Same deal for Pitt and UK: new year, new look

Cats' QB situation, Panthers' coaching upheaval signal major change

ccosby@herald-leader.comJanuary 8, 2011 


Kentucky's Randall Cobb, left, sped past Tennessee cornerback Eric Gordon this season. Cobb, who is considering entering the NFL Draft, said Saturday's game "is really like the first game of next season. ... It gives you a look to what things will be like."


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The Kentucky and Pittsburgh football teams got to the BBVA Compass Bowl based on what they did (or didn't do) in 2010.

But when the two teams lock up Saturday afternoon at Legion Field, they'll have drastically different looks than a month ago.

Kentucky will have a new starting quarterback in Morgan Newton and a new defensive coordinator in Rick Minter.

UK also got a late gift when defensive tackle Mister Cobble, who missed the regular season because of academics, was cleared to play in the bowl.

The game takes place in a new calendar year, and in many ways for the Cats, it's out with the old and in with the new.

Newton could be the starting quarterback in 2011. Minter's stamp should be firmly on the defensive unit by then, and Cobble is expected to be an impact player. And juniors Randall Cobb and Danny Trevathan can get a glimpse of what next season could be like before deciding whether to return in 2011.

"This is really like the first game of next season," Cobb said. "It will be a different team next year. It gives you a look to what things will be like. The young guys that you'll hopefully see on the field for years to come, you get a chance to see them and work with them and get their experience level up."

But for all of Kentucky's changes, they pale in comparison to what the Panthers have been through. They lost one coach when Dave Wannstedt resigned under pressure, and then their next coach, Mike Haywood, was fired after being arrested on domestic-assault charges.

They were already without last year's Big East defensive player of the year, end Greg Romeus, and now this year's player of the year, end Jabaal Sheard, will miss the game because of elbow surgery. Interim coach Phil Bennett on Friday was named Baylor's defensive coordinator for next season, and the remaining staff will most likely move on to other jobs following the bowl game.

But Bennett said he's been impressed with how the Pitt players have responded.

"Originally, I thought there would be some concern, but I've coached 33 years and I've never been around finer, tougher kids than I've coached the last three years at Pitt," Bennett said. "They want to play this game. I think it's important. I told the bowl people you have kids who want to play this game."

Bennett admitted to not knowing much about Newton, who started eight games last season but has only played in mop-up duty in 2010.

"Obviously they feel more comfortable with Morgan than they did a year ago," he said. "And having Locke healthy and Cobb eases the transition of what they're trying to do. We're going in with the assumption that he'll be ready to play."

Regardless of the changes, Pitt will rely on what has been its staple for years: defense and a strong running game. Injuries have left some holes in the defense, but the Panthers have a stud running back in sophomore Dion Lewis, and his backup, sophomore Ray Graham, isn't too shabby, either.

"We have two very good running backs," Bennett said. "They're guys much like Cobb; you have to get the ball in their hands. And we're going to run the ball."

Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips said Pitt still has top-flight personnel, and the Panthers have vowed to win the game for Wannstedt. Phillips said he expects a similar effort to Maryland's 51-20 Military Bowl win over East Carolina in Coach Ralph Friedgen's last game.

"I watched Maryland battle their tails off for their coach," Phillips said. "I expect these guys to do the same."

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