All posts by warrentaylor

Of Beatdowns and Blown Chances: Why Saturday’s Game Means So Much for UK

Tens of thousands of scarlet and black clad South Carolina fans unwillingly were treated to a rare sight on Saturday night, the Kentucky Wildcats in the victory formation on the road.

One quick knee by Patrick Towles ended a 22 road game losing streak that stretched all the way back the days of when Randall Cobb was still wearing the blue and white.

The post locker room celebration and the sheer joy expressed by the Big Blue Nation on social media showed just how much ending the streak meant to the team and the fan base combined.

This week the Wildcats have a chance to end another streak, a 28 year winless drought against the Florida Gators.

Kentucky’s struggles against the Gators are very well documented.

Over the last three decades Florida has either beaten Kentucky mercilessly or won in ways that have shattered the collective hearts of Cats fans everywhere.

During the dark days of the Billy Curry era Steve Spurrier regularly ran up the score on hapless Kentucky teams, including a memorable 65-0 drubbing in 1996. In fact, the Gators beat Kentucky by at least two touchdowns in all games but one during the 1990s.

Even worse are the numerous blown chances to beat the Gators during the next two decades. The memories are a verifiable hall of pain. Jared Lorenzen’s ill-advised throw into double coverage in 2003. The 2007 team’s inability to stop Tim Tebow and last season’s blown delay of game call.

Symbolically, the game against the Gators is the annual reminder that Kentucky has a long way to go to be able to compete in the SEC.

The attitude of many Florida fans towards Kentucky is largely symbolic as well. They could care less about the Kentucky game and think it is an automatic win, just like most of the conference does.

A victory over Florida Saturday would mean so much to the fans and the program.

For the Big Blue Nation, a win would exorcise the demons of so many close calls and taunts from arrogant Gator fans.

For the players this game is a chance to right a wrong and win a game that was taken from them by bad officiating.

For Mark Stoops and his staff this game has the potential to add another notch to their growing reputation within Wildcat lore.

For the program as a whole the game is a chance to make a statement to the rest of the conference that the “old” Kentucky is dead and the program is worthy of respect instead of indifference or pity.

Its sufficient to say that beating the Gators on Saturday would be one of the top five win in program history and the signature victory of Mark Stoops tenure.

A loss would not be devastating to Kentucky’s season but it would be a missed opportunity to remove the last shred of doubt in the back of many fan’s minds that UK football can be a winner.

The stage is set for a rowdy scene at Commonwealth Stadium Saturday night. Now the vast sea of blue across the state must wait and see if the broken record will finally stop playing.

Warts and All: The Promise and Problems of the Kentucky Wildcats

The crowd that exited Commonwealth Stadium after Kentucky’s narrow victory over Louisiana-Lafayette last Saturday was far from jubilant.

Murmurs about the “same old team” abounded in the clogged stairwells leading to the exits.

There was a lot of truth to the grumbling of the Big Blue Nation. At times, especially in the 2nd half, the Wildcats looked like the team that went on a five game losing streak to end the season.

On defense Kentucky struggled to stop the Ragin Cajun’s explosive ground attack and yielded over 250 rushing yards. Missed tackles on the periphery of the defense were the primary culprit in aiding and abetting Louisiana-Lafayette’s bloated statistic.

Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles appeared to be the same player that wilted during last season’s free fall. He struggled with accuracy and confidence and as a result the offense sputtered in the 3rd and 4th quarters while the visitors rallied.

But, at times the Wildcats shined brightly under the home lights.

In the 1st half Kentucky put together two scoring drives of over 90 yards and completely carved up the opposing secondary on long pass plays.

Budding superstar Stanley “Boom” Williams scored UK’s first touchdown in the “new” stadium via an electrifying 76 yard sprint.

The defense somewhat atoned by forcing four timely turnovers and stone walling ULL on the last two drives of the night.

On the game winning drive the Kentucky offense dug down deep and took the fight to the Ragin’ Cajun defense. Mikel Horton’s punishing, game winning touchdown run added an exclamation point to the grit displayed by the unit during their final stand.

