One era ends, another begins as Joker Phillips takes over for the departed Rich Brooks at Kentucky. The Wildcats are hoping to extend the longest bowl streak in school history to five.
Will UK get to another bowl game? Who will start at QB? Will Kentucky finally defeat Tennessee after 24 straight losses?
To get a better look at how this season could play out, I contacted Bleed Blue Kentucky for their insight.
Q: What has Phillips done to put his stamp on the UK program after working under Rich Brooks for so many years?
A: Recruiting! Recruiting! Recruiting! Joker Phillips immediately latched on to the UK basketball program and their brand. He wanted to connect the football program to the hottest brand in all of college sports for 2009-10. He knew it would create more visibility.
He also hired Tee Martin, David Turner, Mike Summers and Greg Nord as assistants on his new staff. Joker Phillips expects each of his assistant coaches to recruit. In his mind, recruiting is priority number one.
Of the four assistants hired, three have been recruiting coordinators at some point during their careers.
Q: The offenses numbers declined in 2009 from 2008. Does this bring pause to Wildcat enthusiasm for Phillips?
A: Not at all. UK fans understand what Joker Phillips is capable of doing offensively with the proper personnel. Considering UK's receivers and quarterbacks are more mature, most are expecting the Cats to average 35-40 points per game in 2010.
Q: Who is the favorite in the QB battle?
A: It appears the QB battle is split in the Commonwealth. I believe you could make an argument for all three quarterbacks to start. However, I feel Mike Hartline will be under center against Louisville. He simply has more experience and understands the offense better than the two underclassmen.
Morgan Newton has a huge ceiling, but forces too many throws which could lead to turnovers. Ryan Mossakowski needs a little more seasoning, but has been impressive as a redshirt freshman.
Q: Am I crazy or is Randall Cobb maybe Kentucky's best option at QB?
A: No, I don't think your crazy. Many UK fans have often wondered how the offense would run with Cobb under center. Randall Cobb serves this team the best when he is able to line up in the slot position. However, if the offense becomes stagnate, look for Cobb to run the "wildcat" package.
My only problem with the "wildcat" is it completely gasses Cobb and he takes a pounding. I think to keep defenses more honest in 2010, the Cats need to allow Cobb to throw the ball a few times while in the package.
Q: The Wildcats must replace two 2nd team All SEC players on the offensive
line. Is this unit the biggest question on the offense?
A: In my mind the offensive line is the biggest question mark for the offense. UK lost four seniors and from what I've been told, the unit is not protecting the quarterback. The development of the offensive line could also have an impact on the starting quarterback.
The offense really needs someone to step up at tight end and make plays. The staff has recruited some very talented freshmen, but they aren't quite ready yet. Tight Ends in the SEC must be able to block as well as catch the ball.
Q: Who can step up on the defensive line and fill the void left by Corey Peters?
A: Most felt Mister Cobble would replace Corey Peters, however he was ruled ineligible.
Mark Crawford and Shane McCord appears to be the guys competing for the starting job. Freshman Donte Rumph has the ability, but must get into to football shape as he was a late qualifier who didn't play last year.
Also, Brice Laughlin and Elliott Porter could see action as true freshmen.
Q: Can the secondary carry this defense?
A: The secondary will be the strength of the defense in 2010. The team needs Randall Burden to become a "lock-down" corner similar to Trevard Lindley. The staff feels Burden has the ability. Joker Phillips is putting a lot of pressure on Winston Guy to have a break-out season. Guy
has the look of an NFL safety, but hasn't fully produced yet.
Juco transfer Mychal Bailey is another name to watch for this spring. Bailey has the speed to return kick offs, but hits like a linebacker.
Q: Why do you think Kentucky has not been able to break through against Tennessee? Is this the year with a rebuilding Vols squad?
A: I've often said, I won't pick Kentucky to win this game until they finally do. However, it sure sets up nicely for the Cats as the Vols appear to be vulnerable.
This game is hard to predict as it's the last game of the season and it's on the road. I think Tennessee will have things figured out when they play the Cats, so it's too hard to predict.
Also, injuries could play a huge role in this game. If this game was played at the beginning of the year, I would be more optimistic for UK pulling out the win.
Q: Who are some of the freshman that are likely to contribute?
A: Jerrell Preister is a cornerback who is one of the fastest players on the team. Look for him to contribute on special teams and see action at cornerback. There is also a slim chance Preister could line up in the "wildcat" formation.
Raymond Sanders has impressed his teammates and staff since he arrived on campus. He is a small framed running back who reminds many of [Pitt's] Dion Lewis. Sanders can catch the ball out of the backfield and run people over.
Avery Williamson and Qua Huzzie are both linebackers who will be hard to keep of the field this year. Huzzie was injured last season and had to redshirt. He is competing for the starting middle linebacker spot and Williamson is a true freshman who is turning heads during camp. I mentioned Donte Rumph's name above and he should provide valuable depth for the defensive line.
Many people feel Elliott Porter, who signed with LSU, will play this fall for UK. Porter enrolled at LSU this summer and was asked to greyshirt as the Tigers were over committed on scholarships. He could add depth to the defensive line.
Q: Describe a successful season. Describe a disappointing one
A: In my opinion, the Cats need to make it their fifth straight bowl game in as many years. The program can't afford to take one step backwards. I believe the season sets up nicely for UK.
Most experts are picking the Cats to win seven or eight games. However, the team is a couple of
injuries away from disaster in my opinion.
Q: What is your prediction for this season?
A: I could see the Cats winning as many as nine games, but I think seven is a realistic number. The Cats play in the SEC and have too many defensive question marks to win more. I'm confident the Cats will win all four of their non conference games and defeat Vanderbilt.
In my opinion the season for UK hinges on the three game home stretch against Auburn, South
Carolina and Georgia. Last year the Cats won two of three on the road. All three will be very tough games in 2010.
My Take on Kentucky...
I am very interested to see how Phillips does as a head coach. A few years ago he was a very hot name in coaching circles interviewing for head jobs at Georgia Tech and other BCS schools.
I personally think Cobb is the best QB on Kentucky's roster. He does not have great arm or great speed. He just makes plays. But he is just a band aid on the position instead of developing a true signal caller.
They have to get better defensively after ranking 8th in the SEC total defense and last in rush defense if they want to move up in the East. That will be very difficult though after losing their best players DT Corey Peters and CB Trevard Lindley.
Kentucky catches somewhat of a break getting Ole Miss on this year's schedule out of the West and they get Auburn at home whom they beat last season (UK plays Miss State every year).
Ultimately, I see Kentucky winning their four non-conference games, but struggling in the SEC. And like Bleed Blue Kentucky, I am not picking them to beat Tennessee 'til they actually do.
6-6, 5th SEC East
Thanks again to Bleed Blue Kentucky for their insight
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