Kentucky Begins a New Era In Feeling // SEC 2011

Last year was the first year of the Joker Phillips at Kentucky. Honestly though, it didn't feel like much had changed.

And really, wasn't that kind of the point? The main rationale behind naming a head coach in waiting is to ensure continuity within a program. By anointing Phillips as the successor to Rich Brooks, the idea was that he could continue what Brooks had started.

Not only was that factor in play, but the most visible players on the team were still the same. Mike Hartline finished out his approximately seven-year career at UK. Randall Cobb was still around to give the offense a legitimate all-around dangerous player, and Derrick Locke was carrying the load on the ground. Micah Johnson was really the only guy who felt missing. Kentucky had a new boss at the top, but on the field, everything felt the same.

So while UK got another year of six wins and a bowl bid, continuity wasn't necessarily a good thing across the board. The Wildcats couldn't find their way out of the bottom fourth of the conference in many defensive categories. They beat only two bowl teams, one of them (South Carolina) in a classic let down game, didn't break their losing streak against Tennessee, and actually found a way to make Steve Addazio's offense look good.

In any event, this feels like the real turning over of a new leaf despite it being Phillips' second year at the helm. The team has a few advantages, such as its superb offensive line and defensive secondary. In addition, first team all-SEC LB Danny Trevathan will anchor the D, which must find a way to generate some kind of push up front.

On Phillips' side of the ball, it's Morgan Newton's time under center. He has performed well enough in limited duty, but he's yet to fulfill his athletic potential. Raymond Sanders will be the primary tailback after he overtook last year's backup Donald Russell (now transferred) for the job of being the second option to Locke. I wish luck to those attempting to replace last year's pass catchers, as UK saw three of its top four targets move on in Cobb, Chris Matthews, and Locke.

Aside from a tough stretch early, Kentucky's schedule is manageable. Despite the personnel losses, this era will likely begin the way the last one ended: by getting just enough wins to go to a postseason contest. At least in the Bluegrass State, there might be nothing new under the sun after all.

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