As we draw closer to this year’s football version of the Battle of the Bluegrass, our friends out in Las Vegas grow fonder of coach Charlie Strong and his Louisville Cardinals.
Then again, maybe Las Vegas knows something the rest of us who have been locked out of the UK practice sessions don’t know.
Let me be perfectly clear as I start this week’s column, I have never been a proponent of gambling nor will I be, but if you’ve lived and breathed a life in sports (especially UK and college sports in general) like I have, then you have had no choice but to delve into and follow at a distance the betting line angle of football and basketball on the college level. It never ceases to amaze me how close the final margin in games end on a fairly consistent basis to the line that was set from our friends out in Las Vegas.
With that being said, I’ve kept a keen eye on the UK/U of L game as Las Vegas sees it since early June when most casinos begin posting lines. In early June, most lines were fairly consistent coming out of Vegas with a 10-point spread in favor of the Cards, give or take a point either way. Last weekend I checked for the first time since most college football teams started preseason fall camp about 10 to 12 days ago and found that our friends in Vegas are evidently sold on the fact that UK will not be better than last year, especially offensively.
Either that or they feel Louisville is on their way to being the Boise State of the east.
The Cards, who have been the betting line favorites from the get go, had jumped in almost all casinos and online betting agencies by a whopping four and a half points to a 14 and a half point favorite, and this without either team having played a down this season. For a line to move that much and still be basically two weeks away from the game is somewhat surprising to me, but I’m sure a big reason of that is some big money has been laid down in the past two weeks with the so-called inside source that many people in Vegas purport to have.
What does all this mean? Absolutely nothing.
It has been documented and proven time and again that your biggest inconsistencies in betting lines, which usually result in upsets (and many should not even be considered upsets) happen in the first two to three weeks of the season because no one, not even the players and coaches, know the strengths and weaknesses of their own team until they’ve been in battle tested situations for a few Saturdays. Every year teams take on their own identity simply because each college football program loses at least 12 to 15 impact players from their two deep depth chart who move on for various reasons, and they in turn bring up the same number from the freshman and underclass ranks to replace them, not to mention the impact that some true freshman have in some cases.
No team stays the same, even after they’ve played a few games, as the old saying goes, and it’s a time honored cliché but every football coach in America uses it.
Every day during the off season, and especially once practice starts, you get better or you get worse. No team or player stays the same every day.
Here’s hoping the Cats have improved.
UK special teams must improve
Any college football coach will tell you that after each season is over you can look back and count at least one game that was won or lost because of special teams play, and usually another two or three that had a huge impact in the all-important momentum department due to special teams play. Think Florida and blocked punts over the years, the punting game alone has cost UK some close as well as brutal losses in recent years.
Word coming out of fall camp (and this is coming from Greg Nord who is in charge of UK special teams) is encouraging. After a recent UK workout Nord said, “Demarco Robinson is our No. 1 punt return man on the depth chart, and I’ll be shocked if he’s not a very pleasant surprise come game day.”
Robinson came to UK in 2011 from the fertile recruiting grounds of Georgia with many accolades but a not-yet-ready body or experience level for SEC play. It showed early in the 2011 season, but the coaching staff decided to stick with him and let him go through the growing pains along with the other trials and tribulations that most SEC freshman have to go through.
It appears that philosophy has paid off and Robinson is developing into the player the coaching staff had predicted as a WR and return specialist.
Other young guns are expected to be brought on the scene as well. Look for redshirt freshman Darryl Collins of Alabama fame and true freshman Demarcus Sweat to open some eyes when their opportunities come in both the kickoff and punt return teams. All three have showed the ability to produce exceptional speed and athleticism in their respective states on the high school level.
Kick off & punting teams
The kick off duties, it appears, will be handled by Joe Mansour again, and that was one special teams department that was pretty consistent with Mansour putting a large majority of his kick offs into the end zone. Craig McIntosh returns for his senior year to handle the field goal and extra point duties, where he was pretty consistent for the few opportunities he was provided in 2011.
Newcomer Landon Foster from Tennessee has been reported to have won the punting duties as a true freshman with his talented right foot booming 50 yard spirals on a consistent basis in preseason camp. Foster is another freshman that comes with this year’s incoming class that may have gone under the radar on the much maligned recruiting service trail, or at least as overlooked as a punter can be.
Quite possibly the most important impact UK will have in special teams play this year is the overall speed and athleticism that the coaching staff feels many of their last two years’ recruiting efforts will bring to the table with the ability to cover the entire field and make open field tackles where they have failed miserably the last two years.
Next week we’ll break down the UK offensive backfield positions and give our take on the upcoming UK/U of L Governor’s Cup battle.
Coach Cal getting ready for fall and early winter hoop events
Make no mistake, I’m in full blown football mode, but as we all know we’re never out of contact with basketball in this state. Coach Cal won’t let that happen.
Last week, Coach Cal, as he’s been so prone to these days, used his Twitter account to announce a few hoop related events for BBN.
The biggest and I’m sure the most appealing was that he is organizing a special DH treat for the Commonwealth sports fan on Sept. 15 when he will host a special UK Wildcat NBA blue/white exhibition game in Rupp Arena at 2 p.m. before we all move over to Commonwealth Stadium that evening for the Cats vs. WKU football game at 7. This special exhibition game will showcase as many of last year’s former 23 UK players that played for various NBA teams. Cal hopes to pit the recent UK players who are still involved in their NBA careers against either the 96 or 98 UK NCAA championship teams.
Final details on the game as well as ticket opportunities are to be released in the next week or as early as possible.
Coach Cal also announced his Women’s Clinic dates as well as his high school coaching clinic which we will talk more about in the coming weeks. If you can’t wait then go online to www.coachcal.com or www.ukathletics.com and pull up the clinic link.