If you want to know anything about Kentucky sports, the place to go is A Sea of Blue, the best Wildcats blog I've found. We asked Managing Editor Truzenzuzex -- no, I don't know what it means -- to answer a few questions about this odd sport with an oblong ball that most Kentucky fans only recently realized exists.
Kentucky had a touch of trouble moving the ball last year, Georgia being the only BCS-league team to allow 30 points or more to the Wildcats. What's changed?
Nothing obvious to me except experience and a JUCO wide receiver. In other words, nothing obvious. We have two young studs coming in at quarterback, but as true freshmen, their impact is not liable to be dramatic. But you never know. Sometimes, freshmen are the difference. But I don't think UK can count on that. Our offensive line is very experienced, and that will help if our runners can hit the holes. The big question is, "Can [Mike] Hartline learn to throw the deep ball with accuracy?", and the second biggest is, "Can anyone besides Randall Cobb catch it even if Hartline becomes the second coming of André Woodson?"
How badly does the loss of Jeremy Jarmon hurt the defense?
Badly, but it fortunately does not cripple the defense. UK has done a very good job, by UK standards, of shoring up the d-line with recruiting, and we have some good players waiting for a chance. We have a four-star JUCO transfer coming in at Jarmon's position, and if he is as good as advertised, the question will be how much it affects our depth, rather than our starting unit. Jarmon was our best pass rusher, though, and we will have to keep our fingers crossed that someone else can fill that void. It's one thing to play a great game at the DE spot, but another altogether to replace the sacks of a guy who was poised to set the career mark at UK in that statistic.
Has that slow offensive year caused any anxiety about Head Coach in Waiting Joker Phillips taking over when Rich Brooks retires? How much longer do you think Brooks has left in him?
Not that much. Brooks will probably coach two more years at most. That's my guess, anyway. Joker Phillips has his detractors, but they are mostly from his service as OC. The big question about Phillips is, "Can he hire assistants that do as well as Brooks' hires?" We know he can coach. We know he can recruit. But the top job is a transition from micromanagement to macromanagement. How well will Phillips adapt to that change, and how many stumbles does he get before the grumbling begins. When Joe Hall took over from Adolph Rupp, he didn't get much time. Phillips will get more, but the dynamic is the same, just less intense.
Kentucky has a number of lengthy losing streaks or one-sided series in SEC play. Which one would you most like to see end this year, and why?
I am divided on that question. I would love to end Florida's streak, because it would mean more nationally. But Tennessee is a traditional rival, and I use the word, "rival," advisedly. It's hard to call a 24-year domination a "rivalry" in any meaningful sense, but there was a time when the Tennessee-Kentucky game actually meant something, and to a significant number of Kentucky football fans, it still does. We would very much like to take down the Volunteers, and doing it with the new Mouth of the South in charge would be cause for some serious, if probably undeserved, schadenfreude.
And then there is South Carolina. For me, personally, this is the one I would like to see stopped. South Carolina has found innumerable ways to escape defeat by Kentucky since Steve Spurrier came there, and they are the team that UK is closest to (but still behind) in overall team talent. In reality, if UK is ever to become a consistent and respected mid-pack performer in the SEC, it must be able to compete with South Carolina, Tennessee and Auburn. Right now, Florida, Georgia, LSU and Alabama are recruiting at levels that UK will have a tough time competing with, but even though UK's recruiting is inferior to almost all of the above, we are closer than at the top-tier schools. So I find the South Carolina game particularly important every year, because they are really the "hoop" we have to jump through on a consistent basis before we can realistically consider ourselves relevant in the East.
Any corrections/disagreements on what we've said here at Team Speed Kills over the last week?
I even agree with you that playing Eastern Kentucky (FCS) that late in the season would normally be embarrassing, but given how we have to play so many games in a row without a bye week, I can absolutely forgive it this year. It's the closest thing we have to a break in 11 straight games.