We asked a few questions of Truzenzuzex at SB Nation's Kentucky blog A Sea of Blue, which might actually start paying attention to football some time soon. The answers:
How does the Kentucky fan base feel about Joker Phillips? How does his challenge compare to the challenge Brooks faced?
Most Kentucky fans are glad the whole "coach in waiting" thing is behind them, and are happy to give Joker the reigns. There is a fairly significant and not particularly vocal minority (yet) that think Kentucky should not have named Phillips head coach and should have gone after some unknown big-name coach like Steve Spurrier or anybody-other-than-Phillips. This is due to some fans' perception that all you have to do in football is buy a name and you become a contender, so why not try it?
There is no comparison to the challenges Phillips faces compared to what Brooks faced. When Brooks took over, the program was decimated by the NCAA wreckage left over from Hal Mumme's time in Kentucky, and some players were seeing their third head coach after the short stint with Guy Morriss on the sidelines. The team's morale was low and Brooks famously said there was only one player on the whole team who could run a sub 4.5 second forty yard dash when he took over the team.
Phillips takes over a team with substantially more talent, both athletic and football, than Brooks had in all but his most recent years as coach. Consequently, the expectations for Phillips are higher than for Brooks in his first season by a significant amount, even though Kentucky suffered a number of critical losses from last year's team.
Which of the streaks is Kentucky most likely to break this year?
Hard to say. Tennessee looks vulnerable, so that's a possibility. Florida will still be good, but Tim Tebow had a unique penchant for killing Kentucky, and now that his era is over, I think a UK upset of the Gators is not out of the question. Of course, South Carolina has a long streak against UK as well, and that one is also possible.
In the order of decreasing probability I would say Tennessee, South Carolina, Florida. I give UK about a 50% chance to break any one of those.
Hartline will likely be the starter, regardless of my wishes. Newton still has mechanical problems causing him to throw too many wobbly, inaccurate passes, and Hartline's experience is a major plus for him. He seems to be throwing downfield better now that the receivers are more experienced. I think people forget that how good your receivers are is at least as important to the passing game is how well your quarterback throws it, and our receiving corps has not been very good for the last two years.
I trust the coaching staff to put the right guy on the field, and Phillips is letting all three men, Morgan Newton, Mike Hartline, and Ryan Mossakowski compete for the job. Hartline is clearly the best among them at the moment, like it or not, but both the other guys are far more talented at the position. The question is, can they become effective enough to displace Hartline? And to be fair to Hartline, he is a tough hombre, very competitive -- he will not yield the position easily, somebody's going to have to take it from him. I would say the odds are against that, particularly early in the season.
Any worries about some of the losses on the defensive side of the ball?
Definitely. Or D-line is going to be thinner and less experienced, and although our linebacking corps passes the look test, you don't lose guys like Micah Johnson and Sam Maxwell and plug in replacements. Trevard Lindley will also be missed, and the defensive secondary is young, but starting from a better spot than when Lindley was a sophomore.
This year's defensive squad will have to mature fast if UK is to be successful. They do have the pieces with DeQuin Evans, Ricky Lumpkin, Winston Guy, Danny Travathan and Randall Burden returning, but there will be a lot of new players in positions occupied last year by guys now playing in the pros.
How much fan support did football gain in Brooks' tenure, and could it fall off with the basketball team returning to glory and football seeming to plateau?
Quite a lot, actually. Surprisingly, football support at UK has always been good, even if the passion for the game is nothing like it is at Florida, Georgia or Alabama. But the recent success of the football team has created a new, loyal following that is ready to continue under Joker Phillips stewardship, and if Phillips can get the offense cranked up a bit, we could see the UK football fan base continue to grow.
In a development that is both encouraging and discouraging at the same time, Kentucky fans are becoming very aware of the football program and starting to demand more and more success, sometimes a little past the point of reason. But that's probably more good than bad.
With all that said, you have to think that there is a point at which the enthusiasm for UK football will begin to plateau. UK is a basketball school and no mistake, so I think it very unlikely we will ever see the 90,000 strong (or even 50,000) masses for the spring game like we do at Alabama and Tennessee. Still, the fans of UK football are definitely engaged like no time in my memory, and that is a good development for the program.
Thanks to Tru, and be sure to visit A Sea of Blue during the season for Kentucky news and analysis.