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UK fans have many blessings this holiday season

Ira D. Combs — Tri State Sports Media

November 25, 2013

Too many days go by each year that we all fail to give thanks as we rise each day for the many blessings that we have in life, and especially us who are fortunate enough to enjoy the sports world either as fans, journalists, players, or coaches, and oh yes, let’s not forget the referees. So, as I begin this week’s column on UK and SEC sports, let’s all pause and give thanks for our blessings as UK leaves the fall sports season and enters the winter season.


This is the time of year we as Kentuckians look forward to most anyway, and it appears we’re in for another special treat with Coach Cal’s Cats and the women’s hoops team of Matthew Mitchell.


Cats vs. Vols for basement bowl


It’s been a long and disappointing (and now you can add embarrassing) inaugural season for Mark Stoops and his new regime that has taken over the reins of Kentucky football.


Right now, UK sits exactly where it was last year at this time under the embattled Joker Phillips at 2-9. Once again, UK is fighting to keep out of the SEC east cellar with our brothers down on Rocky Top, where Ole Smokey has been chewed up and spit out this fall almost as much as Scratch has.


Long time SEC doormat Vanderbilt has jumped ahead of both UK and UT in the past two years, going a combined 4-0 against the Cats and Vols. Yes, I said Vanderbilt.


But this year’s basement brawl is different than the last few years in that both UK and UT are under new leadership and both expect to make great strides in several areas over the next few months before the 2014 season kicks off. Both UK and UT have lined up recruiting classes to be signed this coming February that are each school’s best ever. Both schools are in the early stages of facility upgrades that are expected to make a big impression on recruits and season ticket holders. UK is actually sinking over $100 million into football facility upgrades and renovations that will completely change the game day experience for the fan base and also change those official recruiting visit scenarios. Kentucky athletic officials are actually having a press conference type party and also inviting a few special friends of the football program to cut the ribbon on the ground breaking this Monday to kick the week off.


But both programs well know that nothing can put the past season in the background faster and jumpstart each teams’ new enthusiasm for 2014 like a win this Saturday night in front of the ESPNU cameras. Obviously, only one team can win so somebody is headed into the winter off season with a little bit of pep in their step and somebody is going to limp, but make no mistake, both programs have many problems to correct in various different areas no matter who wins this Saturday.


But I must remind everyone that time can change things in college football just as in life. Can anybody honestly tell me they could predict Vandy beating Georgia and Florida in the same year, and Florida having a losing season capped off by being beaten by Georgia Southern just months after coming short of seriously challenging for a BCS championship?


We just entered a new era of UK football four months ago, so give Stoops a little time, and a new quarterback wouldn’t hurt matters either.


Coach Cal fine-tuning Cats this week for major battles next week


This week ends the mini two-week, four-game Bill Keightley Classic with Cleveland State on Monday and Eastern Michigan on Wednesday. On the horizon are back-to-back neutral site showdowns with Baylor in the Jerry Jones sports palace down in Dallas, and then five days later with Providence College of the new Big East in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center.


But first thing’s first. Cal has in his own words dug his heels in again as in previous years with this young group of talented hoopsters and is trying to change some old high school and AAU habits that in his mind are holding this team back from championship level play. It will take time, but that is something you don’t have this day and age with the one-and-done era of NBA wannabes.


This week’s two games and some extra practice time during the extended Thanksgiving break will offer some precious time to work with this team on these areas of concern. But this group better pick up quickly on Cal’s lectures because next week Baylor and Providence are just the type teams that can send this team in an early season tail spin before they ever get to North Carolina and Louisville in mid and late December.


Good news is that it seems some extra free throw shooting over at the Joe Craft Center since the Michigan State loss has paid off in recent games for the entire team, and it appears defensive conversion lapses have been rectified as well. Isn’t it amazing what a few extra wind sprints and some early morning 6 a.m. workouts can do for our youth this day and age?


Annual NCAA football coaching carousel about to begin


Who’s leaving the bluegrass for greener pastures first, Charlie Strong or Bobby Petrino?


We all know it’s going to happen, we just can’t predict when it will or where the greener pastures will be for each coach.


In some college football circles it’s rumored Charlie Strong won’t leave Louisville now that they are just months away from entering the new and much more football friendly ACC. But then again, if Teddy football leaps to the NFL, that might be the best time to exit River City because trading licks with the likes of Florida State, Clemson, Va. Tech, Miami, Ga. Tech, and oh yes, the new Duke might not be so appealing without a veteran and highly skilled QB.


Bobby Petrino had a little bump in the road at mid-season down at WKU losing back-to-back games, but it appears he has the Hilltoppers back on course toward another minor bowl bid by the end of November. Oh yes, all those old ugly departures he had at a couple of his last stops, well, that’s all in the past now and several tradition-rich football schools need a new ray of hope and a bright offensive football mind to fill those empty seats and satisfy that thirst that all those deep pocketed donors have for winning.


Just think if ole Bobby just hadn’t taken that little motorcycle ride into the Arkansas back roads, well, the options he would have today at say a Texas or a Florida would be mind-boggling. But I’m betting there is a big-time NCAA president and A.D. willing to take another chance on Bobby P. having put his wild side behind him.


James Franklin, Kirby Smart, and many more will also eventually take that leap of faith and tackle a new job.