Article written by John Wilmhoff

Former beer vendor, college mascot and ESPN editor. This spring, you can also find me blogging about the Reds on Follow me on Twitter: @JohnWilmhoff

40 Comments for Does UK Have Another Quarterback Competition?

  1. bluesman
    2:12 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    Best you go back and check,Joker did indeed mention Towles.

  2. Reality Sets In
    2:19 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    Play Max Smith this year and redshirt Towles for the new coach in 2013

  3. assdf
    2:20 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    If the past is any indication, we’ll need all four quarterbacks and possibly La’Rod King taking a few snaps in order to get through the season.

  4. Did I Miss Something
    2:21 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    I’m pretty sure Joker mentioned Towles. But it could have been in another statement.

  5. gosh damn
    2:32 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    Of course we have a QB competition. The 2 QBs that Joker recruited (Moss and Newton) have either left the program or didn’t pan out. What were they, 4 and 5 star QBs? And neither is starting for us in their 4th year. Joker is garbage. As soon as uofl drills us, that will show everyone the difference between a good coach and garbage – Strong vs Joker. Why does uofl and Strong not need excuses? Joker is the Obama of coaching – never his fault, even 3 or 4 years in.

  6. Bob Sugar
    2:35 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    (1-4) All absolutely right

    My question is where in the wild world of UK sports did Mike Shartline become a good QB? This is the dude who was a worse quarterback than the team’s punt returner. Granted that player was Randall Cobb, the one who infamously called out the entire UK fan base for not being loyal enough to the team… But that’s beside the point. The point is KSR is operating under the delusion that Mike Hartline was a positive force in Uk’s program. Not only did he flat out suck in the small games, but when his play was good all he did was keep us on an even keel. Not to mention how he really went out with a bang; assaulting his girlfriend was it?

    Anyway Morgan Newton is absolutely garbage. The guy has made zero progress in two years and quite frankly is the biggest recruiting bust since Micah Johnson. Max Smith will hopefully get in there and play steady but I caution you to not hold your breath. Unfortunately, it’s only a matter of time until we see all of these psuedo “good players” returning to leach of of the program like the rest of the former stars.

  7. SoImpressed
    2:36 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    5 it takes a big man to call someone garbage through a computer screen. You’re so cool.

  8. SexnNursinHomes
    2:38 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    5- whoa man. I understand how ya feel. UK football will drive ya crazy. But let’s get real here. ul has beaten us one time in the last 5 years. Last year they had a 7-6 record against dyfunctional talent in a high school 1-A bush league conference. Joker pisses me off, but no way am I annointing Charlie effing Strong as a must-have coach.

  9. Owen
    2:39 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    I’m sorry but it’s not like Maxwell Smith was particularly groundbreaking last season. And I think we can all agree Newton has way more ability than he’s ever shown on the field and is way more athletic than Smith. If he manages to look better then I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t be given a legitimate shot. Max Smith may get the start at the beginning of the season but if he doesn’t play well even in the first half of the Louisville game, I would not be surprised one bit to see Newton come in.

  10. John Wilmhoff
    2:42 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    6) Hartline threw for 3178 yards, 23 TD’s, and only 9 INT’s his senior year. You wouldn’t take that this season?

  11. ChicagoCat
    2:47 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    8 – Exactly right. Everyone who think Strong is outcoaching Joker needs to take a little perspective. The Big East was an absolute joke even before all the decent teams jumped ship this offseason. If UK plays in the Big East we make a bowl game every year. Strong may be out-recruiting Joker from a rankings standpoint, but you can’t say with a straight face he’s outright proven to be a better coach.

    UK football will almost always be hills and valleys. Last year was a valley and we still went 5-7. Remember the days when our bottom was 2-9? The offense will be improved this year so let’s give ’em a shot and not throw in the towel 1.5 months before the season.

    Max Smith starts
    WildNewton to shake things up! Or the WildBookie, either way. If only we had discovered the WildRoarke earlier last year.

  12. ChicagoCat
    2:49 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    6 – You do realize Hartline was the 4th highest rated passer in the CONFERENCE his senior year right? Say what you want about the two years before that, but dude flat-out played his senior year. Probably would have won the bowl game if he didn’t get arrested/suspended.

  13. gosh damn
    2:58 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    7 – Trust me bro, I would call Joker and / or you “garbage” to your faces. Why is everyone making excuses for Joker – he was on the previous staff AND recruited ALL these kids.

    I’m not saying Strong is a great coach or that uofl plays a tough schedule – i’m just saying he took over a program in worse shape and is more than holding his own against Joker and UK. Oh and, Strong is more likely to get a promotion to a top flight job over Joker, wanna bet?

