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Kentucky Wildcats Football: The Decision

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All eyes are on Mark Stoops and Shannon Dawson this week as a big decision looms before a critical game at Vanderbilt Saturday.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

I'll get my stance on the issue out of the way right now. UK at least needs to give Drew Barker a chance to show what he can do with this offense at Vandy this weekend. Despite Patrick Towles' starting experience, his substantial tools and the fact that he has beaten Barker out in two open competitions for the spot, the time has come to make a change and hope for the best.

There is undoubtedly plenty of blame to go around for the offense's recent failures. Boom Williams' suspension and subsequent injury, a plethora of dropped passes and a porous offensive line have made the triggerman's job very difficult over the course of the season, but particularly in the last month. This is well-documented and so obvious it almost isn't worth repeating.

All of that aside, Towles appears to be pressing and has doubtlessly lost a lot of confidence in his ability to simply play the game and lead this offense.

Absent other circumstances, most other SEC teams would have at least given Barker a shot, if not moved on from Towles completely at this point. That is not a knock on our coaching staff, but I do believe it is the truth.

Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson has now said that there is a plan in place for Saturday involving the quarterbacks. Those of you familiar with coach speak probably suspected this all along.

After yet another debacle at Georgia, in which Towles may have had his worst game of the year, Stoops announced that the quarterback position was once again opened up at practice this week. This rankled some people who believe, like I do, that Towles being the better practice quarterback is immaterial at this point.

In truth, this was probably the kind of misdirection that is necessary when you coach at this level. Stoops has nothing to gain by announcing who will start Saturday. In fact, I applaud him for it. Keeping the other team guessing is more important than pacifying your critics.

My guess is, whether it be Barker or Towles, Stoops knew very well who he planned to start this week within hours of the Georgia game, if not at that very moment.

I am not at all above the fray. If Towles trots out to start this game, I am going be immediately frustrated and my gut reaction will be that the staff has made a poor decision. But if that happens, I'll try to remind myself of several things right off the bat.

Dawson and Stoops are much more invested in Kentucky winning at least two of their last three games than anyone reading this article. Tired of being questioned and occasionally a bit testy, these two know nonetheless that failing to make a bowl game at this juncture is a big blow to the program itself and to the confidence of recruits, administration and fans going forward.

The idea that the coaching staff sticking with Towles is the result of some sort of bias on their part is misplaced. In fact, I'd argue that any bias that could exist would be decidedly in favor of Barker. I don't think there is anything at play here other than giving the team the best chance for success right now.

If Stoops was acting out of self-interest, going with Barker would be the easy choice. As far as recruitment goes, Towles was a Joker guy and Barker a Stoops guy. The staff has shown no hesitation to move new blood into other positions. With changes on the offensive line, secondary and to a lesser extent, the backfield, many of Joker's recruits have found a diminished role as time has gone on. Zach West, Cody Quinn and Fred Tiller are three names that come immediately to mind.

One notable exception is Patrick Towles. This won't be about loyalty to upperclassmen. That isn't the direction this program or this coaching staff is going.

While I don't pretend to know what is going on in the locker room, it is a good guess that Barker is ingratiated with the offense's best playmakers, Garrett Johnson, Boom Williams and Dorian Baker, all of whom were in his recruiting class. Recall that Barker was instrumental in helping UK recruit the rest of that class and to keep it together. In fact, Keith wrote a good piece on exactly this point.

It would be difficult for too many players to point fingers at Towles right now, given that no one else has played particularly well lately. Still, it is hard to imagine many players would blame the coaching staff for making a switch.

If Towles starts, the locker room isn't the issue.

If Kentucky was folding the tent and playing for next year, Barker would also be an easy choice. If there were nothing to lose, giving a second quarterback game experience before yet another competition in the spring would be the only option. So that is not what's happening either.

If the staff goes with Towles, it will be for only one reason, because they think he gives Kentucky the best chance to win. That opens up a whole other can of worms, of course. Like, why neither QB has developed enough to be better than what we are seeing on the field from Towles right now. But that's a different column and a question for another time.

In all, I can't substitute my judgment for that of the coaches. They see what they see, they hear what they hear. They are privy to information the rest of us can only guess at.

Kentucky football is in a tenuous position and this is a tenuous game. The over/under is, even at a paltry 38, probably a bit high. Points are going to be at a premium. This game could well be won on a pick six or a turnover that leads to a cheap field goal. I can see wanting to go with your steady guy, but what happens when your steady guy isn't all that steady?

Despite a stout defense, Vandy is nowhere near a good football team. It has not scored more than 17 points against a BCS defense all season. This is a low hurdle, but one UK cannot necessarily overcome.

Stoops knows the honeymoon is over and while losing this game wouldn't put him in a red hot seat (we're a year from that, at the bare minimum), any momentum he's built for the program would be reduced to near tatters.

I know what I'd do, but it is his decision to make. If we are going to lose, I'd rather lose with Barker and feel like we went down swinging.

Most importantly though, I'd much rather see Kentucky win the game (however it happens) than be proven right.

Follow me on Twitter @AlexScutchfield