For Kentucky Wildcat football fans, excitement and anticipation for a brighter football future are at a peak. And how does one know this? Because over 50,000 Wildcat football fans were in attendance for Saturday night's Blue/White Game. A figure larger than any UK home game last season, and 45,000 more fans than attended the 2012 Spring Game.
And really, who can blame the chronically angst-ridden UK football fan base for its enthusiasm?
It has been more than a few years since the Kentucky football faithful have had reason to feel so upbeat, so positive, about the prospects for Wildcat gridiron success. The hiring of Mark Stoops as UK's head coach and resident defensive guru, along with the arrival of Air Raid practitioner Neal Brown as the Wildcats new offensive coordinator, immediately created anticipation among Kentucky football followers. But with Stoops and staff recruiting as if their meal money depended on it -- bringing in top flight talent from Ohio to Florida -- the Commonwealth's football fans have been thrown into a legitimate frenzy.
Here's 15 reasons why that frenzy is justified:
- Air-Raid -- With new OC Brown bringing his gun-slinging style of offense to the SEC, the gridiron 'Cats figure to entertain, score points, and play the type of football which is attractive to the top high school receivers, tight ends, and quarterbacks around the nation, ensuring a steady flow of SEC talent finding its way to Lexington.
- Blitz -- With Bud DuPree and Za'Darius Smith manning each end of UK's defensive line, the outside blitz should be a common occurrence for Kentucky this season. Both players exhibit great quickness, strength, and size, a deadly combination to opposing quarterbacks who like to hold on to the pigskin a milli-second too long. Additionally, the rush will also force quarterbacks into quick reads, potentially forcing the ball into double coverage. Bottom line: Stoops likes to get to the quarterback, and generally, what Stoops likes, Stoops gets.
- Defense -- Stoops has been ultra-successful throughout his assistant coaching career in quickly turning around deficiencies in his (new) squad's defense. UK should be no different, especially considering so many of his returning defensive players have seen extended action.
- Electricity -- If the 50,000-plus fans in attendance at the Blue/White Game on Saturday night are any indication of future home crowds, the 'Cats will be playing in front of a packed Commonwealth Stadium, with the palpable buzz of electricity ringing through the players' ears. That's a hyper-cool environment, a winning environment.
- Freshmen -- Last year's freshmen, who performed in major roles due to a slew of injuries to the starters (particularly in the secondary), are now a year older, a year bigger, a year stronger, and fully acclimated to what it means to battle the nation's top talent every Saturday. That experience, even in defeat ('Cats were 2-10 last year), could pay huge dividends this fall.
- Injuries -- No way Kentucky experiences the rash of injuries similar to those which ravaged the 'Cats last season. The football gods surely would not allow such a thing.
- Money -- Dollars aren't always the end-all/beat-all answer to a football program's problems, but in UK's situation, an influx of cash (thanks to UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart and the Kentucky General Assembly) will come in quite handy as the football program looks to upgrade Commonwealth Stadium and the Nutter Center in an attempt to keep up with UK's deep-pocketed SEC brethren.
- No-huddle -- A play every 12 seconds. That is Kentucky's coaching staff's aim, which makes for exciting football for the fans, and potential mismatches for the Kentucky offense to take advantage of; something Brown excels at doing.
- Ohio -- Although Kentucky has historically recruited Ohio -- over the last several years, UK has boasted between five and 10 players from Ohio on its roster -- bringing in players like Chandler Burden, Matt McCutchan, Mike Hartline, John Conner, Teven Eatmon-Nared, and Jeremiah Drobney, coach Stoops has made snagging talent out of his home state a high priority. And if early returns are an accurate indication, the 'Cats figure to net some of Ohio's top talent as long as Stoops is roaming the UK sidelines.
- Kentucky -- Stoops, if nothing else, wants to own the state when it comes to recruiting. The difference between Stoops, so far, and his predecessors, is that the new coach has and is taking strong action to secure the services of Kentucky's elite high school football players. In signing Franklin County's Ryan Timmons, and flippin-' for-real Trinity's Jason Hatcher, a one-time Southern Cal commit, Stoops let UofL's Charlie Strong know, as well as WKU's , that the coach in Lexington is prepared to crush the Cards and Tops inside the borders of Kentucky. The burgeoning battle of Bluegrass football coaches should be fun and eventful to follow for as long as Stoops, Strong and Petrino continue to call Kentucky home.
- Quarterback competition -- Competition is always a good thing, and with Jalen Whitlow, Patrick Towles, and last season's game one starter, Maxwell Smith, the UK coaching staff have three highly capable players ready to man the Wildcats starting QB spot. Which player earns the starting nod will be determined by who works the hardest this summer, who shows great leadership (this summer and in the fall), and who possesses the ability to throw strikes and move the 'Cats ... Down. The. Field.
- Running game -- Kentucky is flush with experienced ball carriers, beginning with Raymond Sanders, Jonathan George, Dyshawn Mobley, and Josh Clemons. To win in the SEC, a team must be able to balance the pass with the run, and with Brown stating unequivocally that running the ball will be a priority for the 'Cats, having ample bodies to withstand the sure-to-come injuries is vital to UK's near- and long-term success. Adding former Nebraska back Braylon Heard (eligible in 2014), a top five tailback out of high school, only adds beef to the coaching staff's declarations regarding the importance of a strong Wildcat running attack.
- Sirens -- The Blue/White Game saw the re-emergence of the use of Air Raid sirens at Commonwealth Stadium. This time without the ethically challenged Hal Mumme and Claude Bassett on the sidelines.
- Tight ends -- With UK's receiving corps being a bit light in numbers, look for Stoops and Brown to utilize Kentucky's tight ends more-so than has been done since Jacob Tamme, who last played in the 2007 season, was a Wildcat. Tyler Robinson, who looked good Saturday night, Jordan Aumiller, JUCO Steven Borden, and Ronnie Shields, ensures that the all-important competition for playing time at the position will be fierce. Expect UK's tight end catches to quadruple from last season's 18 grabs.
- Vision -- When Mark Stoops approached UK about his interest in coaching the 'Cats, he provided the decision-makers with an exhaustive game plan for the future. And having a vision, a feasible plan, is many millions of times better than not having one. So far, the implementation of that plan seems to be firmly on schedule.
Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats!