This is the world we live in. Roughly 24 hours after it was revealed that Beyonce was impregnated by Jay-Z, an FBI profiler decided that the best use of her time would be to create a sketch of what the child will look like if he ever suffers from “baby head” in his teenage years and is asked to pose for a Lil’ Wayne album. Yes, my friends, even sketch artists are feeling the pain of the job market these days and instead of churning out portraits of potential suspects, the world is gifted with this. I’d like to dedicate a little more time into dissecting how this picture serves as just another example how society has their priorities disgustingly out of whack and how pathetic it is that people care so much about the lives of other people, but we have way more important things to do. We need to talk about where these teenagers are going to college.
– After what has seemed like an eternity, football season is finally back upon us as the Cats will take on Western Kentucky Thursday night in Nashville. As tends to be the case with these season-opening games, there are a few more things to concern yourself with than which tailgate you can raid when the game starts. For tonight’s game against the Hilltoppers, there are five things worth keeping an eye on:
1. Morgan Newton: After serving as little more than a point of debate last season as the backup to Mike Hartline, the one-time celebrated recruit finally gets his chance to take snaps as Kentucky’s quarterback without the real threat of losing the job. In year’s past, Kentucky has seen the benefit of a serious quarterback competition in camp, but this is clearly Newton’s job and we’ll get a glimpse Thursday night of just how ready he is for it.
He has all the physical tools necessary to be a competent quarterback in the SEC. Everyone does. What is going to determine how successful Newton becomes this year are two things that might be the two most critical indicators of a quarterback’s success – his leadership skills and his rapport with his wideouts. Newton made waves earlier in the fall by calling out some teammates on Twitter and most of the primary offensive players last season seemed to be in heavy support of Mike Hartline. However, that has changed over the past several months and the team seems unified behind him. Even Hartline said after last week’s Colts-Packers game that he’s been impressed with the way Newton has assumed a leadership role. Kentucky is going to be missing a number of guys on offense who could challenge their teammates to be better players, including Randall Cobb. If Morgan Newton can be that guy for the Cats, they’ll be in good shape.
2. Where’s Winston?: Ahh, Rick Minter’s unit will have wrinkles and the biggest one will most certainly be Winston Guy, who is now famously playing a hybrid role on defense. We’ll be tracking this for a segment on KSTV and for the blog here, but it will be very interesting to see where Winston Guy is lining up on defense and how he performs in his new role. The biggest knocks on him last year were that he got beat over the top at safety and didn’t wrap guys up against the run. Minter is expected to give him chances to play near the line to make stops (he looked very good in the scrimmages) and an opportunity at playing more of a linebacker-like role in coverage. He could be a breakout star for the Cats this season if he and Minter can pick and choose the right spots. Should be interesting to watch Thursday.
3. Rush defense: Part of Minter’s mad scientist routine is experimenting in multiple looks that fluctuate between a 4-3 and a 3-4. No matter how the Cats line up, it’s going to be critical to stop the run not only against the Hilltoppers, but throughout their schedule. Last season, the defense under Steve Brown finished 85th in the nation in rushing defense and allowed WKU running back Bobby Rainey to torch them for 184 yards at Commonwealth Stadium. This year, things will have to be very different. It will all start with the revamped defensive line, but Minter’s aggressive scheme will have to have the linebackers and safeties in the right positions and the guys must finally make the tackles. Simply tightening up the run defense that allowed teams to keep grinding the game out and wearing the defense out last year could mean another win or two.
4. Offensive line must live up to the hype: The running backs are new. The wide receivers are new. The quarterback is pretty much new. That means the offensive line, which has been heralded as possibly the best in the SEC, must live up to the hype. Joker is going to expect his defense to carry the team throughout the first several games, which means they’re going to need to stay fresh. That means a strong running game and, at the very least, improved ball control. That all starts up front for the Cats. They shouldn’t have any problem pushing around Western Kentucky’s defensive line Thursday night, so this might be something to watch for a little later down the line. However, if Kentucky wants to have any sort of offense this season, the big fellas up front are going to have to be the strong foundation they can build around.
5. Crowd: So, it turns out that putting two teams away from home in the middle of the week with a late start time isn’t the greatest thing for tickets. As of Wednesday afternoon, the 30,000 ticket mark hadn’t been broken yet and the crowd likely will not be at capacity. After all, we’re playing WKU, not the Dominican National team. However, the majority of the butts in the stands will be dressed in blue and white and that’s really about all you can ask for in this situation. Maybe we should have let Fran Curci coach one of the teams to really fire up the crowd.
And before you ask, it starts at 9:15 and is on ESPNU.
– On a completely different note, Wednesday was a dreadfully disappointing day for Kentucky basketball as no high school prospects announced they would be attending Big Blue Madness. UK, of course, has 10 guys already on board and Drew raised an interesting question Wednesday when he asked is it possible to have too many Madness visitors? As a fan, it’s tough to think that getting a guy on campus for such an extravagant event is ever a bad thing, no matter how many other players might be there to take away some of his potential attention. However, at least one national college basketball writer that we spoke with said that he thinks it’s a very risky move to bring so many guys on campus at the same time. That’s apparently the consensus among most coaches, which is partially why you don’t see such large gatherings (the other reason is because few are capable of actually doing it). However, Calipari is clearly operating in a different world and what is unique about this group is that it is evenly divided for the most part between three classes and Madness has historically been a more critical event in recruiting juniors and seniors.
– Don’t forget. 9:15 pm. ESPNU.
– If you scroll down the page, you can see Kentucky’s four new freshmen all dolled up in their new jerseys for this season. You’ll be happy to see that they all look physically strong and their minds look at ease. You’ll be even happier to know that the team scrimmaged with Rajon Rondo, DeMarcus Cousins and Nazr Mohammed Wednesday. Isn’t it cool that the first thing you thought to yourself was, “Where is everyone else?” #LaFamilia
– Don’t forget. 9:15 pm. ESPNU.
– After a few weeks of going back and forth, it appears we are again forth as Texas A&M has withdrawn from the Big 12 effective next summer. This now means the speculation for the creation of Calipari’s proposed four superconferences is now underway and teams schools are scrambling to get in where they fit in. If you feel like you wake up and every morning college sports are a little crazier than they were the day before, you’re right. They are. And it’s getting even crazier.
– Don’t forget. 9:15 pm. ESPNU.
– Finally, if anyone can explain why it’s going to be 98 degrees in Louisville Thursday when the calendar clearly reads “September”, I’d appreciate it. You can save your Nick Lachey jokes though. Ok, nevermind. You can bring your Nick Lachey jokes.
That’s it for now. Make sure you stick around all day for our football party. Matt will be by at 10am on Talk Radio 1080 for a special football edition of Kentucky Sports Radio. Drew will continue to be the greatest blog czar ever all day after that. And if you think you’re too cool to hang out, we’ll see you at the Live Blog tonight.