  14. SexnNursinHomes
    3:08 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    11- good post

  15. Dey spos to be SEC
    3:08 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    but all they talk about is the Big East… Can’t talk about football without talkin’ bout STRONG MODE.

    No matter how many times you type Randall Cobb… he’s not coming through that door.

  16. Coach Durbin
    3:10 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    Just because Smith was the right choice for the job in game 8 doesn’t necessarily mean he was the right choice in game 1. He was a RS Frosh last year and every week makes a big difference in his development. So, saying they made the wrong decision is not entirely accurate. What is clear is that Morgan Newton was not a playmaker at the SEC level, and unless something drastic has changed I hope he doesn’t legitimately compete for the job this year

  17. Hey Numero 11
    3:11 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    Replace Calipari in place of Strong and Pitino in place of Jockster and you have yourself another good story. True story.


  18. CatFanin TX
    3:19 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    UK has a football team? Late November/early December can’t get here soon enough.

  19. big dummy
    3:29 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    I love how so many are taking up for little ole Joker. Poor thang can’t get the job done on his own, he needs the Joker’etts to make excuses for him and squash any negative talk.

    Will you guys still be making the same excuses for Joker in year 8, when we still haven’t won 7 or more games? Or will there be new excuses.

    I heard excuses: injuries, recuiting base, state legislature, facilities, uniforms, weather…

  20. chokecal
    3:31 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    Don’t know why there would be a competition….who wants to be the starting QB for a team that won’t compete?! UK football sucks, the QB’s would be better off just transferring.

  21. Matt in Franklin
    3:35 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    Smith starts, and it shouldn’t even be close. He looked like a leader on the field, WAY more than Newton. WildNewton? Lets hope not…he looked scared to get hit during the bowl game when they tried to convert a first down and couldnt get it…Towles should redshirt…a true freshman playing for UK in the SEC will get squished, plain and simple.

  22. big tim
    3:40 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    its smith job to lose

  23. Head Bussa
    3:42 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    11 — Are you serious? The WildNewton? That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard. The person taking snaps in a Wildcat offense must at least have an ounce of speed. Newton is slow as molasses.

  24. BlueBallin'
    3:51 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    When you’ve got 3 (or 4) quarterbacks, and don’t know the starter 6 weeks before the season starts…then you don’t have a starting QB. You’ve got a QB-by-committee approach you’re all ready bracing for, which has never and will never result in producing a good football team. Reason why Joker named all 3 guys is because he knows we should expect to see all 3 guys at some point this season. Hope I’m wrong and a clear-cut #1 emerges capable of keeping us competitive. And I hope Towles is red-shirted this year so we can see what kind of QB/Athlete Jalen is right away; think WildWinslow will be looked to replace WildRoarke.

  25. barn
    4:27 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    newton will eventually (early on) be the starter. towles will wither away in joker’s closet of obscurity. only chance towles has is if joke is gone before or soon after the end of the season

  26. BravoBigBlue
    4:41 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    Hartline did indeed suck, no matter the year or what his stats were. Sucked. End of story.

    Towles should be redshirted so that he can be coached up for 4 years by a legitimate coach and coaching staff.

    The Joker EXPERIMENT has been a defintie FAIL and will be rectified come November 6. Oh, what a minute. That’s another unqualifed African American I’m thinking about. I’m not a racist, just telling it like it is, bruh.

  27. Bob Sugar
    4:46 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    10) That really depends on which games whoever throws for 350 and which games he throws for 150. That really depends on which games he throws 4 td and which games he throws 1. That really depends on which games he throws 3 picks and which games he throws 1. It also depends if this year’s qb throws for these numbers during crunch time or scrub time.. I hope you understand by this lesson that simple statistics can be misleading. Furthermore, If he looks like joe Montana against western and miss st.. But looks like Johnny Utah against Florida UT and SC, then my answer is a resounding no.

  28. Bro
    4:57 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    13. Bro! You’re such a bad ass…and an idiot.
    26. You have no IQ if you think Hartline was bad his senior year

  29. BravoBigBlue
    5:01 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    28 – Hartline was “garbage” the whole time he was there. Guy was awful.

  30. Ben
    5:45 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    Spring practice is for competition, while fall camp is to get ready for the season! If Joker takes too much time with the competition, it may very well cost him his job. He must decide on a starter and the get him ready to play.

  31. new fan
    6:25 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    i will say some of you are fair weather fans. the best QB on campus is jalen whitlow by far. this is based on info leaked from inside. hes a better passer and runner

  32. UK bluenme
    6:36 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    #31 why do people write garbage on here. You obviously have not been on campus and have no clue what the football program is doing. Write stuff that is factual.

  33. Maxwell
    7:00 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    I find it hilarious when Loserville fans come on here and pretend to be “upset” Kentucky fans. Just makes me smile. I wouldn’t be caught dead on a Loserville board. With that being said, Hartline was not just good his senior year, he was very good. Maxwell Smith should be the starter this year. He looked very promising during the end of last year, and was flat out good in the Ole Miss game (granted, Ole Miss is terrible). If Maxwell Smith doesn’t play well, Towles should come in. Newton should not be part of the equation.

  34. BravoBigBlue
    7:25 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    Hartline for President. He was awesome!

  35. CharlieStrong
    7:37 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    I come on here and don’t, for a moment, pretend to be an “upset” Kentucky fan. I’m an admitted Louisville fan and I visit this site because I shamefully enjoy reading what the rival has to say about us and our program; and from time to time find very insightful in-state recruiting information and speculation here before it is available anywhere else. Not to mention, as Louisville fans, we’re limited to one very talented blogger, whereas Kentucky fanhood begets hundreds upon hundreds of talentless bloggers to fill the internet abyss. And I truly take a sick pleasure from prodding the fat cow on the fenceline, which is every Kentucky fan. That cow thinks it’s the only cow in the field, and it is so sorely mistaken, but doesn’t really care if you tell it there are forty cows behind it. All of that being said:
    Charlie Strong is quite clearly a more talented, proven coach than Joker Phillips. Aside from the quick rebuilding taking place here at Louisville; the guy was the defensive coordinator for two national champion squads whose games were hinged largely on their defense. When the doors open up at elite football institutions, Charlie’s getting calls.. Joker is.. well, he’s not.
    You folks have an outstanding basketball tradition and the national buzz that surrounds the UK roundball and John Calipari are second to none at this point; but if you’re going to hop on the internet, take a look at your football roster and your lackluster coach, and seriously try to convince yourself that it’s even in the same ballpark as Louisville’s simply because Louisville resides in the Big East (as if we have any other choice), then you need to buy better bath salts, because them sh*ts you’re currently using have twisted your reality. You guys are awful, awful, awful on the gridiron; and always will be.

  36. #28's mom
    8:13 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    Junior, put some pants on and get away from my computer, oh and take out the GARBAGE…

    I don’t understand why uofl fans come on here to act like UK fans that are happy with a crappy coach that will NEVER succeed as a head football coach – on any level. These uofl fans are making us look like chumps – that we could possibly be happy with below average football and that losing to our instate rival is acceptable – but “moral victories” are what’s important.

  37. Common Sense
    9:00 pm July 19, 2012 Permalink

    For all of you negative nancy’s on here, I suggest going back to the podcast on July 11, 2012 which Jeremy Jarmon co-hosted. If that doesn’t get you pumped for UK football, then I ask you completely step away from this program. If you don’t completely agree with everything Jarmon says, then you are an obvious fool and I ask you completely step away from this program. It’s time to be a complete fan base, not have die-hards and half “leave after 3 qtrs b/c we are down 2 TD’s”. Support the players, if you hate the coach (which is idiotic) then fine, but don’t turn on the players.

  38. Put in Richie
    6:25 am July 20, 2012 Permalink

    5 – Go support your UL squad and your man Charlie Strong. Seriously??? What has he done that is so impressive? Is it the loss at home to FIU and Marshall? Is it the 7 point win against a Morgan Newton led UK team that was awful? UL went 7-6 last year. Coming from you, it sounds like he went to a BCS game and thrashed Kentucky. Why does Charlie Strong get a pass for losing to 2 mid-majors at home last year? We would have killed Joker for losing to FIU and Marshall.

  39. Put in Richie
    6:35 am July 20, 2012 Permalink

    13 – Charlie Strong is 1-1 against Kentucky. Last year UL beat us by 7 points while we were starting Morgan Newton in one of our worst seasons since we were on probation in Brooks’s first years. The sad thing is we almost tied the game late, but our offense was as pathetic as I’ve seen it. I’m sorry, but Charlie Strong hasn’t done much of anything yet. UL fans have given Strong a pass because of Kragthorpe up to this point, but anything like last season and he will be on the hot seat very quickly.

  40. your high school golf coach
    10:58 am July 20, 2012 Permalink

    Thanks 18…I won my bet with my buddy about how quick it would take some douche bag BB only fan to say “we have a team???”. I took the under 20.5. Lame-o