So, was this the “same old team” from last season? Yes and no.

What Kentucky fans saw last week was the true state of their football team, warts and all.

Last season’s fast start was the result of an easy schedule that carefully masked the team’s flaws.

With a much more difficult early season schedule Kentucky is not going to look like world beaters.

Instead, they will look like a team that is playing a plethora of freshmen and is still looking to replace the soul of last year’s defense. They will also look like a team that can contend with the best in the SEC thanks to an offense that has the ability to put up points in a hurry.

The important thing for Kentucky fans to remember is that this team is still undergoing growing pains. They may not met pre-season expectations right away nor are they the bottom feeders of years past.

And, like anything trying to find its identity, the team will need support, especially with Florida and Missouri coming to Lexington in back to back weeks.

The last few minutes of the season opener demonstrated that Kentucky does have a lot of fight in it and the team motioned for the crowd to make noise at key points during the game. That proves this is a team with a lot heart and is one worth rooting for.

When Florida comes to town in two weeks don’t sit around and grumble when times get tough. Stand up and support these Cats, in good times and bad.w

Guarded Optimism: A Look at What Could Derail Kentucky’s Season

Lexington is buzzing about Saturday. Specifically about a football game on Saturday. Let that sink in for a moment. Basketball mad Kentucky is looking forward to a contest on the gridiron instead of on the hardwood.

There is good reason for the excitement.

Saturday marks the opening of the new and improved Commonwealth Stadium. Long considered the ugly stepsister of SEC stadiums, a multi-million dollar facelift has the old girl looking good as new. Fans will be treated to larger concourses, improved restrooms and new seating options. The press has a shiny new box in which to cover the game and the facade of the stadium is dressed in native limestone to give it a uniquely Kentucky feel.

A new look football team make its debut on Saturday as well. This is the deepest and most talented team Marks Stoops has assembled in his brief tenure in the Bluegrass. Early reports suggest that the UK offense, led by new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, is going to be explosive. The program’s first bowl bid in five years is a real possibility this season.

With so much jubilation in the air it is easy to miss the fact that this Kentucky football team is still a work in progress.

While the potential is there for the offensive to be lethal several factors could hinder rather than help the unit.

The wide receiving corp  is deep and skilled but has no proven leader. Also, the jury is still out on whether the wideouts have cured the case of fumble fingers that plagued them during the 2014 season.

UK is one of the few SEC teams that returns its starting quarterback. Patrick Towles proved in 2014 that he is a talented signal caller. Towles also proved that he can be frustratingly inconsistent with his decision making as well.

The defense returns seven starters but resembles a jigsaw puzzle at this point rather than a buzz saw.

Last season the strength of the unit was the defensive line. Graduation gutted the defensive front and the coaching staff is still searching for their starters.

The linebackers took a lot of heat season for their inability to stop the run. Josh Forrest and Ryan Flannigan will be an excellent duo in the middle of the field but depth is a real issue. To further complicate matters the LB’s are injury prone.

For a football team still trying to find its identity a smooth September is much desired. This is Kentucky team is being thrown right into the frying pan with a road game at South Carolina and home matchups with Florida and Missouri, two team’s that have the Cat’s number.

Victory is not certain in any of those contests and there is a possibility Kentucky could start the season 1-3.  The team did not handle adversity well in the five game slide to end 2014 and a return to that form early on could send the season into a tailspin.

Regardless of any potential early season landmines the Big Blue Nation should not let negative thinking curtail their joy for the start of the season. At the same time a little guarded optimism is best to ensure no disappointment if the team does not perform to expectations.

 

Rival Strategies: How Learning from Louisville’s Past Could Help Kentucky’s Future

Last Monday University of Kentucky Head Football Coach Mark Stoops answered one of the few remaining questions concerning his team as they prepare to open the season, who would the team’s starting quarterback be?

Stoops anointed last season’s starter Patrick Towles as his signal caller after a spirited challenge from Drew Barker.

The coaching seems pleased with both quarterbacks and has indicated on multiple occasions that Barker will receive playing time this season.

