Kentucky football has its share of narratives like any other school. Since Kentucky flies under the radar football-wise, many of these narratives don't emerge outside of BBN circles to be tested and refined. Due to the lack of outside thoughts, epistemic closure sometimes occurs within our blue echo chamber. This summer, just like any other, many thoughts get expressed online, a chosen few go viral, and talking points - with varying degrees of sophistication - are expressed by those within our UK fan circles. This post seeks to challenge the groupthink amidst the BBN ecosystem while not necessarily disagreeing. The BBN Internet (™) deserves a better class of Devil's advocates. Let's give it to them with the aim of getting closer to the truth.
During the canonization process employed by the Roman Catholic Church, the Promoter of the Faith popularly known as the Devil's advocate (Latin: advocatus diaboli), was a canon lawyer appointed by Church authorities to argue against the canonizaton of a candidate. It was this person’s job to take a skeptical view of the candidate's character, to look for holes in the evidence, to argue that any miracles attributed to the candidate were fraudulent, and so on.
Narrative One: UK Will Win Four or Fewer Games
Many are in this camp. UK's path to at least three victories seems clear with home games against TN-Martin, Ohio, and UL Monroe. There's also a home game against a Vanderbilt team that appears vulnerable. Conventional wisdom says UK will win 3-4 games this season, but there's a case to be made for more.
Why could UK win more than four games? Several reasons. First, this team will be better than last season's, and last season's team was competitive against every opponent not named Georgia or Alabama. If the team stays focused, and with the decreasing likelihood of injuries under Eric Korem's S&C program, competitive football should be played on at least 10 Saturday's this season if not all 12. All with a team that has another year of experience under new schemes and a proper training program. Importantly, there is more leadership in the locker room so far this off-season than in previous memory. That is key.
Second, UK is young but not inexperienced. There was a baptism by fire for many of UK's offense skill positions last year, and they all produced beyond what is expected of freshmen in the SEC. In short, they lived up to their hype relative to their age and experience. Offensively, this season returns battle-hardened Ryan Timmons, Jojo Kemp, and Alexander Montgomery to name but three. Jeff Badet, Jordan Swindle, Ramsey Meyers, and a starting quarterback to be named later are all expected to have break-out seasons.
Defensively, there was a return of eight starters which statistically should make for a better defense (defense was -12 F/+ last season for your reference when looking at the second table). Arguably nine starters return if you count nickleback Blake McClain who saw nearly as many reps as any of the starters. Also, the coaches have another year of experience under their belts. It was Mark Stoops first year as a head coach, and he's had a year to get his sea legs and grow into his position. That's also important.
Narrative Two: Patrick Towles Should Start At Quarterback
Patrick Towles had a great spring game, but the coaches have been adamant that Reese Phillips had the most consistent spring. The offense doesn't need a star quarterback in order to be successful. Rather the starting quarterback should be the one that is the best day-to-day. The starting quarterback for this season's version of the Air Raid needs to manage the game by limiting mistakes. The offensive line is returning four starters, the running back position will be the offense's strength, and every starter in receiver corps is returning. It won't be imperative for this year's quarterback to make big plays like Mike Hartline in 2008. Diagnose defensive coverages, take what the defense gives, then get the hell out of the way, and let the play-makers create.
Narrative Three: 2015 Recruiting Requires A Solid Season
This staff can recruit, and because of that, the outcome of the football season will only have a small impact on the signing class this year. The variance is Top 15 - Top 30 not top 15 - Top 50 ranges.
UK is chasing much bigger fish this season than in the past due to a confluence of reasons. The coaches have had two years evaluating 2015 players and building relationships. This justifies going after more blue-chip recruits. At the same time, blue-chip recruits can go anywhere. Whether UK wins two, four, or six games this year will not outweigh other consideratons of which there are many, especially for the highly-rated recruits. Could Ohio State still woo a top recruit away (i.e. Damien Harris) from UK even if UK wins five or six games? You betcha. Could UK still sign a four star out of Ohio (i.e. CJ Conrad) if it only wins three games? Yup. Those examples are anecdotal but the larger point is supported by this staff's two year track record.
Additionally, not all players priotize a presently successful program. Playing time, relationship with coaches, geographic proximity, and the hope of a brighter future are sometimes ranked higher. Teenagers are complex and can be fickle. Trying to predict their behavior based on a 1-3 game victory range is a fool's errand.
Narrative Four: Programmatically, UK Is Trending Up While UofL Is Trending Down
UK's recruiting has outpaced UofL's for the last two signing classes, and currently leads for a third consecutive. Yet, the team with the highest rated recruits doesn't automatically translate to owning your rival. Clemson, Florida, Texas, and USC largely out-recruited their main rivals the past five years, but South Carolina, Florida State, Oklahoma, and UCLA have largely won the battle on the field respectively. Anything can happen in rivalry games, and star ratings are only projections of abilities not future truth.
Also, Bobby Petrino wins wherever he goes while rarely signing Top 20 classes. Aside from his first season at Arkansas, he has consistently won. Maybe he's the world's greatest game-planner, or maybe he's just great at unearthing hidden gems. Petrino also has Todd Grantham with his ties to the South to aid in recruiting there.
In any case, beating UofL will be more complex than only fielding recruiting websites favored prospects.
Narrative Five: 2015 Will Be The Year UK Returns To A Bowl Game
UK loses a lot of talent after this season. Alvin Dupree, Za'Darius Smith, Javess Blue, Darrian Miller, possibly Braylon Heard, and key depth on the defensive line, in the secondary, and in the receiver corps. Stoops first class will be upperclassmen, and his subsequent classes will provide the depth. No doubt they will be the most talented and athletic team UK has fielded since the 2007-08 team, but they lose a lot of production. 2015 being a breakout season requires these assets being replaced AND upgraded. The team will heavily rely on not just juniors but redshirt sophomores. Meanwhile, UK will still play in the SEC East and draws Auburn as its rotating SEC West opponent. That will probably be "Defending SEC Champion" Auburn too.
Are there other narratives that need to be reconsidered?