Ira D. Combs — Tri State Sports Media
October 21, 2013
Hang on folks; this is the last week we have to deal with having no UK basketball-related activities. Next week we go full bore basketball with the annual Blue-White charity scrimmage and the first exhibition game against Transylvania on Nov. 1.
Now, quickly back to football.
Forget the fact that UK is 1-5 and Mississippi State is a disappointing 3-3, and neither has won an SEC game. Mark Stoops and Dan Mullen will take prime time national TV whenever they can get it to showcase their football programs to college football fans and high school recruits.
However, with both teams being winless in conference play and neither having an overall winning record, I’m betting Mike Slive and his staff down in Birmingham wish they would have selected two other teams to feature on ESPN this Thursday night. But in my eyes it doesn’t hurt the conference’s image to show a little love to the lower tier teams. We all know they’ve both taken their lumps from the Super Six over the years and earned this right to play a nationally televised game against comparable talent.
Hopefully, a little bit of history will be relived for the Cats this week.
Rich Brooks stated late in his career that he was expecting to be fired from his job at UK the Monday before he was to take his Wildcats to Mississippi State in 2006, because the Saturday night before LSU had whitewashed UK 40-0. Much to Brooks’ surprise, Mitch Barnhart didn’t throw the towel in on him and the Cats went on to Starkville and played a gritty game for their coach and saved his job, gaining some confidence which propelled some momentum into the UK camp. They then went on a special four-year run of winning seasons and three bowl wins before Rich Brooks retired on his terms and drifted off into the western sunset to his Oregon hideaway.
This week, Stoops is in somewhat of a similar situation, though his job security is not in question. His team is coming off a beat down to Alabama as they head south to Starkville, but of much more concern to Stoops is the fact he has several key players nursing injuries that may keep them from playing or at the least alter the number of plays in which they can contribute. Defensively, Bud Dupree is still hurting from a pectoral muscle problem that held him out of the Alabama game, and offensively Raymond Sanders and Demarco Robinson both were held out of practice during the open week. It wasn’t definite at this writing if or how much each would play against Mississippi State, though over the weekend encouraging news was starting to slip on both Sanders and Robinson.
The big question was how QB Jalen Whitlow was recovering from his high ankle sprain. Unless a small miracle unfolds this week in the medical profession, expect Whitlow to remain on the sidelines for this Thursday night’s game and probably the Alabama State game as well.
It will take a special effort for the Cats to pull out a win in Starkville, but it can be done and the record book shows it has. Actually, if this scenario had to happen, it happened at the right time because with the open date it gives Neal Brown 12 days to plan and tweak his offense to Maxwell Smith’s talents at QB. Don’t be surprised if Las Vegas makes the Bulldogs a 9- to 11- point favorite over the Cats, but that’s taking into consideration the history of UK football on the road.
I think we are looking at a different breed of Wildcats with Stoops at the helm, and the South Carolina game revealed a little bit of a new Wildcat evolving when they play on the road, especially at places like Starkville, Nashville, and Oxford where UK already has shown a little tinge of success to hang its hat on.
Last Saturday was a real eye opener for the SEC with multiple upsets listed anywhere from minor to major, but the only fly in the ointment for the Cats when considering their possibilities at pulling one off Thursday is that last Saturday’s plethora of upsets were all pulled off by the home team, and the Cats are in Starkville this Thursday night. Anyway, it will be interesting to see if the Cats follow the South Carolina road effort with another competitive road game, or if they revert back to their old ways and fold early, then limp to another embarrassing loss.
Approximately 10 days to UK basketball, but never too early to make postseason plans
I know it’s still a few days away from even the two exhibition games against Transylvania and Montevallo State, or College or whatever they are, but it’s never too early to make reservations and travel plans for post season play if you’re a card carrying member of Big Blue Nation. So, I’m here to assist in those plans. Of course, we all expect this team to play itself into at least a No. 2 seed and hopefully a No. 1 seed.
If that prediction comes true, expect the Cats to be placed in a first round site at either the PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., or the Scot Trade Center in St. Louis on a Friday/Sunday set-up, because the SEC tourney ends on a Sunday. The next closest site to Lexington for the first weekend round of games is at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, which is a Thursday/Saturday set-up. All other first round sites are at least six to eight states away with a minimum driving distance of at least 20 hours, and three of the eight first round sites are out west this year.
I’m thinking the Raleigh, N.C., site is already reserved by our friends on the selection committee for Duke and/or North Carolina, which means Big Blue Nation can expect to pack your bags for either St. Louis or Orlando. Two of the regional sites of competition are much more convenient with Indianapolis hosting the Midwest and Memphis hosting the South. The other two regional sites are in New York City and Anaheim, California.
The NCAA Final Four is being held in the new state-of-the-art Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Irving, Texas, just outside Dallas.