When Barker will actually get to play is anyone’s guess but looking at Kentucky’s early season schedule it might be a while. The Wildcats will be in the thick of SEC play starting in week 2 and each game figures to be close. Hardly ideal circumstances for producing the mop up minutes that Barker will likely receive this season.

That could spell trouble if Towles goes down with an injury at any point this season.

Last year’s backup quarterback Reese Phillips saw significantly limited minutes and when he briefly filled in for an injured Towles during a key game at Tennessee he wilted due to nerves under the bright lights at Neyland Stadium.

Kentucky can ill afford a shaky quarterback during a season where a bowl is an absolute necessity to keep the program’s momentum trending in the right direction. Stoops and his staff need to find a way to get Barker on the field without disrupting the flow of the offense.

If they look at the history of Louisville, Kentucky’s arch rival, an excellent example exists of just how to get Barker quality in game reps.

Going into the 2004 season then and current Louisville Head Coach Bobby Petrino had an embarrassment of riches at the quarterback position.

Solid incumbent starter Stefan LeFors returned to guide the Cardinal’s explosive offense but waiting in the wings was highly prized true freshmen Brian Brohm.

Petrino had a brewing quarterback controversy on his hands, the underrated LeFors vs. the player many fans believed would end up being the best in the program’s history, but he came up with a novel solution to the problem.

LeFors started all season but Brohm received valuable playing time by getting to command at least one offensive series per game.

Petrino’s gamble paid off handsomely in one of the biggest games of the season.

Against #2 ranked Miami on the road in a prime time game on ESPN the Cardinals found themselves in a tight contest with the Hurricanes. Late in the first half LeFors was injured and Brohm was inserted into the game. He piloted the offense beautifully thanks to having already played a good number of quality series early in his career.

Although the game ended in a U of L loss, it did serve as an example that the Cardinals would be just fine in the long run if LeFors was out of commission for an extended period of time.

Giving Barker a series or two per game in the same vein as Brohm would be beneficial for him and the team.

Not only would Barker get playing time but he would do so against SEC defenses in a high pressure environment very early on. That will limit Barker’s learning curve if he were pressed into early action and  it will also prevent the shock that undermined Phillips performance in Knoxville last November.

The first team offense will also have experience with him leading them, thus preventing a sharp drop off in chemistry in the case of a Towles injury and UK Offensive Coordinator Shannon Dawson will not have to tailor his strategy around Barker’s strengths while the freshmen catches up with the rest of the starters.

While Kentucky and Louisville fans are often at each other’s throats, one would hope that the coaching staffs are not to prideful to learn from the other, especially when it could make the difference in a pivotal season.

Football Time in Kentucky: A Quick of Summary of News from UK’s First Week of Practice

After a long summer of nothing but baseball and golf on TV the return of college football, specifically the Kentucky Wildcats, in less than three weeks is a god send.

Coach Mark Stoops’ 3rd seasons does not officially begin until September 5th against Louisiana-Lafayette but fall camp is well under way. Plenty of news leaked out during that time, too much to cover in one article, so here is a quick breakdown of the five biggest developments coming out of UK’s first week and a half of practice.

The Quarterback Battle

Junior Patrick Towles started every game for the Wildcats last season at quarterback and though he struggled during the latter half of the year he did have moments of brilliance such as the Mississippi State and Florida games. Majority of the Big Blue Nation assumed that a good spring would be enough for him to retain his starting job.

Towles did perform well in the the spring and that momentum has carried over into camp. So why did it take until today for Towles to officially be named the starter again?

Two words: Drew Barker.

The redshirt freshmen was the centerpiece of UK’s marquee 2014 recruiting class. He was expected to come in and compete and perhaps win the starting job last fall. Barker’s first season in the program was worse than anyone expected.

He was not able to beat out Reese Phillips during the spring and summer for the right to backup Towles. His performance in practice left much to be desired. Off the field Barker was involved in two controversial incidents: an air gun prank that shut down campus and a bar fight. That was not the kind of behavior Mark Stoops or Kentucky fans hope for from their QB of the future.

