Slowly but surely, we are transitioning into college football season. For me, it comes a bit at a time. First, college basketball ends and I wishI could hibernate until September 1. Spring practice and the spring games bring some light in Summer rolls around, and preview magazines start hitting the newsstands. I'll pick one and devour it so quickly I've forgotten everything I learned by the time the season hits.
2011 SEC Media Days (going on this week in Hoover, Alabama) mark the home stretch. In a couple of weeks, my kids will go back to school and it will be all over but the shouting. I'll start testing the grill, trying to get this seemingly worthless HD antenna big box store sold me to work and, of course, start my annual ritual of scamming a different parking pass each week.
It is about this time each year that hope springs eternal. This year is no exception. There have been a number of feel good stories in the media recently. Morgan Newton appears to have taken the reigns and is embracing the leadership role. This year's team seems more cohesive. Our defense is staying awake in the film room. The players I follow on Twitter seem genuinely excited about being together, particularly for "Thursday Night Lights" conditioning drills. Bottom line, it is late July and we are undefeated.
There is indeed genuine reason for excitement. Joker has a year as a Head Coach under his belt, and I think we'll see the results of a steep learning curve in the form of more discipline on the field, quicker starts and fewer mistakes. In my first couple of years of practicing law, it was always nice to be in a situation for the second time as opposed to the first. Joker gets to see a lot for the second time in 2011.
Rick Minter may not be a miracle worker, but he is going to do something different on defense. I'm not generally in favor of change for change sake, but in the case of UK's 2010 D, I'm going to make an exception. The fact is, even with eight starters returning, Kentucky cannot plan to stone cold stop everyone. The Cats need to create some confusion, put our guys in position to make big plays, and take some chances. If the UK's experiment with a 3-4 as well as deploying multiple schemes fails, so be it.
The schedule is favorable, with nearly every swing game at home. The Cats have both Mississippi schools at home for the first time since before the bowl streak began. Tennessee is far from rebuilt, and has to come to Commonwealth as well. Vandy should not challenge for a bowl this year, meaning we should have a de facto home game there by the time November 12 rolls around (assuming, of course, our season hasn't gone to pot). This leaves the only true road tests as LSU, South Carolina and Georgia. The first two are schools UK isn't likely to have much success with in any event, the last, one the Cats beat on the road just two years ago.
Of course, there is also cause for concern. The Cats are dangerously thin in several key areas, most notably, the skill positions. Even with a great offensive line, it is disconcerting not knowing where the production will come from. Newton has said and done all the right things, but he has yet to prove he has an accurate enough arm or, frankly, that it factor to be an effective SEC starter.
Stopping the run is going to be difficult unless someone emerges as a stud from the defensive tackle ranks, and in truth, the entire defensive line is going to be a question mark. The grind is going to be tough on a unit that has essentially no safety net in terms of quality depth.
In short, from a pure personnel standpoint, this team has as many question marks as any during the bowl streak era.
As the season continues to draw closer, I'll look at all of these areas in more depth. For now, I'll ask this. What do you think? Are you skeptical, gung ho or somewhere in between? Let us hear from you.