It feels good to type that title. That means college football season is here. Tomorrow, the Kentucky Wildcats will take on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in the back end of an all Kentucky doubleheader on ESPNU (Louisville and Murray State kick off at 6:00est in literally the first game of the year). UK and WKU are in the midst of a four game "home and home" in which Western's return games will be played at LP Field, the home of the Tennessee Titans.
Ordinarily, this deal is a win for everyone. Kentucky's opener against Miami (OH) in Paul Brown Stadium in 2009 was aces. Players enjoy playing in an NFL stadium and playing what amounts to a home game in a different place is great for recruiting in that area. Western gets great exposure for its program and our athletic department saves some money (we are only paying WKU for the two games at Commonwealth, and even then it is at a relative bargain of $500,000 per). This one, however, got a little strange.
Because Tennessee State's lease with LP Field gives it scheduling priority and is home this week, the UK-WKU tilt had to be moved to Thursday. TV has dictated a 9:15 est start time. To give you an idea about ticket sales, I was able to buy 50 yard line, lower level aisle seats on the UK side on Ticketmaster only a week ago. As it stands, nearly the entire upper deck and most other end zone seats are still available. I'm wondering if UK would have been better off financially paying Western to come to Commonwealth and selling 60,000 tickets. Still, the Thursday night kickoff give us a nationally televised game, something that would not have come had the game been Saturday.
Regardless of the merits of that debate, the game is the thing, and fans of both schools have a lot to look forward to tomorrow night. Follow me after the jump and we'll talk a little ball.
Thursday marks Cats fans first chance to see the hopefully new and improved Morgan Newton, as well as Rick Minter's multi-schemed, attacking defense. If UK's offensive line will be as dominant as everyone expects this year, it should absolutely own the front seven of Western. LG Stuart Hines and C Matt Smith will not start due to injury, but will play in the game. Western's defensive front averages 265, which means they'll be giving up about 45 lbs per man.
In addition to Newton, some other familiar Cats will be settling into new roles. Raymond Sanders starts the year as the team's No. 1 tailback, and should have the opportunity to make some plays. DTs Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble will look to up their contributions from a year ago and WR Gene McCaskill will make his return to the field after missing 2010 with an injury.
If the game unfolds according to plan, and UK is able to build a comfortable lead, we should get the chance to see some newcomers. In the skill positions, true freshmen RB Josh Clemons and WR Demarco Robinson have cracked the two deep and should get some time. With a number of defections, the Cats' backup linebackers are all untested, and it would be great to get Danny Trevathan and Co. off the field and get Avery Williamson, Malcolm McDuffen and true frosh Alvin Dupree some reps. Finally, Joker Phillips has vowed not to redshirt backup QB Maxwell Smith, so I expect to see some snaps from him unless Western hangs in throughout the game.
As far as WKU's chances, they would appear to rest with Bobby Rainey, who ran wild with 184 yards against the Cats last year. In fairness, Rainey ran for 155 yards against Nebraska the week before and totalled 1649 for the year. He is no joke. If UK's defense can bottle up Rainey I will feel like we've improved. If he runs wild I will be somewhat disappointed, regardless of the final score. Returning starter Kawaun Jakes is solid, if unspectacular, at QB. No matter how things shape up for Rainey, I don't see our pass defense faltering against Jakes, and without a balanced attack, WKU has no hope of winning this game.
All in all, I look forward to a fun night in Nashville, and for the Cats to improve on the score of last year's uneven 63-28 win at Commonwealth.