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UK grid season finally arrives




I can’t remember anytime in Kentucky’s past sports history that I’ve looked forward more to a college football season than the one starting this week.

With all the sordid affairs, late night drinking binges, and ongoing as well as past NCAA probes directly or indirectly associated with present or past UK coaches, we can finally settle in this week and concentrate solely on UK football.

With the ugly and embarrassing atmosphere being what it is in certain areas of the college sports community (in particular the coaching profession/fraternity), his unsullied reputation is a strong testament to the quality of individual Rich Brooks is. Even more impressive to me is how he has taken one of the toughest jobs in college athletics at a time when it was in its most desperate state and achieved with very little national acclaim the success the program has had over the last three years.

The job Rich Brooks has done with UK football 2003-2008 continues to amaze me as each day goes by and I reflect on where this program was and what he continually had to overcome to be competitive in the mega-talented SEC.

He may have done a better job in bringing UK football to where it is today than Joe B. Hall did in following Adolph Rupp.

There’s no doubt in my mind that both Hall and Brooks will forever go down in the annals of UK sports history as the most under appreciated coaches by the Commonwealth who annually overachieved with their teams as far as coaching ability and talents go.

Now, Rich Brooks or ‘Old Blue’ as many of his players affectionately refer to the Kentucky football coach, enters his seventh season as the leader of Wildcat gridiron fortunes. Like many of the past six teams, this one is a bit of a mystery with many of the football program’s longtime followers projecting anywhere from a 4-8 season to an 8-4 campaign.

With preseason practices being closed to us media folks and having only reports feed to us on a daily basis by Brooks and the UK media relations staff, I will take my best effort at preparing you for what to expect from the team this fall in a position-by-position breakdown with a rating system of 1-10 with 10 being best:

Quarterback — Michael Hartline, junior, 6’6″, 215, the returning starting QB from most of the games played in 2008, has once again won his starting position to start out the 2009 season. Reports out of Nutter Center are that he is a stronger and more mature QB and has separated himself from his competition. Hartline better be good early because talent is in abundance behind him and they only need to get their feet wet for a few months.

Rating — 6

Running backs — senior Alphonso Smith and juniors Derrick Locke and Moncell Allen will start out as the prime players in what should be an equal rotation until someone steps front and center with a breakout game. With all three having a history of being injury prone, the depth will be valuable.

Rating — 7

Receivers — Quite possibly this is the biggest upgrade to the team. The duo of junior college transfer Chris Matthews and multi-talented sophomore Randall Cobb are the reason for the improvement at the wide receiver position.

Rating — 8

Offensive line — Once again the biggest question mark coming out of fall camp is whether or not UK will have a valid consistent running game. Only time will tell, but I will admit that the physical size, talent, and experience are obvious with this year’s group.

Rating — 7

Defensive line — This position really concerns me depthwise because any SEC coach will tell you that you must have a combination of at least eight quality defensive tackles and defensive ends. In my eyes UK has four, Corey Peters, Ricky Lumpkin, Chandler Burden, and DeQuinn Evans, and that just isn’t enough to get through a year in the SEC.

Rating — 6

Linebackers — This position is as solid as ever with starting LB’s like Micah Johnson and Sam Maxwell, however I’m a little concerned with the backups. Still, I like this position compared to most years in the past.

Rating — 8

Defensive backs — Quite possibly the deepest and most talented position on the team. Longtime UK football analyst Lonny DeMaree of the Kentucky Sports Report says it may be UK’s most impressive group in the last 25 years. With players like Trevard Lindley, Winston Guy, and Paul Warford roaming around back there, I’m betting he’s correct.

Rating — 9

Specialty Teams — The most overlooked and under appreciated phase of football is the punter and field goal kickers and their impact on the outcome of games, not to mention the return teams. I haven’t been terribly impressed yet with Lones Sieber and there’s no question UK will miss punter Tim Masthay’s bombs. Hopefully, I’ll have to wipe some egg off my face at season’s end but right now I think this phase of the game may cost the Cats a win or two somewhere this fall.

Rating — 6

As for this week’s opening game in Cincinnati, Ohio, at noon on ESPNU against Miami of Ohio in Paul Brown Stadium, I like the Cats’ chances for a solid opening game win as long as both teams play to their talents. I’ll say UK 35, Miami of Ohio 13.

New website on UK sports

Tri State Sports Media & Promotions Service Inc., of which this writer operates with his brother Harold, announces the unveiling of its new website.

www.combsbrothersonkysports.com became active Sept. 1 at noon. This new website will feature UK football and basketball as covered by the Combs family, who have been associated with UK athletics since 1975 in various capacities. The website will feature links to UK football and basketball as well as KHSAA sports and various special events.


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