This spring, Barker appeared to have righted the ship on and off the field. His  work during spring practice and the first week of fall camp was and has been good enough for the coaching staff to hold off on naming UK’s starting quarterback until early this week.

Barker’s reemergence is a positive thing for the UK football team. If his improvement continues he will push Towles to be better each week. It also means Kentucky has quality depth at the quarterback position, a true luxury in the rough and tumble world of the SEC.

The Search for Bud Dupree’s Replacement Continues

When defensive end/linebacker Bud Dupree took his immense talents to the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers he left a huge hole to fill in the UK defense.

Throughout the fall and summer Defensive Coordinator DJ Eliot and his assistants have searched for someone to fill Dupree’s hybrid role. The front runner was thought to be junior Jason Hatcher. He had limited appearances at the position in 2014 and performed well when called into duty. Then a two game suspension to start the season has halted Hatcher’s assumed momentum.

Redshirt freshmen Denzil Ware is the next likely candidate. He has made an impact in practice and is the most likely to get the starting nod  on opening but Ware lacks in game experience as do the other players competing for the job.

Dupree’s replacement may not be found until Hatcher comes back from suspension. By that time the season will be two weeks old and the Wildcats will be in the midst of critical four-game stretch. If no one steps up than UK’s defense is in big trouble.

Injuries, Injuries and more Injuries

Last season injuries to key players slowed down Kentucky’s hot 5-1 start. So far in camp the Wildcat’s familiar nemesis has reared its ugly head.

Running back Stanley “Boom” Williams, wide receiver Jeff Badet and linebacker Ryan Flannigan have missed significant amounts of practice time due to injury. All three are expected to be heavy contributors this season.

While the Wildcats have more depth than in previous seasons most of it is young and untested. Keeping players like the trio mentioned above healthy is of the up most importance if UK is going to reach a bowl game this season.

Depth

The injury scares are not as world breaking as they were during the first two seasons of Stoops’ tenure.

UK’s head coach has noted on several occasions how pleased he is at the quality depth his team has. Stoops’ believes that the increase depth allows for the team to be more physical in practice than in past years.

The increased depth also takes the pressure off the freshmen to perform at a high level early unlike the previous two seasons and allows for them to acclimate to the college game at a more appropriate level.

Breaking in the New Commonwealth Stadium

Not all the news out of camp has been business related.

Last Saturday the team scrimmaged in the newly renovated Commonwealth Stadium for the very first time.

The university has invested millions to improve the aging stadium. Upgrades include new artificial turf for the field, renovated press boxes and a new state of the art recruiting room in the south end zone. Several players indicated how excited they are for the fans to finally see the improvements up close.

Many fans share that excitement and are hopeful that the newly refurbished stadium will match a newly refurbished football team.

Hopes are high going into Stoops’ third season and while the jury is still out on how good the Wildcats will be one thing is certain, its finally football time in Kentucky!

The Need for Consistency at Florida State

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The controversy surrounding the conduct of Florida State football players did not end with the exit of Jameis Winston. Instead, over the last month the heat surrounding Jimbo Fisher’s program ratcheted up in intensity in recent weeks.

Earlier this month heralded freshmen quarterback De’Andre Johnson was charged with physical battery after he allegedly struck a young woman in a bar.

Similar charges were brought up against sophomore running back Dalvin Cook last week.

All eyes were on Fisher to see how he handled both situations. The public pressure on him to dole out the appropriate punishment came from his poor handling of his former Heisman trophy winning quarterback.

Cook and Johnson were both suspended by Fisher indefinitely from the program while the criminal investigations were ongoing.

Both punishments seem appropriate but the real test will come if something like this happens again. Will Fisher put that player on a short leash like he did with Cooke and Johnson or will it take multiple offenses like it did with Winston for him to finally bring the hammer down?

For the sake of the coach’s career and the lives of the young men he is in charge of Fisher has to embrace a model of consistent punishment.

Before deciding to travel down the path of a writer I was working towards a career in teaching. One of the first lessons that my instructors pressed upon my classmates and I was a doctrine of consistent punishment.

My instructors argued that for a teacher to have control of their classroom they needed to never stray from the stipulated consequences for breaking the rules. To stray from that was to invite chaos into the classroom and for the students to not respect the teacher’s authority.

During my first semester of student teaching I wanted to be a laid back cool teacher that my students liked. So, I let them get away with a lot and as a result trying to get them to do even the most basic assignment was a war. My lack of consistency in enforcing the rules cost me my credibility.

The next semester I was firm in upholding the rules and punishment during class time. Despite a number of huffs and “This is stupid Mr. Taylor” I had a far easier time controlling the students.

If Fisher refuses to regularly discipline his players who run afoul of the law or team rules he is inviting his program to slide even further into the dark side of public opinion. Even worse he is tempting the ire of the NCAA to step in and bring its own brand of justice to Tallahassee.

In either circumstance it is hard to image Fisher remaining head coach.

The real tragedy thought would be allowing these players to not be held accountable for their actions. So many athletes go through high school and college without a thought of how their behavior effects their future.

A bad reputation will cost them money at the next level. Criminal behavior will ruin their lives. It is Fisher’s responsibility to ensure that neither happens.

If Fisher does fail to regularly enforce the law the result will not be favorable for him or his players.

 

 

Which Teams Have Something to Prove in 2015?

For sports fan the druthers of summer have set in. No football and no basketball. Just baseball.

Those who have no interest in America’s national pastime turn to the nation’s other favorite pastime, speculation. Summer camp has not commenced but fans and media alike are already abuzz about the upcoming college football season. In particular, which teams have the most to prove this season. Are those teams poised for a return to glory? Is their back up against the wall? Or are they a juggernaut looking to silence their detractors?
Regardless of their situation here are the teams from each major conference who have a little extra motivation heading into the fall.

ACC, the Miami Hurricanes: Al Golden is feeling scorched and it is not the sun on South Beach burning the Hurricanes head man. The rebuilding job in Coral Gables hit a snag last year. Instead of reaching their first ever ACC title game the Canes’ limped to another lackluster season. Fans were not happy and the drum beats for a new coach started to pound. This is the year for Golden to prove his detractors wrong in a down year for the conference.

Big Ten, the Ohio State Buckeyes: Urban Meyer’s embarrassment of riches is an enviable position to be in. An unenviable position is the pressure on the scarlet and gray to repeat. The Buckeyes have the have the talent and coaching to do so. But repeating is never easy. It will be interesting to see how OSU responds to being the hunted instead of the hunter.

Big 12, the Oklahoma Sooners: The free fall of Big Game Bob continued last season. In September the Sooners looked like playoff contenders. By seasons end they were the biggest underachievers in college football. There is plenty of talent in Norman for a successful season and the addition of Lincoln Riley as offensive coordinator will help as well. How that talent and personnel changes will fare in the rugged Big 12 remains to be seen. If the Sooners’ cannot turn things around than Stoops will be on the hot seat for the first time in his long career.

Pac 12, the Arizona Wildcats: Rich Rod had his desert cats in rare form last season, culminating in a Fiesta Bowl appearance. Zona’ returns its leading passer, rusher and receiver so the spread offense that torched foes in 2014 will be better this season. To repeat in the Pac 12 South the defense has to improve from its 101st in the nation finish from last season. Things become even more complicate for the Wildcats since they play in the toughest division in college football.

SEC, the Tennessee Volunteers: The anticipation for the coming season is the highest it has been in Knoxville in quite some time. The Vols were one of the hottest teams in the country at the end of last season. Majority of that talent is back including the explosive and intelligent Joshua Dobbs at quarterback. Butch Jones’ outfit has a favorable schedule and gets its toughest games within the friendly confines of Neyland Stadium. This could be the season UT bounces back from the nightmare that was the previous decade.

*featured image courtesy of cigarlounge.kinja.com

Goliath’s Tale: Why Kentucky Deserves to be Remembered

America loves the underdog. Maybe because this nation was born as a scrappy fighter, colliding with a nearly invincible Goliath and coming out on top. When the giant falls a collective shout of glee is heard across the land. Tonight, the Wisconsin Badgers took their turn as the beloved little man and sent a colossus home by defeating the Kentucky Wildcats in the Final Four.

