Bobby's Back and Kentucky Fans are Saying "What If?"
I hate to type this, but the top stories in college football right now are Lamar Jackson and the Louisville Cardinals. They are coming off the biggest win of their football program's history, and they are firmly in the driver's seat to make the college football playoff.
Bobby Petrino is at the helm once again even though he left Louisville in the lurch once before as well as he did with the Atlanta Falcons and the Arkansas Razorbacks. Bobby Petrino's name was mud in the world of football for a short time. After he wrecked his motorcycle with his paid mistress on the back, we all laughed at him. And yes, Louisville fans were also taking glee in his downfall despite what they may tell you right now.
There were plenty of internet memes of Bobby is his neck brace with post-wreck road rash all over his face. But we aren't laughing now. That wreck and his firing at Arkansas led him directly back to Tom Jurich's arms. Bobby spent a year in limbo at Western Kentucky. He was desperate to land a Power Five job. He was considered radioactive in the coaching community. He reached out to Kentucky, and it is now known for a fact that he would have taken the job as Kentucky's head football coach if it had been offered to him.
But it wasn't offered. Instead, Jurich took the chance that no other big time AD seemed to be willing to take at the time and welcomed back Bobby Petrino. Louisville's athletic department, and entire university for that matter, doesn't really care about public perception. They were hammered for taking him back at the time as a morally bankrupt program, and the only thing that mattered was winning. Now they are media darlings, and Bobby P. is Prince Charming.
Bobby is the prodigal son, and all is forgotten. Now some Kentucky fans are asking themselves "What if?" Would Kentucky have Lamar Jackson? Would they be sitting at 1-2 right now with a loss to Southern Miss to start the season? Would Bobby Petrino be coaching for his job like Mark Stoops seemingly is now? We could play this game until the cows come home, but the fact is that Petrino is at Louisville, and he isn't going anywhere until he retires.
The talking heads are already discussing if and when Petrino will jump ship from Louisville once again and which SEC jobs would he take.
Why would he leave Louisville? He's in the ACC; he can get elite players there, and it's now proven that they are a major factor in college football and will be as long as he is there.
So no, that neck brace picture isn't funny to me. Not anymore.
Stephen Johnson and the Burden of Expectations
Drew Barker looks to be out with a lingering back injury for at least one more game. He went down against New Mexico State, was carted off the field, and never returned. Mark Stoops' golden boy hasn't performed up to expectations and is now out for an indefinite amount of time.
Now those expectations have transitioned to JUCO transfer Stephen Johnson; a duel threat quarterback with an alleged questionable arm.
But one cannot ignore his performance last Saturday against the Aggies. He was 17/22 passing for over 300 yards and three touchdowns, all of those TDs to C.J. Conrad. The offense looked more efficient with Johnson running the show, and he looked more poised than Barker has since the first half against USM.
But one also cannot ignore the fact that New Mexico State has one of the worst defenses in the country, and while South Carolina isn't very good, their defense will be much better than what Johnson just saw. He is the talk of Lexington and deservedly so. But the expectations are high, and the game against the Gamecocks is vital if Kentucky still plans on going to a bowl.
Can Johnson replicate his success for another week? If not, the QB reserve is depleted with Cincinnati transfer Luke Wright and freshman Gunnar Hoak as the only options left.
I am really rooting for Johnson. I think the kid has moxie, and he adds a dimension that Kentucky will need going forward. His running ability will keep defenses on their toes, and as much as the UK offensive line breaks down, he will need those legs against the big boys.
John Calipari isn't Playing Around with 2017
Bam Adebayo, De'Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Isaiah Briscoe, Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins, and Michael Mulder will no longer be Wildcats this time next season. Some will leave early for the NBA draft while others will graduate. Whichever is the case, the ‘Cats will be shorthanded in 2017. And there is no guarantee that Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones, or Isaac Humphries will return.
So the 2017 recruiting class may be John Calipari's most important class since his very first one at Kentucky. He is going to have to replace his entire team. In response, he loaded up his private jet with gas, picked up Kenny Payne and started going door-to-door.
Here are the players he has recently visited that I feel pretty good about getting:
Ignore the Crystal Ball, for now; it's still early. Calipari has set his sights on Young as his point guard, and once he does that, he rarely misses. Signs are starting to point to an earlier commitment than expected.
Cal has compared Bamba's athleticism to that of Anthony Davis and has made him a top priority. Hamidou Diallo is a super athletic shooting guard that can play the wing. Nick Richards is a St. Patrick's product like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist before him. MKG is in on Richards' recruiting, so we should all feel good about that.
And then there is Kevin Knox who is an elite small forward. Cal has recently missed on some of the players in that position and Knox was thought to be Duke's to lose. But word on the street is that Knox was blown away by Coach Cal's presentation and his message. Cal has some ground to make up, but it appears that he is closing the gap.
John Calipari has been taking some L's in recruiting to Coach K. This is his most important class. There was no doubt that he would bring out the big guns and do most of the recruiting on his own. The other recruiters that Kentucky has are fine, but it opens up a new door once Cal is in your living room selling his message and regaling your family with stories of NBA dreams realized under his watch.
If Cal can land two or three of the players listed above along with a couple of guys like P.J. Washington and John Petty, then Kentucky will be absolutely fine in 2017.