Kentucky Wildcat Football: What's not to like?

Mark Stoops brings excitement and enthusiasm back to Kentucky football. - US PRESSWIRE

After the hiring of Mark Stoops, followed by Stoops bringing back to the Bluegrass Neal Brown to lead the Wildcat offense, Kentucky football fans, for the first time in recent memory, are excited and enthused about the future of the gridiron Cats. And really, why not?

I interviewed Kentucky football fan extraordinaire Seth Burchett for this article. Burchett, who played high school football at Bowling Green High School for the legendary Kevin Wallace in the early 2000s, is originally from Paintsville, Kentucky. Burchett currently attends Western Kentucky University. He also provides color commentary (and occasional play-by-play work) for the 1340 WBGN high school football game of the week. Burchett is extremely knowledgeable as it pertains to all things pigskin, and that fact, coupled with his seldom-matched enthusiasm for Wildcat football, led me to include his thoughts on the recent Kentucky football additions.

No coverages have been blown. No passes have been intercepted or dropped. No balls have been fumbled. No defeats have been cruelly snatched from the jaws of victory, and no post-loss call-in shows have been graced with the football intellect of the thousands of arm chair quarterbacks ready to pontificate on how to fix the gridiron Wildcats.

In other words, it's early, very early. As of yet, though, new Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops is well on his way to not only reinvigorating a disenfranchised fan base, but better yet, Stoops' hire, plus the assistants he has so far chosen to accompany him on his Big Blue journey, have the intermittently suffering UK football contingent bordering on mass giddiness. Simply put, enthusiasm for Kentucky's football future is at its highest point since ... well, since I can remember (and my UK football remembering goes back about 35 years).

"I was ecstatic when I heard about the hiring of Mark Stoops," said Seth Burchett. "He's a guy who comes from a great pedigree in coaching, and he was a guy I didn't think UK had a shot at. His name had come up and I kind of wrote him off. When he got hired, I was feeling a little under the weather that day, and as soon as the news broke, it perked me right up."

Mark Stoops: not only an outstanding coach, but also capable of curing what ails a body.

Also important to UK's football faithful is the fact that Stoops, through him initiating contact with UK about the coaching vacancy, clearly demonstrated he wanted to be in Lexington.

"He's a guy who wanted to come to Kentucky and that excited me more than anything," Burchett said. "He wasn't one of those guys UK had to go out and beg (to take the job). He showed an interest in the program (that some consider to be a coaching grave yard), and he has a plan. And to me, the importance of that is; it shows he wants to be here and he wants to put his plan into place, and hopefully be here a long time."

I wrote not long after Stoops' hiring that I liked the man Mitch Barnhart chose to lead the 'Cats out of their two-year stupor, but, the potential to love the hire was clearly evident. Stoops, with his outstanding defensive model, a model which has overwhelmingly succeeded at all of his previous stops, needed an offensive mind capable of bringing excitement back to the ball park by putting an abundance of crooked numbers on the Wildcat side of the scoreboard.

My thinking is, great defenses are nice, and sometimes great defenses (alone) win championships. But with the ever-changing college football landscape littered with high-powered offenses fully capable of putting the kibosh on an opponents' offensive intent, to truly succeed in today's environment, particularly in the SEC, one has to be efficient on both sides of the ball.

And Stoops, ever the defensive guru, through the hiring of Danville native and former UK player Neal Brown as UK's new offensive coordinator -- along with his accompanying Air Raid sensibilities -- has given Wildcat football fans hope for an exciting, fast-paced offense, and, for the first time since the late 1970's, a bit of balance between the two units most important in determining winning and losing.

It's that marriage of the two key elements requisite for high level gridiron success -- a high-powered offense and stingy defense -- which has Kentucky fans across the Commonwealth anxiously awaiting the start of new football slate.

"Brown has that exciting Air Raid offense, and I think what that hire did for fans is it kept people happy because a lot of people wanted (a coach) with that type of offense to come in and be the head coach," Burchett said. "But they hire Neal Brown (as OC), so you get that exciting offense as well as a stout defense. Plus, Brown is known as a good recruiter, and people like watching that fun style of offense."

Not only are Kentucky football fans excited and anxious for the 2013 season to begin, but spring practice has the UK football faithful licking their collective chops like never before, primarily because of the impending "Battle of Quarterbacks." For in the spring of 2013, Max Smith, Patrick Towles, and Jalen Whitlow, all talented in their own right, will begin in earnest the fight for the right to lead Stoops' initial UK squad.

"I'm interested to see these guys battle it out in practice," Burchett said excitedly. " (I can't wait to see) how well they take to the new offense. I know a lot of people are high on Patrick Towles, and I think he's the guy a lot of fans want to see, but I don't necessarily buy into that. I want to see the best quarterback out there ... the guy who gives the team the best chance to win.

"I certainly liked what I saw out of Max Smith last season, so I'm interested to see the battle back and forth,"
Burchett continued. "This could be one of the more entertaining Spring Games we've ever seen because we have two guys with live arms (Smith and Towles), and then an outstanding athlete in Jalen Whitlow who can provide a spark of excitement for the fan base as well.

"I'm just ready to get football here because the excitement surrounding the Kentucky football program is as high as its ever been," Burchett concluded.

Excitement. It is not a word that's been associated with Wildcat football over the last few years, and the current level of excitement for the program is unmatched in the history of UK. Now, though, with Mitch Barnhart bringing in Mark Stoops, and Stoops in turn bringing back to the Bluegrass Neal Brown, the fan approval needle has been moved upward (with a bullet) like few times in the history of Kentucky football.

And really, what's not to like?

Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!

To follow me on Twitter: @KenHowlett

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