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PIGSKIN PREVIEW

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 2009

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Fielding the questions

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By Kenny Kenny Colston Colston By kcolston@kykernel.com kcolston@kykernel.com Is UK ready to get out of the Southeastern Conference East Division cellar? Pick up most preseason magazines and predictions and UK is predicted sixth in the East, 11th overall. The same Cats that have gone to three straight bowls (which isn’t the feat it used to be, but still) are mostly picked below Vanderbilt and South Carolina, again. It’s almost like those preseason mags have a template already in place, with UK and Vandy interchangable at the bottom. See Colston on page A5 PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY ADAM WOLFFBRANDT | STAFF


PAGE A2 | Friday, September 4, 2009

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Junior quarterback Mike Hartline makes a pass against South Carolina last year at Commonwealth Stadium. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Hartline improves game, attitude By Ben Jones bjones@kykernel.com

On many days at practice, Mike Hartline's cleats are the last ones off the practice field. As what looks like the entire UK football team trots off the field the moment the practice is over, the quarterback is conspicuously absent. Randall Cobb, Will Fidler and Morgan Newton jog off the field in the procession of red, white and blue jerseys, but UK's junior starter at quarterback isn't among them. On a practice field off in the distance, after all his teammates have shed their pads and are rehydrating, junior quarterback Mike Hartline is still perfecting his passes. There wasn't a coach who challenged Hartline to be one of the hardest workers on the team. No teammate asked him to take the initiative and take those extra snaps. Hartline made this decision on his own. "I feel like I'm at the point now in my career where I shouldn’t be asking the coaches what I need to do to get better," Hartline said. "I should know what I need to do to get better. I'm over that young stage of my career. I'm not a young guy anymore, I'm a veteran." That's good news for those counting on Hartline to eclipse his numbers from a disappointing sophomore campaign when he passed for 1,666 yards with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. Those numbers were especially disappointing after coaches and fans became accustomed to the high-powered offenses led by Andre Woodson and Co. "We thought we would go backwards a little bit because you can't compare much to 2006 and 2007," said Joker Phillips, UK's head coach of the offense. "But we didn't expect to go back that far." Hartline lost his job after eight games and was the target of plenty of criticism from fans, coaches and analysts alike. But when Cobb was injured, Hartline helped the team to a win in the Liberty Bowl and entered fall camp as the clear starter. The gap between Hartline and any of his challengers has since grown considerably. The coaching staff is adamant the

STAFF FILE PHOTO

Last year, Hartline completed 55 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions.

“I feel like I’m at the point now in my career where I shouldn’t be asking the coaches what I need to do to get better. ” MIKE HARTLINE UK quarterback

job is Hartline's to lose, even with a pair of talented freshmen and a backup behind him who has plenty of time in the program. “I know, I listen, I hear, I read, but Mike Hartline is our guy,” UK head coach Rich Brooks said. To help his teammates and himself, Hartline put a large dry erase board in his apartment this summer. He invited teammates over so they could work on plays and get a better feel for each other and the offense. "I knew everybody was going to be here so there's no excuse why they couldn't come and meet," Hartline said. "That was just one thing we did to get everybody together and get everybody working toward the same goal." By stepping up as a leader, Hartline showed he was ready to work on all aspects of his game. He threw his teammates under the bus when he was benched last year, but he’s been getting rave reviews all through practice. Everyone — from receivers, to coaches, to defensive players matching up against Hartline in practice — has said Hartline is among the most-improved players in fall camp. Hartline’s fluttery deep balls were much-maligned last year, but teammates said much of that came from a lack of con-

fidence in his receivers. This year, the wideouts are catching the ball with more consistency and Hartline appears to have improved his long throws. “He’s throwing the ball more accurately, he’s throwing it deep accurately,” Brooks said. “He’s giving receivers a chance to make plays on the ball, and amazingly we’ve got receivers making some plays on the ball.” Brooks and Phillips have both repeatedly said that the receivers, led by Cobb and junior Chris Matthews, are much-improved. Other receivers who had smaller roles last year, like sophomores Eric Adeyemi and Gene McCaskill, came on strong down the stretch and are expected to be more consistent this year. "His attitude is a lot better," Phillips said. "Sometimes when we didn’t have success (last season), Mike wouldn't carry himself the right way. Whenever we sent in a play that he wasn't really excited about, I think you could see it. You could see it in his body language." Phillips said that attitude and body language were two things the coaching staff also had to work on with Woodson at the same age. Hartline said that everything that is so different about him now — his atti-