As Madison reveled in joy the formerly undefeated Wildcats descended in the bowels of Lucas Oil Stadium clearly crushed about the defeat. Outside of the Big Blue Nation not many will take time to notice the heartbreak of John Calipari’s team. After all the greater story is the unexpected victory by Frank Kaminsky and company.

While the underdog celebrates let us turn our thoughts to the slayed monster. What of his tale?

The narrative of the 2014-2015 Kentucky Wildcats will most likely be one of a team that danced with immortality and only to fall short like so many other great teams before them. This Kentucky team deserves to be remembered for so much more than that.

Andrew and Aaron Harrison began the season surrounded by whispers about their failure to follow in the “One and Done” tradition of many heralded Calipari recruits. They end this season with praise for Aaron’s innate ability as a clutch player and Andrew’s evolution into a true leader. The Harrisons deserve to be remembered for their redemption.

Tyler Ullis arrived as pint sized novelty. The talk around the Chicago product was that he was a nice backup plan after a higher ranked point guard committed elsewhere. As the season progressed Ullis morphed from a curiosity into a consummate floor general. Conversations about him started and ended praising his calm demeanor and superb ability as a floor general. Ullis deserves to be remembered for proving his critics wrong.

Willie Cauley-Stein surprised nearly everyone when he returned for his junior season. The formerly inconsistent center blossomed into the nation’s most versatile defender. Cauley-Stein deserves to be remembered for defying logic and enhancing his chance at success at the professional level.

For the past fifty years Kentucky basketball served as one of basketball’s greatest villains. Adolph Rupp is often remembered as the standard bearer for the days of segregated basketball. The program is known for scandals just as much as championships. Current Kentucky helmsmen John Calipari is the most polarizing figure in college basketball whether it be for rumors of shady dealings or his embrace of contemporary basketball culture.

Since November this Kentucky team has defied the negative perception attributed to the program. Nine coveted recruits willingly sacrificed playing time for the good of the team. They played hard and with relentless energy on defense. Most of all, the team was comprised of good natured and lovable young men. All of them deserve to be remembered for one of the greatest seasons in college basketball history.

History mayremember the triumph of Bo Ryan’s team but the giant they slayed deserves posterity just the same.

On the Brink of Immortality

What if? Any discussion of NCAA Tournament lore from the last decade yields more conversation about the hypothetical than reality. What if Gordon Hayward hit the half-court shot against Duke in 2010? What if Wichita State held on to beat Louisville in the 2013 national semifinals?

Why do sports fans prefer to spin fantasy instead of talk about history?

Well for one thing the list of NCAA Champions from the last two decades is a laundry list of yawns. All great teams with fantastic players but none of them particularly memorable. One has to go back over twenty years to find the last legendary team to win the title, the 1991-92 Duke Blue Devils.

Coach K’s second national championship team had the “It” factor. The Blue Devils had a freak athlete in Grant Hill. Their point guard was the son of a legendary high school coach. At the center of it all was basketball’s ultimate villain, Christian Laettner. All season long the chatter around college basketball centered on Durham and the team’s bid to repeat in March.

Since then many teams have attempted to claim the throne as a legendary champion. All have failed.

Now, the Kentucky Wildcats enter the madness with their bid to be remembered for more than one shining moment.

What makes this team so special though?

A look at their record gives an easy answer, 34-0. Kentucky is the first major conference team to enter the tourney unscathed in several decades. Going 40-0 in modern college basketball is an achievement worthy of immortality. Yet the unblemished mark is not the only reason this Kentucky team could become legends.

The fact that Kentucky has beaten all their opponents is no doubt impressive. However, the manner in which they have beaten their opponents is awe inspiriting. Against each ranked opponent the Wildcats have cruised to victory by a margin well over fifteen points per game. In early November the Wildcats beat top ten fixture Kansas by thirty-two points. UK held UCLA to seven points in the first half during a December matchup.

