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09 Homer Preview: The Wildcats Edition

homer previewIn an effort to provide coverage of teams outside of the OTP Preseason Top 25, we’ve asked some of our friends and fellow college football aficionados to follow our preview format for their team or go outside the box. This edition of The Homer Preview is courtesy of Alan, OTP’s creator, chief writer, and resident Kentucky fan here.

Homer Preview: Kentucky Wildcats

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What You Need to Know
It’s certainly been an interesting 6 years for Rich Brooks. His first three years saw him win 9 games overall and only 5 in conference. Weekly call in shows were a frustrating exercise in informal fan approval ratings for both him and Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart. The margin for error was getting razor thin in Lexington, certainly amplified by the success of rival Louisville just up I-64.

But a funny thing happened on Brooks’ trip down coaching Death Row in 2006… the Cats went 8-5 and won the Music City Bowl over Clemson as 10 point underdogs. While many were happy with that, some simply said it was a fluke… which Brooks promptly dismissed with his 2007 8-5 record and victory over Florida State in the Music City Bowl. For good measure, Brooks and the Cats added in a third straight Bowl victory last season against East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl. Three short years make a world of difference. From hot seat to bourbon bottles… we should all be so lucky.

2008 for the Cats was certainly the Year of Blah. Other than a season ending exciting victory over ECU, the Cats finished a year .500 and provided virtually nothing to be exceptionally excited about. Sure, there was reason for celebration after nearly shutting out Louisville. They nearly beat Alabama. They came back against Arkansas with a furious 4th quarter rally that ended up being critical given their barely Bowl eligible record. But all those goods were buttressed by heartbreaking defeats and downright embarrassment. There was the shellacking at Florida. There was the potential miracle toss that nearly was cause for an upset at the hands of MTSU. There was the heartbreak against Georgia, as well as the foot shooting against Vandy. Just as many lows as highs.

The offseason was a similar sort of tumultuous roller coaster for the Cats. Players like Trevard Lindley, Corey Peters, and Micah Johnson all announced they were coming back and completing their senior season. Fans, for the moment, were significantly stoked about their defense coming up in 2009. For a brief moment it looked like the offense would be the only question… and it didn’t even need to be a dominant answer with the defense taking the field. That all changed as summer dawned, and senior DE Jeremy Jarmon was ruled ineligible for the coming year. Jarmon has moved onto the NFL, and Cat fans moved back to worry mode.

Worry mode was certainly the offseason home for those thinking about the offense. As a unit, the 07 Cats averaged only 22.6 points per game and 299 yards per. Not great numbers. Most of the blame for that lack of firepower falls on Mike Hartline, who as a sophomore was thrust into the position of replacing Andre Woodson. Certainly no easy task. The Cats battled injuries, lackluster firepower, a QB controversy, and an overall mediocre sort of feeling better than any Kentucky team I can remember. They didn’t fold, they didn’t quit, and for the 08 Wildcats, billed for a while as a rebuilding year Post-Woodson, that’s success in and of itself.

It’s certainly easy for fans to point to last year as a down year, but after the tail end of the Mumme years, the Morris years, and the early Brooks years, 7-6 and a Bowl seems like a pretty successful campaign for me. For years, as we were getting destroyed by SEC team after SEC team, most Kentucky fans said something to the effect of, “If we could just go 6-5 and make a Bowl I’d be happy.” Well, we’re three years running fulfilling that wish.

For 09, the Cats return only 4 starters on defense, and 7 on offense. And this is the year when the fruits of the recruiting successes of Brooks and Joker Phillips need to demonstrate themselves. It’s easy to say you’re recruiting better athletes, but those athletes at some point or another need to step up and prove that the gap between them and the “dominant” SEC teams is shrinking, not growing. People point to the new folks like QBs Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski as the saviors of the future, but they are freshmen, and frankly, freshmen in the SEC in the QB role rarely do exceptionally well. Brooks says Hartline is his guy and its his position. Randall Cobb will predominantly play WR. The running back position is likely Alfonso Smith’s, but Derrick Locke provides a valuable speedy weapon for spelling. 3 of 5 return on the offensive line. The pieces are there… it’s just a matter of how they fit together.

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
QB Mike Hartline: 172-311, 1666 yds, 9 TDs, 8 INTs
LB Micah Johnson: 93 tkls, 2.5 sacks, 10.5 TFL
CB Trevard Lindley: 39 tkls, 0.5 TFL, 11 PBU, 4 INTs

Game to Watch
For Kentucky and its fans, it has to be determined what determines a valuable game. If we’re looking at national attention, an upset of the Gators on September 26th would certainly be attention gaining. The same could also be said for their October 3rd battle against Alabama or their November 21st contest at Georgia. When it comes to emotional victories, the Wildcats game against Louisville certainly fits that bill. Perhaps the most emotional game for the Cats may very well be their season finale against Tennessee. They have the Vols at their weakest in recent memory, and nearly every Kentucky fan would savor a victory over UT, considering it hasn’t happened in 24 years, the longest streak in the country.

All those games would be certainly sweet and tasty, but the game I look at as most important for the Wildcats is their November 14th game at Vandy. It is a game that may very well seal the fate of the Wildcats on the quest for their 4th straight Bowl appearance. I would love for the Cats to knock off a national power, but if I had my choice between that or another season that demonstrates consistency and post-season play, give me the extra game.

They’ll Do Well If…
… the numerous questions heading into this season get answered… even moderately well. There’s two biggies in terms of the offense and their ability to do anything note worthy. The other rests squarely on the defensive line and filling the holes of departures, planned and otherwise.

Season Outlook
For the Cats, this is a team that will surprise some people this year. Perhaps it’s the eternal Big Blue optimist in me perpetually wearing Big Blue shaded glasses, but this is a team capable of beating most anyone given the right circumstances, breaks, and oppositional mistakes. Unfortunately for Kentucky, they do not have a team capable of overcoming significant mistakes themselves. In terms of the schedules, they have 4 games that are probable wins against Miami, Louisville, ULM, and Eastern Kentucky. Their 3 probable losses are Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. That leaves 5 games as toss ups. A winning record against South Carolina, Auburn, Mississippi State, Vandy, and Tennessee means the Cats are going Bowling, and that’s what I’ll stick with. Wins over South Carolina, Vandy, and Mississippi State means a 7-5 record and another post season celebration for Brooks and company.


One Response

  1. Sure hope you’re right.

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