tude, his work ethic — is all a byproduct of his tumultuous sophomore campaign. "You take care of your business more and grow up," Hartline said. "I think after that first year, realizing what I had to go through, what I went through and what it takes to go through a year like that and stay positive, it definitely changed parts of my life." Hartline may have also felt the pressure when freshmen quarterbacks Newton and Ryan Mossakowski arrived on campus. He welcomed the competition at the position, but the buzz surrounding the duo may have been extra motivation for Hartline. Many believed Newton and Mossakowski could push Hartline for playing time this season. But both have struggled to digest the playbook and have looked lost at times in practice. Brooks has repeatedly said that the freshmen "are playing like freshmen." Even though Mossakowski insists his shoulder is almost back to 100 percent and he was quoted earlier in the year saying he would be reluctant to redshirt, he seemed to be more receptive to sitting out the year when talking to reporters at media day. "It's whatever they want to do with me," Mossakowski said. When the team depth chart was released on Monday, Mossakowski and Newton were still battling for the third-string quarterback job behind Hartline and Fidler, respectively. To improve on last year’s record and be where they want to be this season, Phillips said “there’s no question” there has to be improved production at the quarterback position. Watching Hartline work on those deep throws after practice is one thing, but Brooks said those extra reps won’t matter unless Hartline can reproduce those results down the stretch in close games. “I think the only way you judge that level of improvement is you play games,” Brooks said. “On the practice field there’s no question we’ve seen a tremendous improvement from Mike Hartline. Now we have to see whether that translates to games, completions, touchdowns, lack of interceptions, those kinds of things.”

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Friday, September 4, 2009 | PAGE A3

Practice doesn’t mean perfect for quarterback’s second chance Whether or not you would’ve believed it this time last year, Mike Hartline looks like he’s growing into an SEC quarterback. Hartline was clouded with mystery before the 2008 JAMES season. One PENNINGTON group of Kernel fans guessed columnist Hartline and his 6-foot-6 frame would take the Cats by storm, filling the massive void Andre Woodson left behind. Other fans assumed his inexperience and lack of help at the receiver position would shoot the Cats in the foot — that is, until Randall Cobb stepped in to scramble his way toward saving the day. Sadly, both groups of fans were right. Hartline, at times, looked like Woodson’s rightful successor. Especially against Louisville — a game placed under the microscope each year because it’s early in the year and it’s the Cats’ biggest rivalry game — Hartline looked like the quarterback of the next

three years without question. But that version of Hartline didn’t show up every week. Hartline was benched in the midst of losing to Florida by 58. Sure, we’re talking about the all-universe Florida defense that made Heisman winner Sam Bradford look average in the BCS National Championship Game, but Bradford didn’t throw his teammates under the bus after the loss. Hartline did. Don’t expect every last one of Hartline’s problems to vanish this year, but expect to see a matured, polished SEC quarterback. “He’s throwing the ball more accurately, throwing the deep ball more accurately,” UK head coach Rich Brooks said. “He’s giving receivers a chance to make a play on the ball and amazingly, we have some receivers making some plays on the ball.” Receiver play is one area out of Hartline’s control that will undoubtedly make the quarterback’s job easier this season. Not only will the receivers drop fewer balls, but Hartline’s confidence in his teammates will allow him to throw the deep ball and make

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the big play when necessary. “Last year we were shorthanded because of young guys, one being myself,” Hartline said. “But right now we have big, strong targets, guys that know what they’re doing and just want to make plays on the football.” Cobb is now considered to be a wide receiver, though he will see a few snaps each game in a special Wildcat package. Plus, the pair showed a flash of good chemistry when the two hooked up for two late-game touchdowns in a comeback win over Arkansas. And beyond Hartline’s improvements, the leading buzz-maker during fall camp may have been junior college transfer Chris Matthews, a 6foot-5 receiver ready to step in and immediately make plays. “He’s a very big and physical receiver, and he can really catch the ball,” senior cornerback Trevard Lindley said. “I like going up against him because I have been trying to get better on bigger receivers. If Hartline can have success throwing in practice against Lindley, widely regarded as one See Pennington on page A4


PAGE A4 | Friday, September 4, 2009

2010 recruiting begins slowly Cats chase nation’s top recruits with mixed results By Nick Craddock sports@kykernel.com

The Southeastern Conference’s exclusive TV deal with ESPN and CBS paired with UK’s string of three straight trips to a bowl game was supposed to make the recruiting process easier for the football program. But that doesn’t seem to be the case as only a handful of players in the Class of 2010 have committed to the Cats. UK currently has the lowest ranked recruiting class in the SEC for the Class of 2010, according to Scout.com and Rivals.com, with only six early commitments, none of which are four or five-star recruits. By contrast, traditional SEC East powerhouses like Florida, Georgia and Tennessee have had no trouble attracting higher-profile prospects. Florida already has five commitments from players on the Scout.com Top 100 and six commitments from the Rivals.com Rivals100 in its 2010 recruiting class. “I'm not concerned one bit. I think you judge a recruiting class by what happens in February (on signing day),” said Chuck Smith, UK’s recruiting coordinator. “You might have one of those big, high-profile recruits, all it is is a verbal commitment, he could change his mind next week, he could change his mind next month, he could change his mind the week before the signing date.” Despite the UK coaching

