I've been optimistic about Kentucky football in the past. It's true; I tend to ..."/> I've been optimistic about Kentucky football in the past. It's true; I tend to ..."/>

Why 8-4 in Football is a Real Possibility


I’ve been optimistic about Kentucky football in the past. It’s true; I tend to wear blue goggles whenever I am looking at the schedule at the beginning of August. I look at the opponents and maybe I’m not thinking about them so much, maybe it’s the euphoria of another season of football around the corner that leaves me so ready to assign a winning record to the Cats before the first kick off. The thoughts of cool fall mornings and evenings, the thoughts of tailgating with family and friends, and the thoughts of complete victory as the Wildcats upset a top 10 team just seem to take over and block out what should be common sense.

But this year feels different for some reason. I have tried to honestly look at the schedule and think of reasons why they can’t go 8-4. Trust me, there are plenty of reason, but I am finding the negative reasoning is being outweighed by the positive reasoning. I honestly believe that 8-4 is in the realm of possibility. Some of this might sound a little crazy but hear me out.

The Non-Conference Schedule
With four non- conference wins we are already half way to our goal. I can’t envision the Wildcats losing to or even getting a scare from Western Kentucky, Central Michigan or Jacksonville State. All three of those games were placed on the schedule for one purpose only: easy wins. Joker Phillips has been around the SEC long enough to understand that you have to schedule the non-conference lightly because of the brutality of the SEC regular season schedule. Some people may knock the strategy, but if there are teams that deserve a few give me games now and then, they are teams in the SEC.

The fourth non-conference game, I believe, determines the rest of the season. I stated in a blog post last week that I think that the Louisville game is more of an essential and important win that it has been in a long time, and I still believe that. I also believe that Kentucky has more talent, depth and experience than Louisville does in almost every position. I have no reason to believe that the Wildcats do not win this game by a comfortable margin. People talk about it being a rivalry game but I honestly don’t think that will be an issue. Kentucky will be ready by game three and a Saturday night on the road in the SEC is not something that Louisville will be looking at with great anticipation.

The SEC Wins
The Achilles heal of Kentucky football is playing in the SEC. The nation’s top football conference is a test of will, strategy, strength and talent every single week. It’s tough playing in the SEC but I take much pride in the fact that my team plays with the best of the best, week in and week out.

Kentucky plays in the Eastern division, which has been declared a division in the midst of a rebuilding year. There is a changing of the guard in Florida, Tennessee is falling deeper into hard times having to deal with scandal and a drop in national interest on the recruiting scale, Georgia is full of questions had Mark Richt may be coaching for his job, and Vanderbilt is coming off another disastrous season as well as another coaching change.

The only team I see the Cats losing to with much certainty is South Carolina. The Gamecocks are returning just about everybody from last year’s SEC Championship game team which includes quarterback Stephen Garcia and Heisman candidate running back Marcus Lattimore.

And then there is the west that Kentucky has to contend with. LSU, Mississippi, and Mississippi State are on the docket from the other side of the conference. LSU is always a scary team in Baton Rouge, but the controversy and loss of quarterback Jordan Jefferson have now raised questions around the Tigers. Mississippi is another SEC team with a not to popular coach with a squad that looks to be more sub par than usual. Mississippi State is a dark horse pick for many of the experts around college football to perhaps come out of the West as the champion.

Four wins in the SEC is tough to come by. 2-6 is usually the order of the day when in comes to Kentucky and their conference, but the teams that they play this year are not the usual behemoths that usually run all over them. One win against Vandy and then only three more to get between Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi State and Florida is looking better and better.

The Maturation of Morgan Newton
The junior quarterback has a lot to prove to a fan base that saw him come in as a four star recruit from Carmel Indiana. Newton came up with some big road wins as a freshman by defeating Georgia and Auburn in their buildings. He also almost knocked off the Volunteers in Knoxville only to come up empty handed.

His struggles last year are well documented. He was upset about falling to number two on the depth chart to Mike Hartline. There were also rumors coming out of camp that he was having a hard time beating out fellow sophomore Ryan Mossakowski for the third string job. He made some public statements that indicated his frustration and his possible desire to transfer.

A rough season became even worse when Newton looked terrible during a loss in Kentucky’s fifth straight bowl game. He couldn’t complete a long pass down field and looked confused most of the time. Many fans started to abandon the thought of him becoming the blue chip player that he was believed to be.

But he worked hard in the off season, he was coached up by offensive coordinator Randy Sanders, national champion quarterback Tee Martin and Kentucky quarterback legend Andre Woodson. Newton has had all of the care in the world and his coaches and teammates are noticing a change. Joker Phillips stated that his accuracy compared to last year is “night and day”. Newton’s teammates recognize him as the leader, unquestioned and unchallenged.

Newton has proven to be a winner in the past. This year he takes the offense on his back, along with a veteran offensive line, and leads the team to some major victories.

Rick Minter brings Speed and Toughness
The Wildcat defense was pretty much a joke last season. The constant camera shots of a seemingly perplexed and helpless Steve Brown on the sidelines left the fans howling for the defensive coordinator to step down or to be fired. And why not? Teams were running through a porous, poorly disciplined unit game by game.

Joker Phillips recognized the need for a change and, like a good head coach, he made the move to hire some new blood. Phillips brought in Rick Minter, a hard nosed college football veteran with experience from schools such as Notre Dame, South Carolina and Cincinnati, a program which he built.

Minter has retooled the defense to focus on speed and strength. Winston Guy has been moved to a hybrid safety/linebacker position, and defensive backs Randall Burden, Martavias Neloms and Anthony Mosely have speed to burn. The entire defense is full of juniors and senior that have been instilled with the new Minter attitude and philosophy.

These are the main reasons for my optimism. The great thing is that football is only 48 hours away and my optimism will either be validated or proven wrong. There are a lot of things to be positive about on August 31st. I will check back with on October 31st. The we will see if 8-4 is a possibility or a dream for next season.

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