As the Big Blue Nation opens up the tailgates for a home game against Central Michigan, the basketball program continues its build up to a potentially blockbuster Fall signing period in recruiting.
Egos boosted (despite the rhetoric of coaches and players) by a stronger than expected showing at Florida last weekend, the Wildcats get a breather of sorts with a MAC opponent that -- while no Texas State exactly -- presents a winnable, albeit non-SEC, tilt for the Wildcats.
Let's be blunt: the Cats need a bowl game. Head coach Rich Brooks needs a bowl game. The fans need something to cheer for besides basketball recruits at football games. Thus, athletic director Mitch Barnhardt's favorable schedule of creampuffs interlaced among the usual SEC bears plays nicely into a season freed of the shackles of probation. Combine this with the better-than-expected maturation of QB Andre' Woodson, and you have the makings of a building year for the Kentucky football team.
Central Michigan sits atop the Mid-American Conference standings after a 24-17 OT win over Eastern Michigan. The Chippewas (2-2, 2-0 MAC) are no stranger to Commonwealth Stadium, having last played there in 1992 in what I like to call the 'Sit anywhere you like because no one is in the upper deck' era of my college years. I can it that because, excepting the Tennessee game, it was mostly true. And we did. But I digress.
With the notable exception of star tailback Rafael Little (who hasn't exactly starred this year), the Cats have mostly managed to dodge the injury bug that deep-sixed any good vibes last season. Expected back for the CMU game are Little (who was wisely kept out of the Florida game, a game the Wildcats were unlikely to win and very likely to lose a still gimpy Little in), starting fullback John Conner and starting center Matt McCutchan. Defensive lineman Jamil Paris, who was tested for an apparent irregular heatbeat in the first half Saturday was cleared to practice this week, and coach Brooks seems to think the excitement of a sack had more to do with the issue than any medical condition. He will likely play Saturday.
The contest, slated for 6 p.m. ET, will be a test of whether the Cats are smoke-and-mirrors-ing their way to a few wins or are legitimately turning the corner. An upset to the visitors would set back almost all the positive momentum gained in the early part of the season. Winnable games still exist in Louisiana-Monroe, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, however it would leave the Cats looking for an upset on their way to the requisite six wins instead of merely taking care of business to stay in bowl consideration.
One last thing to watch: as the season progresses, the Wildcats will do everything they can to get uber-athlete and backup QB Curtis Pulley on the field. He showed impressive skills against the Gators, with five catches for 59 yards. I anticipate seeing Pulley lineup behind center a few times as a surprise against CMU, and he could also get some handoffs at tailback, given his 'slash' qualities. And with how well Woodson has played to date, it's unlikely Pulley is going to see the field as a starting QB for some time.
* Also, it was announced this week that UK's Oct. 7 home game against South Carolina has been picked up by ESPN2 nationally. Perhaps this is a chance to actually win and impess a national audience instead of merely not get the piss beaten out of them on TV.
Cribbing from the web, the boys at KSR get the scoop again, with news that Lavoy Allen -- a prospect that I profiled here a few weeks back -- will join the already impressive throng of 2006 and 2007 names attending Midnight Madness at Rupp on Oct. 13.
At the risk of leaving some names out, the list to date includes, in extremely rough order of focus, PF Patrick Patterson, PG Jai Lucas, wing AJ Stewart, swingman Marshall Moses (06 or 07 class), the Morris twins (Marcus and Markeiff, also 06 or 07), Allen, Mason County swingman Darius Miller (07 stud), plus fellow in-staters Scotty Hopson and Stephon Pettigrew (maybe).
I'm sure I botched that, since the list is both semi-secret and ever-growing. Allen is considered a sleeper power forward, mostly on the radar of regional recruiters like St. Joe's and Temple in Philly and Rutgers in New Jersey.
Other official visits upcoming are Californian Darnell Gant and Georgia big man Chris Barnes this weekend and, again props to KSR, recently scooped five-star Arkansan (and Lucas buddy) James Anderson. Anderson is supposed to be on UK's campus later in October.
One thing Tubby's detractors cannot claim is that Tubby & Co. have not been busy as hell this year in recruiting. Obviously, there are priority recruits such as Patterson and Lucas, but very few of those recruits (only possibly if you toss in Brit big man Mike Williams and apparent non-qualifier Ramon Harris (Ak.)) can be considered afterthoughts.
As discussed recently, the Lucas connection could be huge for Tubby. He certainly appears to have banked on wowing a few of the kids by not only the scope of the Madness celebration (a national Midnight Madness record 23,000 came last year), but by the size of the recruiting class, perhaps hoping to push a few of the kids to commit soon lest they lose a spot to the guy sitting down the aisle from them.