staff’s efforts on the recruiting trail, the star recruits simply might not commit, said Tim Adams, a recruiting analyst for Scout.com. “Kentucky is looking for the same recruits as Alabama, Tennessee and Florida,” Adams said. “The problem is they can’t get the top players in Florida when they can stay in-state and go play for a national championship.” So far, UK’s recruiting class is headlined by three-star defensive lineman Justin Henderson, according to Scout.com, and a pair of teammates, Tyler Brause and Teven Eatmon from Wynford High School in Bucyrus, Ohio. Brause is a three-star quarterback and Eatmon is a two-star tight end, according to Scout.com. “(UK) needs to recruit better, but there is a lure,” Adams said. “A lot of the kids I watch in Indiana see them as part of the SEC, and that appeals to a large number of them.” Scout.com recruiting analyst Chad Simmons has also seen UK mentioned more in recruiting conversations in the past five years than he ever remembers. Simmons described UK’s program as one on the “up and up.” Adams believes UK’s improvements, along with the struggles of the lower-echelon teams in the Big Ten, like Indiana and Purdue, will, in the future, enhance UK’s chances of landing recruits who view SEC football as king. One Indiana recruit debating whether the chance to play in the SEC is a big enough draw is four-star receiver Dyjuan Lewis, a 6-foot-2 sen-

PENNINGTON Continued from page A3 of the nation’s top defensive backs, he shouldn’t have trouble picking apart any other cornerback in the league. But there’s a catch with all of this: None of Hartline’s steps forward so far mean anything if he can’t get it done off the practice field. Practicing well is one thing. Perhaps its importance is even overshadowed at times. But Hartline hasn’t separated himself from last year’s ghost quite yet. By all accounts, Hartline is in great shape, his arm is stronger than ever and his decision

ior at Pike High School, who has shown interest in UK. Even if the higher-ranked recruits, like Lewis, don’t decide to commit to UK, the program has made a habit of targeting two and three-star recruits in recent seasons and developing them once they arrive on campus. Smith said the UK coaching staff doesn’t even bother looking at Scout.com or Rivals.com, because they do all their own evaluation of prospects. “We do a pretty thorough job of evaluating each player, evaluating athletically, academically and character-wise,” Smith said. “Once we bring him in and he has passed all of those criteria for us, we feel like it's our job of developing him into a kind of player we need to win an SEC championship." Solid recruiting pipelines have also been established by the UK coaching staff, notably LaGrange, Ga., home to four players currently on the UK roster and another commit, punter Joe Mansour. Many other UK football alumni, including linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Braxton Kelley also went to LaGrange. Simmons said UK head coach of the offense Joker Phillips is good friends with LaGrange head coach Steve Pardue. Ultimately, Simmons said, the best way for UK to recruit successfully is to continue to win more games consistently. “(UK) doesn’t have flash or national notoriety,” Simmons said. “They need to compete in the SEC and get a few signature wins.”

making from a year ago is much improved. Brooks also noted the extra year under Hartline’s belt would make it easier for audibles and checks at the line of scrimmage. Stronger personnel around him or not, Hartline Present is shaping up to be a much better player than Hartline Past. Whether Hartline Game is as good as Hartline Practice? That remains to be seen. “On the practice field there is no question that we have seen tremendous improvement in Mike Hartline,” Brooks said. “Now we’ll have to see if that translates to games, completions, touchdowns, lack of interceptions, those kinds of things.” Who knew? James Pennington is a journalism senior. E-mail jpennington@kykernel.com.


Friday, September 4, 2009 | PAGE A5

Phillips content with offense, in no hurry to become coach By Ben Jones bjones@kykernel.com

Joker Phillips may be UK's head coach of the future, but that's all he'll be for now. Even with questions swirling surrounding the future of UK head coach Rich Brooks, Phillips hasn't taken on any additional responsibilities with the team. There are no immediate plans for Phillips to begin taking on any additional football-related duties in an effort to ease the transition for when he is eventually named head coach. Since being named UK's head coach in waiting in January 2008, the only real difference Phillips has seen in his duties is an increase in speaking engagements and a change in title, Phillips said. He was named head coach of the offense on Jan. 15, but he still performs the duties of most offensive coordinators, including play-calling. Randy Sanders, former UK quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator, was given the title of offensive coordinator during the offseason. "It's been kind of the same," Phillips said. "Rich is keeping me informed of some things, some more things that are going on around here. But my job here is just to make sure this offense is heading in the right direction." Brooks started speculation that he could be entering one of his final seasons as coach when he told reporters at SEC media day on July 22 that he would likely not reach his goal of becoming UK's longest-tenured head coach. To break Fran Curci's record of coaching for nine years, Brooks would have to coach

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UK head coach of the offense Joker Phillips is in no hurry to take over for UK head coach Rich Brooks, despite being named successor. through the 2012 season. Since media day, Brooks has avoided any questions concerning his future at UK, saying he will wait until after the season to make any comment on his future with the team. Brooks said he believes it is not fair to the players to discuss that during the season, when the team should be focusing on football. Phillips said the decision to have the coaching transition be all at once was reached by Brooks, UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and UK President Lee Todd. Even though he was not involved in the decision, Phillips was pleased with the outcome. "That's the way I would want it," Phillips said. "A lot of coaches in waiting have

deadlines in their contracts and those types of things and I really don't think it's fair to Rich to have a deadline, because what happens when we get to the deadline and he's not ready to hang it up?" Brooks, Barnhart, and Todd weren't worried that the team could be divided if Phillips was given some responsibilities of a head coach. Phillips certainly doesn't seem to be in any hurry to take over the program. For now, he's more than content to call the offense at his alma mater. "I like it the way it is," Phillips said. "I got a great job, there's no question about it. (Brooks) is great to work for, and I just love being at home and doing the things that I'm doing now."

