This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
So now we come to it. After looking back at why we are fans, our favorite Kentucky team, tailgating traditions, our favorite players and our most memorable moments, we look forward to expectations for 2011 for Joker Phillips first year as UK coach.
Rich Brooks was coach at Kentucky for six seasons, from 2003 to 2009. In those six seasons, he managed to get Kentucky to four straight bowl games with a record of 3-1 in the post season against mostly traditional football powerhouses like the Florida St. Seminoles and Clemson Tigers. There is no doubt that he resuscitated a mostly-dead football program, just as Miracle Max resuscitated Wesley in The Princess Bride. Brooks' miracle pill took a little longer to work, but in the end, it got the job done.
So now, Joker Phillips takes over the team from the Offensive Coordinator position (I don't buy the "Head Coach of the Offense" crap UK created out of thin air last year), and has made some very good hires along the way in the person of former Tennessee Volunteers standout Tee Martin and former Kentucky player Greg Nord.
This years incoming recruits look much like those of the last three years -- good but not great. Few, if any, of the incoming freshmen are likely to make a real impact on this year's team, but they don't need to. What they need to do is learn the game at the collegiate level and get in line on the depth chart behind the solid players that Phillips and Brooks have lined up over the last four years.
So the pieces are set for Phillips' first season. What kind of expectations should UK have for 2011? Here are a few of my team expectations.
- A vastly improved passing game. No matter who is throwing the ball, the receivers that UK has are now mature and talented enough to catch the football and do something with it. Up until the last couple of years, Kentucky has been one of the most explosive passing teams in the SEC. UK has talent at quarterback, talent in the backfield and talent on the edges. It's time to see some success throwing the ball.
- A more diverse offense. I am operating under the assumption that Brooks' conservatism hamstrung Phillips' offense a bit while Paw Paw was here. We will find out soon if my assumption is right. I expect to see Randall Cobb utilized much more than he was in the last two years, and much more effectively.
- A better kicking game. Last year, our kicking game was put together with chewing gum and bailing wire. This year, we have better and/or more mature personnel. Special teams have been suspect the last two years for the 'Cats, and we need much more consistency there. If we can't make 35 yard field goals consistently or get the ball to the end zone on kickoffs, we can't win consistently in the SEC.
- Better downfield blocking. Kentucky's downfield blocking has been lousy the last two years. I want to see that back to the level of the Keenan Burton and Dicky Lyons Jr. days.
Here are a few of my overall performance expectations:
- Beat Louisville. The Louisville Cardinals are going to turn it around soon, and we need to make hay before the Cards become competitive again. Defeating them for the second time in three years at the House of Pizza would be sweet.
- End at least one embarrassing streak. the Florida Gators, the Tennessee Volunteers and/or South Carolina Gamecocks must get beaten this year. These long streaks of losses have to end, and the sooner the better.
- Win four SEC games. This is going to be tough, as always, but if UK is to bust at least one streak, they need to win games. UK won three in the SEC last year, and I think UK is going to be better this year and the league no stronger, so four league games should be a very reasonable expectation.
- Get to another bowl game. That streak needs to live. I would love to see us get to a bowl not named Liberty or Music City.
- Get to 7-5 in the regular season. I think this is eminently doable this year. In fact, I think 8-4 almost as doable, given our schedule.
Here are a few of my player expectations:
- Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb to be among the top three or four in all purpose yards. I can see no reason why this should not happen.
- A big year from Winston Guy. He has all the talent in the world. It's time for him to come into his own.
- Chris Matthews at least third team all-SEC. This kid has size, talent, and skill. We should have a better passing game, and he should be the go-to target for whoever is chucking the ball. Go get it, big boy.
- DeQuin Evans in the top 5 in sacks in the SEC. He showed flashes last year. This year he is a senior, and we need a QB eater on that defensive line. Evans has got to be that man.
- Ryan Tydlacka among the leaders in gross punting in the league. No more shanks and pop-ups that cost us games. He is a junior, and it's time for him to step up and show us why we recruited him.
- Danny Trevathan should lead the team in tackles. He has grown up under some of the best linebackers UK has had in recent years, and he is capable of being the next Wesley Woodyard.
- Aaron Boyd needs to finally show us something. He was one of, if not the, most highly touted player when he was recruited, and he has barely been able to get into games. He is running out of opportunity fast.
I could go on and on, but I have to leave something for all of you. What are your expectations?