by Ira D. Combs — Tri State Sports Media
As we draw closer to the annual UK football media days, when Mark Stoops will step up to the podium for the first time in the Wildcat Den, let’s see if we can predict what the top five storylines will be for him to attack the first weekend of August when the helmets are strapped on for the first time.
After all, one of the newly released UK football posters reads “ATTACK ON EVERY PLAY,” and the early read on Neal Brown’s new offense is that the Cats will do just that.
Listed below are five storylines we think Stoops and his coaching staff will be trying to solve in fall camp to get game ready for the opener with WKU on Aug. 31.
# 1 — Polishing off new offensive and defensive schemes for 2013. If this team is to win a larger number of games than most are predicting, it must pick up the new Air Raid offense quickly, because any and all wins this year will be directly related to the UK offense outscoring opponents. Defensively, it must show it’s getting better as the year draws on and once and for all show some type of pressure on opposing QB’s.
# 2 — Starting QB. According to sources close to us who have witnessed several summer 7-on-7 sessions, it appears Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow are separating themselves from Patrick Towles. The bottom line is with the history at this position being what it is, there will be a serious need for at least two quality and dependable play callers. I don’t think Stoops and Brown will take long to announce who the winner is. It says here Maxwell Smith will start out, but fate may decide who finishes in November.
# 3 — Getting team in proper mindset confidence-wise. It was encouraging when over 50,000 fans showed up for the spring game, because the same fan base sent a serious message with their confidence in last year’s players and coaches at the Vanderbilt game in late November of 2012 when only approximately 15,000 to 18,000 showed up. New recruiting success has sparked some new confidence from the fans, but Stoops and staff still have some serious psychology sessions ahead of them to get this team thinking they can win thru overachieving in 2013. This team was really beat down mentally and physically by season’s end last year.
# 4 — Develop young talent on depth chart at WR to be game ready ASAP. If this team is to make an upgrade offensively from the last two years, it must start with some incoming WR recruits getting game ready in a hurry. Look for the names of Ryan Timmons, Jeff Badet, and Alex Montgomery to get touches beginning Aug. 31, and incoming JC recruit Javess Blue as well.
# 5 — Get players to understand that even though WKU won last year, it’s still their Super Bowl. While you would think UK would enjoy the revenge factor in mind set in this particular game with WKU, somebody at UK needs to step up to the table in the preparation department and make sure the UK players understand what Hal Mumme used to preach about another in-state foe: WKU now, just like Louisville did in years gone by, lives for the day to beat UK, and they have a new mentor in Bobby Petrino who is very astute in preparing them with that mindset.
Coach Stoops Slowly Changing My Thoughts On 2013
For much of the past few months I’ve been taking a different road in my opinions than others of the upcoming UK football season. But after watching coach Stoops at last week’s SEC media days, and his appearance on the Car Wash Series of the ESPN affiliates, he is, shall we say, tempering my enthusiasm to the point I’m seriously considering altering my opinion to a degree before the season starts.
Here is a few of his thoughts and comments from last week that has me wiggling a little on my recent brave comments towards the upcoming 2013 team:
Stoops mentioned to the press corps that his last impression of his team was when he shut down spring practice with the annual Blue-White game. Stoops said, “The fact is we’ve got a long way to go. I’m very excited and optimistic for the future, but how good we’ll be in 2013 I don’t know.”
“I know when I left spring practice we didn’t have a very good football team,” Stoops remarked in his closing comments. “We’re working around the clock to develop the players we have in this program to make them better, we’re working relentlessly to get it done.”
Maybe I’m just an old retired foolish high school basketball coach that thinks he knows a little football but in reality doesn’t, or maybe we’re witnessing a smooth college football coach setting himself up for nothing but good vibes in his first year. In the old days they called it sand bagging, but it appears pointless to sand bag when you’re taking a team over that went 2-10 last year.
I’ll say it one more time: There were many extremely young but reasonably talented football players who were thrown to the wolves last year at UK which produced that ugly 2-10 record. At the end of the day it got Joker Phillips fired, however, the trials and tribulations of 2012 may produce some unforeseen wins for Mark Stoops. We’ll see come this fall.
Almost everyone is in agreement that Miami of Ohio and Alabama State are wins, and most fans and media alike think WKU is as well, although some are still holding onto the thought that last year’s WKU upset wasn’t a fool’s gold type of win with the four fluke WKU picks. The big question is if this team is to post more than the predicted three wins, where are they going to steal some W’s from on the schedule.
My guess is you can start by tracking the early season success of SEC opponents Missouri and Tennessee for starters since they are both home games, and as we all do every year pencil in a shot of upsetting SEC lower dwellers Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. Yes, I said the Dores. They’re going to have to sustain the success of last year for a couple more years before I upgrade them.
As for a major upset in 2013, I’m still leaning toward Sept. 14 in Commonwealth Stadium. If the Cats open up reasonably strong with wins over WKU and Miami of Ohio, you can bank on Commonwealth Stadium being electric that night and history shows the underdog role in this series has been a major plus.
Only time will tell how it all plays out, but My God isn’t it great to be talking in positive terms about UK football again?