STAFF FILE PHOTO

UK head coach Rich Brooks created speculation that he could be entering one of his final seasons when speaking to reporters at Southeastern Conference Media Day.

COLSTON Continued from page A1

Questions abound Of course, every year UK head coach Rich Brooks must field questions about his team, just like any other coach. But this year, there are seemingly more questions. How’s the defense going to hold up? And those young, new defensive ends? Can Micah Johnson and Trevard Lindley make enough of a difference to cover the holes? When will Brooks step aside and let Joker Phillips take the reigns? Is Mike Hartline UK’s quarterback for the whole season? Can UK win at South Carolina and finally beat Steve Spurrier? What about at Auburn? How about beating the Volunteers? That’s just a sampling of the questions facing Brooks. Just listing all questions will fill this entire column. Answering them won’t be that hard. UK could finish with an 8-4 record. They could end up 4-8. The Cats can count on four wins: Miami of Ohio, Louisville, Eastern Kentucky and Louisiana-Monroe. Throw in shouldbe wins against Vanderbilt and Mississippi State and the Cats can discuss bowling again. And for the optimists, at South Carolina and at Auburn are pretty winnable as well (if you’re putting money on it, take a win over the Tigers before the Gamecocks). But can you set any of those in stone? Would you run and bet UK in any game other than EKU and Louisiana-Monroe? Having seen last year’s offense and knowing that most of those guys are back, would you really bank on UK scoring more than two touchdowns a game? Will you count on Hartline making the Andre Woodson junior leap? Most of these questions will be answered by week four of the regular season. But the biggest question of all will loom until that final game against the Volunteers.

Stuck in the cellar Brooks makes no bones about it — he realizes that upsets of Georgia and Louisiana State haven’t done enough to change the idea of what UK football should be. He knows that in order to really make

noise and influence an SEC race is to beat someone on their own turf, besides Vandy or Mississippi State. It means going Between the Hedges to beat Georgia. It means going to Columbia, S.C., to beat Spurrier. Brooks has come close recently, putting Alabama and South Carolina on the ropes in recent years. Of course, last year Florida and Tennessee were the ugly counters to those games. Put all the other depth chart questions, talent questions and succession questions to the side. In the grand scheme of all things football, they don’t matter because they change year to year. So far, Brooks has gone from a coach whose seat was in full flames to a coach that has turned a program around. That, in itself, is no small feat. But there is one big question Rich Brooks needs to answer before he sets out into the sunset (which will be sooner rather than later). He took Oregon to the Rose Bowl and a Pac10 championship in 1994, culminating with the Ducks’ first-ever four consecutive bowl game run with the best bowl the Ducks could reach. With Florida and Alabama still prominent, no one in their right mind would force the same title standard for Brooks this year. But this year, instead of another lowly bowl in the state of Tennessee and another finish in the SEC cellar, it’s time for Brooks to answer the questions that will take him from being a really good UK head coach to one of the top two coaches the program has ever seen. Can Brooks take UK out of the cellar and into the upper half of the SEC? Can Brooks return UK to a Florida bowl game, where they play a good school from a power conference? And last but not least, can Brooks make UK football matter enough that SEC schools stop marking the Cats down as a highly-likely home win? Can he make the preseason magazines to scrap their prediction templates? This is the season that will show us the answers to those questions. Finish 6-6 and we’ll all plug UK in at sixth again next year. Finish better and UK fans will stop wishing Bear Bryant never left town. Finish 8-4 and maybe Brooks can help make the new preseason magazine template for 2010. Kenny Colston is a journalism senior. Email kcolston@kykernel.com

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PAGE A6 | Friday, September 4, 2009

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PHOTO BY BRITNEY MCINTOSH| STAFF

Two UK defenders collide after tackling a Georgia player to the ground during last year’s game.

Swing games could be difference between lows and goals this season By Ben Jones

bjones@kykernel.com

Inside the Nutter Center, UK’s football training facility, there’s a giant schedule with every game the Cats are planning on playing in this season. At the bottom, unassumingly listed like any other game on the normal schedule, there’s the Southeastern Conference Championship game. While most would seem to think that’s a bit bold of the Cats, Joker Phillips, UK’s head coach of the offense, said the conference championship is no longer just a hopeful ambition. "It's becoming an expectation," Phillips said. "That's our No. 1 goal — to win the SEC Championship." Even with the strides UK head coach Rich Brooks has made with the program, he’s still a combined 1-23 against SEC East foes Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. To reverse that trend, sophomore wide receiver Randall Cobb said the team will have to focus. “It’s going to be the confidence level and we have to play like we know we can play,” Cobb said. “In the past I think they’ve had the mindset that it’s possible you can beat them. You have to have the