Another facet of their legendary resume is the team’s defense. On average opponents only shoot thirty-five percent against UK. Only three foes have scored over seventy against the Cats suffocating pressure.

Adding to their legend, the nation’s number one has come back from the dead on the road thrice this season. Against a pesky Texas A & M team Kentucky dodged a bullet in double overtime. At LSU, after blowing the lead and the momentum, Kentucky rallied in the final minutes to steal win. Late in the season in Athens, Georgia when the Bulldogs had the game in hand UK turned on the kill switch to complete an incredible comeback.

Even more incredible is the fact that the team has weathered the storm with minimal distractions. No publicized feuds with the coaching staff or public embarrassments has disgraced the team. Instead, charity work and exemplary performance in the classroom have become the team’s off the court calling card.

Six games separate the Wildcats from a title and a place among the elite teams of all time. Of course, this is March and in March one game is all that stands between legend and what if.

Burning Questions: What Kentucky Must Do in 2015

Kentucky football over the last month as made me downright bitter. Watching opposing offenses put up video game like numbers on the defense and then seeing your quarterback getting spooked anytime the pocket started to collapse will do that to you. Hearing your team go from being called a spoiler to a punchline on College Gameday will do that to you. Reading tweets from your fellow writers on this web site lauding the success of teams like Tennessee and Missouri, teams you knew Kentucky could have beaten, will do that to you. Even worse is hearing the fan base, so jubilant in early October, completely returning to short sighted pessimism by the last weekend in November. Unlike some fans I may be bitter but I am not quitter when it comes to my Cats. All season long I have harped that Kentucky football is tending upwards and I will continue to stand behind that belief. Still, there are many question marks heading into next season.

1) Who will be Kentucky’s new offensive coordinator? Not only is this the most important question in the long term it is the most important question in the short term. Kentucky has recruited to run the Air Raid offense and will have the personnel and experience to run the scheme effectively. It makes sense for Mark Stoops to hire a coordinator with ties to the wide open passing system. However, a few of the men rumored for the job, such as Tim Beck and James Coley, run either run heavy offenses or a pro style. If Stoops is to go in another direction than the offense will be learning a new system going into spring camp, potentially causing an explosive unit to take a step back.

2) Will Kentucky’s offensive line improve? The offensive line’s inability to get off the blocks quickly hampered UK’s ability to run up the middle this season. It also yielded quickly to heavy pass rushes which contributed to Patrick Towles’ happy feet later in the season. The good news for Kentucky is that the returning starters are young and gained much experience during the season. Also, depth will not be an issue with a high number of redshirts joining the team and a talented group of true freshmen coming into the fold. However, Kentucky fans will have to wait until the spring to see if the improvement is real or just wishful thinking.

3) Will Kentucky improve against the run? All season long opponents found tremendous success running the ball on the Cats. An inexperienced corp at linebacker is to blame. Even with that Josh Forrest and Ryan Flanagan both showed promise during the season. If both players can improve their fundamentals in the tackling department Kentucky should be able to correct this issue next season.

4) Who will be the starting quarterback? This question may surprise many Kentucky fans. Patrick Towles did not have a bad season. He showed poise, a fantastic arm and toughness. But, Towles’ performance in the month of November opened up a chance for backup Reese Phillips or heralded recruit Drew Barker to steal the job this spring. Towles will need to work on his short throws and staying patient in the pocket to hold off a challenge from his talented understudies.

5) Can Kentucky develop quality depth? The last month of the season featured a banged up football team. To continue advancing in a positive direction it is a must for Kentucky to stay healthy in the final month of the season. Depth is the only way that will happen. Stoops and company are brining yet another talented class to Lexington in February which will add said depth. Depending on freshmen to provide depth is risky to do in the SEC, but it is a bold venture that is the only way Kentucky will be competitive late in the season.

2015 is a critical year for Mark Stoops and his team. Kentucky fans expect results and are a little impatient after the six game skid to end the season. I have full confidence that the team will make a bowl next season if just one of the five questions above are fixed. If a few more corrected than next season may be a special one in Lexington.