Remember the last couple of years where we heard all kinds of upbeat comments from Joker Phillips regarding the football team's chances, even to the point that some were questioning Phillips' inability to manage expectations? In his defense, those remarks were somewhat justified in light of what was supposed to be one of the SEC's best offensive lines and a highly-ranked quarterback claiming the starting spot for his own in his junior year. Even though Kentucky had lost some great talent in Randall Cobb, Derrick Locke, John "The Terminator" Connor, and one of the SEC's best passers in Mike Hartline, there was some reason for at least guarded optimism.
But many thought that Phillips went too far, and when injuries banged up the line and Morgan Newton was surprisingly futile at quarterback, a lot of those upbeat comments came back to haunt Phillips. Now, with last season's severe offensive futility and a brand new offensive line and linebacking corps, Phillips has changed how he talks about the program -- either that, or nobody is paying attention. In fact, over at Vaught's Views today, one reader is complaining about the lack of marketing coming out of the football program:
A little over a month ago, Larry posted a couple of articles with comments by former UK football players expressing their frustrations with the lack of marketing & promotion of our program. These former players support the program & want it to succeed. However they were frustrated with our current marketing efforts.
To be sure, optimism for Kentucky football this year is pretty hard to find, and understandably so. Perhaps that is why, for the first time in his tenure, Phillips has been rather muted in his optimism compared to previous years. Oh, he still preaches optimism to the media when asked, but he isn't out there blowing sunshine up everyone's backside like he was as recently as last year.
Almost nobody expects much from Kentucky this year, and if the team performs to the low expectations, we can officially call Phillips' seat hot for next season, assuming he makes it to another. I set the odds at about 70-30 in favor of Phillips' return if he wins as many as five games, with the odds dropping roughly 8% per loss below that. At 2 or fewer wins, I predict we'll have a new coach for 2013. At 3 or less, I think the odds of replacement would slightly exceed the odds of retention.
With that said, it is not impossible for Kentucky to win up to seven games. The running backs, as Alex and I discussed in this post, should be very deep and reasonably talented. What we do not know is if the offensive line can provide them with holes to run through, but if they can, and the Wildcats' passing game is significantly improved as most expect, Kentucky could be strong enough offensively to upset a few people. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they are almost certain to be underdogs for every game but three or four. That will require one or two upsets just to get to five wins. That's not exactly the kind of thing that leads to a lot of pre-season hype or even hope.
One benefit to Phillips' more muted pre-season is that if UK does come out looking better than expected, it will help him with some of the fans, although a fair number have already abandoned him and are ready for a change. From my perspective, this season will have to produce something to look forward to for me not to join the group calling for a new coach, because even though I am loath to lobby to replace a likable "Kentucky first" guy like Phillips, UK football cannot afford another death spiral like the swoon we went into during theyears.
What we will not do here at A Sea of Blue, however, is become a place for extreme pessimism and negativity. Rather, we will do as we have always done -- cheer for the 'Cats, try to find the silver lining if one exists, and analyze the team performance on an ongoing basis. What we will not do here is obsess about the coach and give up on the season, no matter how far south it goes. We can give up on Phillips after the season, if necessary, but while the contests are going on, you can expect this blog to be positive, if not "rah rah."
Football season is coming, ready or not. Last year, the baseball team blew away expectations, which were about as low for them as they are for the football team right now. Maybe we'll see a similar surprise. Let's hope for that.