mindset that you know you can beat them.” After three straight years in low-level bowls, many players and fans are growing restless. Cobb said he won’t be content with another Music City Bowl or another Liberty Bowl. “That’s old. You can’t keep going to the same bowls,” Cobb said. “You have to make a step. This program, it’s time for us to make that step, make that leap to the next level and take this thing to the bigger bowls.” Last year, the Cats played in eight games that were decided by a touchdown or less, going 4-4 in those contests. This year figures to have plenty of close contests as well, with road games against some weakened opponents and home games against some of the best of the SEC. Most pundits agree that UK has plenty of swing games on its schedule this year, including home dates with Tennessee and Mississippi State and road trips to take on Auburn, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. The outcomes of those games is likely to be the deciding factor in the Cats’ season. While there may have to be some luck involved for the Cats to swing some

of those games their way, Phillips said there’s no reason why UK can’t break out this year. "Every year some team comes out of no where,” Phillips said. “Why not Kentucky? You've seen the Boise's, the Utah's, Vanderbilt came on the scene last year, Ole Miss is struggling to make the move and separate themselves. Why not Kentucky? I feel like we've got everything we need to be successful in this league." The consensus among players is that this is among the deepest teams in UK’s recent history — even deeper than the 2007 team that knocked off eventual national champion LSU and was ranked in the top 10 nationally for some time. The catch is that this squad doesn’t have the proven playmakers that team had, several players said. That’s not the only thing separating this year’s team from 2007, when the rallying cry for the program was ‘We believe.’ Now, there’s a new buzz around the team. “The saying we’ve been saying a lot is ‘Believe the hype,’ ” Cobb said. “We feel we have the confidence in ourselves and this team that we’re going to do big things this year.”


Friday, September 4, 2009 | PAGE A7

Sleeper role fits just fine for 6-foot-4 freshman By Metz Camfield mcamfield@kykernel.com

It seems as though every year a once almost-unknown steps onto the field at Commonwealth Stadium and gives UK fans performances throughout the season that makes him a fan favorite. In 2007 that man was Stevie Johnson, a junior college transfer wide receiver that didn’t make a big impact in his first year with the King Cats. In 2008 the emerging star award was given to Randall Cobb. With the season only one day away, Big Blue Nation is looking for the next emerging star to take center stage. One receiver who has been flying under everyone’s radar but the coaches’ is 6-foot-4 freshman La’Rod King. “He’s having a good camp,” UK head coach Rich Brooks said. “He missed two or three days with a bruised foot, but he’s back now and making plays on the ball. He’s definitely in the mix and in the competition.” King, a quarterback his senior year in high school in Radcliff, Ky., was an early commit to UK, saying he’s always been a UK fan. In high school King played wide receiver, tight end, safety and contributed on special teams in addition to his quarterback duties. What King brings to the Cats at the receiver position is another tall option that can go up and get the ball. “The guy understands how to adjust to the ball,” UK head coach of the offense Joker Phillips said. “I tell our kids, we have a bunch of three point shooters, La’Rod’s a rebounder. He’s doing well at that. We’ve been at the goal line a couple times and thrown it up to him and he’s come down and made some plays over some really good corners.

I’m talking some of the starting corners. So we’re pleasantly surprised with him.” With the receiving position being so shaky from a year ago, another big body that can go up to get the ball has been exactly what the Cats have been looking for. Phillips said UK wants four or five receivers that can go into games. From camp it looks as though Matthews, junior Kyrus Lanxter, and sophomores Gene McCaskill and Randall Cobb have solidified four of those spots. Phillips said King could add more depth and be a nice addition to those four. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised by La’Rod,” Phillips said. “He’s one of the surprises in this class. He’s a physical guy, big, strong guy. He’s smart and he’s made a lot of plays so far this camp. He’s the surprise of this whole class. “La’Rod King and Matthews, I think those two have a chance to be special. Because not only are they big but they’re tough and they’re athletic,” Phillips said. With King’s long, athletic frame and basketball background, Phillips sees King as a guy who can block punts and field goals. Brooks has prided himself on the fact that UK’s turnaround has been because of athletes that have outperformed their recruiting rankings, and King said he would be more than happy to continue in that role. “That would mean a lot,” King said. “Because I’d contribute I’m another help and addition so if somebody has to go to the bench I can come right in to the rotation. I know my plays; I know my routes; what I’m reading. It’d help the quarterback out a bunch and it’d help the team out a bunch.” King said his best attribute is his listening and learning, having already learned the playbook in his short time on campus. As a sleeper, King said his drive will help push him over the top. “You have to come in here with your head high, you can’t come in here thinking ‘I’m just like an underdog or whatever,’ ” King said. “I mean I like to be the underdog. The ones who are underestimated are the ones who shine the most … The ones who are under(estimated), they see the opportunity and they go harder to get that.”

He’s smart and he’s made a lot of plays so far this camp. He’s the surprise of this whole class.” — Joker Phillips, UK head coach of the offense

on freshman La’Rod King


PAGE A8 | Friday, September 4, 2009

SEC EAST PREVIEW

PHOTO BY BRITNEY MCINTOSH | STAFF

Two Georgia defenders tackle sophomore wide receiver Randall Cobb in last year’s game.

Gators favorites to win SEC, national championship 1. Florida Gators Head coach: Urban Meyer (44-9 at Florida, 26-8 in Southeastern Conference at Florida) Last season: 13-1 (8-1 SEC) Burning question: Has a team ever been expected to run the table as much as the Gators are this year? Will it be a disappointment if this group of seniors doesn’t win a national championship by going undefeated? Most importantly, can the Gators handle the immense amount of pressure sitting on their shoulders? ■ They’re the No. 1 team in the preseason polls for a reason. The defending champs return every starter from a defense that ranked fourth in the country in scoring last year, allowing less than 13 points a game. In addition to the defense Tim Tebow is back. Gone is wide receiver Percy Harvin, but with another year of experience for running backs Jeffery Demps and Chris Rainey, paired with another great Meyer recruiting class, the Gators are serious contenders to run the brutal SEC table unscathed.

2. Georgia Bulldogs Head coach: Mark Richt (82-22 at Georgia, 48-19 in SEC) Last season: 10-3 (6-2 SEC) Burning question: The Bulldogs defense struggled last year, not finishing in the top five of the SEC in any major defensive category. With the majority of the defense returning, can the Bulldogs defense carry the load similar to how their offense did last year? ■ Gone are first-round draft picks Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno, but these Bulldogs still have bite. A.J. Green is one of the best receivers in the SEC and sophomore running back Caleb King is primed for a breakout season. They won’t have the goods to contend with the Gators, but playing LSU and South Carolina at home is a big plus.

3. South Carolina Gamecocks Head coach: Steve Spurrier (28-22 at South Carolina, 15-17 in SEC at South Carolina) Last season: 7-6 (4-4 SEC) Burning question: Do the Gamecocks have what it takes to finally take the next step and move from mediocrity, and perennial No. 4 in the East, to elite football status? ■ The Ol’ Ball Coach may finally have the quarterback he’s been looking for. It appears sophomore quarterback Stephen Garcia has finally matured, and if his game can follow suit the Gamecocks will have a good one. Look for freshman wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey to quickly become Garcia’s favorite target. On defense, senior linebacker Eric Norwood anchors a unit that has speed but

lacks depth. It appears the Gamecocks are ready for another average 7-5 season.

4. Kentucky Wildcats Head coach: Rich Brooks (32-41 at UK, 13-35 in SEC at UK) Last season: 7-6 (2-6 SEC) Burning question: Can junior quarterback Mike Hartline lead the Wildcats and move them up the SEC pecking order? ■ The Cats are attempting to turn the corner, and in 2009 they have a favorable opportunity. On offense the Cats will have two reliable receivers in sophomore Randall Cobb and junior Chris Matthews. Add in a year of experience for junior Kyrus Lanxter and Hartline will have options out wide. Supporting Hartline will be an offensive line with great experience. On defense, the loss of senior Jeremy Jarmon cannot be understated, but seniors Trevard Lindley and Micah Johnson are first round NFL draft talent.

5. Tennessee Volunteers Head coach: Lane Kiffin (first year at Tennessee) Last season: 5-7 (3-5 SEC) Burning question: New head coach Lane Kiffin talked the talk during the offseason, calling out just about every team in the SEC for one thing or another. Will the Vols have the talent to back up their outspoken coach’s words? ■ The Vols have a new head coach and also have a lot of words to back up. There’s no doubt about it, after this offseason Tennessee will get every team’s best shot and the plethora of freshmen the Vols will be playing are going to have to mature quickly or there’s going to be trouble in Knoxville, Tenn. The recruiting class was great, but the hard knocks from every opponent will be too much.

6. Vanderbilt Commodores Head coach: Bobby Johnson (27-56 at Vanderbilt, 12-44 in SEC) Last season: 7-6 (4-4 SEC) Burning question: The Commodores are familiar with being known as the doormat of the SEC East. After a 4-4 campaign in ’08, can Vanderbilt show that last season was no fluke? ■ Vanderbilt had a breakout year in ’08 and saved head coach Bobby Johnson’s job. They’re going to need a lot of that magic again this year if they want to get back out of the SEC cellar. Returning 17 starters will help, but a schedule that features LSU, South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee on the road won’t. The Commodores won’t be able to top Georgia or Ole Miss at home, meaning Vanderbilt won’t be looking as hot in ’09.

STAFF FILE PHOTO

After years of underachieving, Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina squad could be posed for a jump into the upper half of the SEC East.


Friday, September 4, 2009 | PAGE A9

SEC WEST PREVIEW

PHOTO BY ALLIE GARZA | STAFF

UK defenders Trevard Lindley and Marcus McClinton make a play in last year’s game against Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Alabama looks to repeat in SEC West as Ole Miss flounders under expectations 1. Alabama Crimson Tide

4. Arkansas Razorbacks

Head Coach: Nick Saban (19-8 at Alabama, 12-5 in SEC at Alabama) Last season: 12-2 (8-1 SEC) Burning question: Who’s going to play quarterback? ■ Greg McElroy is firmly entrenched with the starting spot after a battle with a pair of freshmen in fall camp. If there’s production at quarterback, then the defense, the running game and Julio Jones will take care of the rest. Nick Saban is relentless, so don’t expect the Tide to let anyone else sneak up on them. Even though Saban is just entering his third year, he’s already stocked the program with plenty of talent to fill holes from last year. The Tide get picked here because they’re a much, much better team than Ole Miss at almost every position other than quarterback. Here’s to a repeat of last year’s SEC Championship game.

Head Coach: Bobby Petrino (5-7 at Arkansas, 2-6 in SEC at Arkansas) Last season: 5-7 (2-6 SEC) Burning question: Can Ryan Mallet, a transfer from Michigan, make the same impact in the West that Jevan Snead had last year? ■ Michael Smith is one of the best tailbacks in the SEC, and if Mallet gets things going, Petrino will have another dangerous offense on his hands. Don’t be fooled by last year’s record; Arkansas is steadily improving. Bobby Petrino flopped in the NFL but there’s no denying his track record as a college whiz, especially on offense. The Hogs could be competing for SEC West championships in the next few years, but it’s probably too early to expect great things in 2009. For now, a lower-level bowl game should be the expectation.

2. Ole Miss Rebels Head Coach: Houston Nutt (9-4 at Ole Miss, 6-3 in SEC at Ole Miss) Last season: 9-4 (6-3 SEC) Burning question: Can the Rebels handle the hype and play as favorites instead of underdogs? ■ They have the best quarterback in the SEC this side of Tim Tebow in Jevan Snead, but Nutt’s teams traditionally flounder when surrounded by high expectations. The Rebels also lost plenty of talent from last year and no one will be overlooking them. Receiver Dexter McCluster will step in as quarterback in the Wild Rebel, but Ole Miss shouldn’t rely too heavily on a gimmick offense. There’s more hype around the Grove now than there was when Eli Manning was in the Heisman race. If they can play with a target on their back, they’ll be dangerous. Otherwise, it’ll be just another disappointing season for Nutt.

5. Mississippi State Bulldogs Head Coach: Dan Mullen (first year at Mississippi State) Last season: 4-8 (2-6 SEC) Burning question: Can Dan Mullen execute the same offense he had at Florida without the same players he had at Florida? ■ Mullen piloted one of the greatest offenses ever in the Swamp, but Mississippi State is a tough place for anyone to succeed. There are a few good players here, but there will have to be more for the Bulldogs to be respectable this season. Anthony Dixon, a sledgehammer of a running back, will have to carry this team until the rest of the offense catches on to the system. The Bulldogs get the nod over Auburn because Dan Mullen seems to be a better hire than Gene Chizik. If nothing else, Mullen has been in the league the last two years and will be better-prepared to gameplan against the personnel.

3. LSU Tigers

6. Auburn Tigers

Head Coach: Les Miles (42-11 at LSU, 23-11 in SEC at LSU) Last season: 8-5 (3-5 SEC) Burning question: Have the Tigers finally reloaded after losing so much from their 2007 national championship team? ■ Last season’s disappointment will be quickly forgotten if Miles can get his team to play like they did two years ago, but there’s still plenty of inexperienced players on the roster. A gamebreaker will also have to emerge to make a run in the SEC. Like several other teams in the league, the Tigers are also searching for an answer at quarterback. Russell Shepard has been impressive in fall camp, but Miles will likely be unwilling to throw a true freshman into the fire with such high hopes riding on this season. Still, it’s hard to imagine Alabama or Ole Miss falling far enough to let LSU back into the race for the West.

Head Coach: Gene Chizik (first year at Auburn) Last season: 5-7 (2-6 SEC) Burning question: Where are the players? ■ Auburn is frighteningly low on talent for the first time in years, and there are plenty of questions about Chizik. He was criticized from the moment he was hired after posting a 5-19 record in two years at Iowa State, and the boos will fly early and often if they start the season off poorly. Last season’s squad was painful to watch and there seemed to be a controversy at every position between two mediocre players. There are major questions all over this squad. The best thing Auburn has going for it this year is a strong home-field advantage, but that won’t be enough to win games against the rest of the SEC. It looks like it will be a long road back to relevance for the Tigers, who were competing for national championships just a few years ago.

Sept 7-18

do you bleed

Blue or

RED Vote for the Wildcats at these these UK drives: drives: Sept 9 Physical Plant Plant Divison 2 to 5 pm Bloodmobile Bloodmobi le Sept 10 Chemistryy and Physics Department Chemistr Department 9 am to 3 pm Bloodmobi le Bloodmobile

All donors will receive a Governor’s Cup Blood Challenge allenge TT-Shirt --Shirt To T o make an appointment or find upcoming campus driv drives es

www.kybloodcenter.org www.kybloodcenter.org PHOTO BY BRITNEY MCINTOSH | STAFF

With Bobby Petrino at the helm, the Razorbacks are slowly climbing back up the SEC West ladder.

859.276.2534


PAGE A10 | Friday, September 4, 2009

Eight key Cats facing big questions Chris Matthews (8) Height: 6-foot-5 Weight: 210 Position: WR Year: Jr. Burning question: Can Matthews do what other junior college players have had trouble doing and make an impact from the get-go? The coaching staff is counting on him to be a starter, and he has the talent. He just needs the experience.

Zipp Duncan (72) Height: 6-foot-5 Weight: 291 Position: OT Year: Sr. Burning question: Duncan was a solid guard, but can he make the move to left tackle, the most important position on the offensive line? There’s no shortage of elite pass-rushers to test him in the SEC, and his development is crucial to the safety of Mike Hartline.

T.C. Drake (80) Height: 6-foot-6 Weight: 242 Position: TE Year: Sr. Burning question: Can Drake finally break out in his senior year? He has great measurables and should be a force, but he’s never put it together in his time at UK. Injuries have also been a problem. The tight end position looks cloudy behind him.

Derrick Locke (20) Height: 5-foot-9 Weight:190 Position: TB Year: Jr. Burning question: Is Locke really back to 100 percent from his devastating knee injury? He says he is, but likely he won’t even know until he gets into real game action. It’s as much a mental hurdle as it is a physical hurdle for Locke, whose conditioning has also been questioned.

Sam Maxwell (50) Height: 6-foot-3 Weight: 248 Position: LB Year: Sr. Burning question: Is Maxwell worthy of being a full-time starter in the Southeastern Conference? He’s been serviceable as a reserve for three years, but filling the shoes of last year’s NFL-caliber starting outside linebackers is no small task. He’ll have one year to prove he’s up to it.

DeQuin Evans (55) Height: 6-foot-3 Weight: 260 Position: DE Year: Jr. Burning question: Is Evans the answer to the Cats’ pass-rush prayers? Evans impressed coaches and teammates in a big way in camp and will be a starter this fall. There’s no experience returning at defensive end, so he’ll be counted on early and often to get after the opposing quarterback.

Lones Seiber (36) Height: 5-foot-9 Weight: 190 Position: K Year: Sr. Burning question: After three years, can Seiber find his groove and be consistent? Seiber will likely become the program’s all-time leading scorer this season, but if he falters, talented sophomore Ryan Tydlacka could poach the kicking job from him again.

Paul Warford (34) Height: 5- foot-10 Weight: 200 Position: CB Year: Jr. Burning question: Is Warford good enough to be a big-time player in the SEC? Plenty of teams won’t even challenge Trevard Lindley on the other side, so Warford is sure to see a ton of passes coming his way. It’ll be a trial by fire for the 2007 starter who redshirted last year.

Go Green. Recycle this Kernel.

sGAMER [R]: 12:25 2:45 5:05 7:35 9:55 sALL ABOUT STEVE [PG-13] 12:00 2:25 4:55 7:20 945 sEXTRACT [R] 12:40 3:05 5:30 7:55 10:15 sFINAL DESTINATION 3-D [R] 1:05 3:15 5:25 7:30 9:35 sFINAL DESTINATION 2-D[R] 12:05 2:10 4:15 6:30 8:35 sHALLOWEEN 2 [R] 12:10 1:25 2:40 3:55 5:10 6:25 7:40 8:55 10:10 sTAKING WOODSTOCK [R] 1:30 4:25 7:15 10:00 INGLORIOUS BASTERDS [R] 1:10 2:50 4:30 6:20 8:00 9:40 SHORTS [PG] 12:20 2:35 4:50 7:05 DISTRICT 9 [R] 1:15, 4:00 6:50 9:40 THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE [PG13] 1:55 4:40 7:25 10:05 G.I. JOE [PG-13] 1:20 4:10 7:00 9:50 500 DAYS OF SUMMER [PG-13] 12:00 2:20 4:45 7:10 9:30 JULIE & JULIA [PG-13] 12:50 3:40 6:35 9:25 POST GRAD [PG-13] 9:20

BANDSLAM [PG] 1:05 4:00 7:10 9:45 ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS [PG] 12:40 2:55 5:10 7:25 9:50 TRANSFORMERS [PG-13] 12:30 3:40 6:55 10:05 ALIENS IN THE ATTIC [G] 12:45 3:00 5:05 FUNNY PEOPLE [R] 12:35 3:45 6:50 9:55 MY SISTERS KEEPER [PG-13] 1:00 4:05 7:05 9:35 PUBLIC ENEMIES [R] 12:50 3:55 7:00 10:10 STAR TREK [PG-13] 7:15 10:15 UP- 2-D {PG] 12:30 2:50 5:15 7:35 10:00

sGAMER [R] 12:15 2:40 5:05 7:30 9:55 sFINAL DESTINATION [R] 12:30 2:40 4:50 7:00 9:10 sHALLOWEEN [R] 12:25 2:55 5:25 7:55 10:20 G.I. JOE [PG-13] 12:10 1:30 3:00 4:15 5:55 7:05 8:40 9:45 SHORTS [PG] 12:40 2:55 5:10 7:25 9:40 INGLORIOUS BASTERDS [R] 12:15 3:40 7:00 10:20 DISTRICT 9 [R] 2:15 4:55 7:35 10:15 THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE [PG-13] 2:15 5:00 7:40 10:10 G-FORCE [PG] 12:20 2:35 4:45 7:05 9:20


090904Kernelinprint-Pigskin  

The pages of the Kentucky Kernel for Sept. 4, 2009. (A Section- Pigskin Preview)

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