Mark Story: 10 reasons UK football will be interesting in 2012

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMay 26, 2012 

I have mentioned that I feel a little sorry for Joker Phillips, right?

Everywhere I go this spring, I meet two kinds of Kentucky football fans.

Ones that tell me they've given up their season tickets. And ones who tell me they agonized over writing the check to renew, then decided to reinvest in UK football tickets.

Of the two groups, members of the second seem the more pained.

In what many see as a make-or-break third season for Phillips, is there anyone — really, anyone anywhere — excited about the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats football season?

We're here to help.

Filling the traditional role of a Lexington Herald-Leader sports columnist — finding the silver lining amid the dark clouds of UK sports — here are 10 reasons to look forward to the coming Kentucky football season.

10. Maxwell Smith. Pressed into action last year as a true freshman, the Californian showed physical promise and considerable poise at quarterback. For a variety of reasons, Smith did not have as much high school experience as one would expect of a Southeastern Conference quarterback. That means he should have more upside than normal and could take a massive step forward in 2012.

9. Traffic ingress and egress. If as many people have given up their tickets as claim they have, it is bad for Phillips' job security. But it will be great getting into and out of Commonwealth Stadium for those who are attending the games.

8. Alvin "Bud" Dupree. Late last season, the hybrid rush end/outside linebacker from Georgia showed star potential as a true freshman. The Irwinton, Ga., product has a chance to give UK the kind of athletic pass rush from the edge that the Wildcats play against in the SEC.

7. The Show-Me State. SEC expansion means the Cats get Missouri as a new league foe on Oct. 27 in Columbia. A new road destination will be fun. The Wildcats are 2-0 all-time against Mizzou, and have a chance to spoil the Tigers' first-ever SEC homecoming game. That, too, would be fun.

6. Better wide-receiver play. La'Rod King is back for his senior year. Sophomore-to-be Demarco Robinson was the breakout player of Kentucky spring practice. The well-regarded freshmen Darryl Collins returns after missing last season with injury. Following last season's slog, Kentucky's wideout play HAS to be better than it was a year ago.

5. Boffo entertainment. If the UK season goes as badly as Joker Phillips' many critics claim it is going to, then the football games will not be enjoyable. But the post-game radio call-in shows in Lexington will be among the best free entertainment going.

4. Even more entertainment. If the UK season goes as badly as Joker Phillips' many critics claim it is going to, then the same Kentucky fans (some of them) who spent years ripping the lack of honesty of a certain former Louisville head coach will perform contortions to come up with reasons UK should now hire the same Bobby Petrino. Watching that will be an absolute hoot.

3. The fight in the Cats. For all the negativity that surrounded UK football in 2011, the Wildcats ended the season with a gritty effort in a close defeat at Georgia and then with the streak-busting upset (ladies and gentlemen, Matt Roark) of Tennessee. It suggested that the Kentucky coaching staff had not lost the players. That's a positive going into 2012.

2. The Streak. In 2012, we'll see if Derek Dooley and Tennessee can snap their losing skid against Kentucky.

1. In recent times, embattled UK football coaches have fooled you. After Guy Morriss went 2-9 as Kentucky's interim head coach in 2001, the wolves were howling and many wanted him out. The next season, Morriss and UK won seven games.

After Rich Brooks went 9-25 in his first three seasons (2003-05) as Kentucky head coach, the wolves were howling and many wanted him out. The next four seasons, UK won 30 games and three bowls.

Now that Joker Phillips has gone 11-14 in his first two seasons as Kentucky head coach, the wolves are howling and many want him out.

I'm not sure his third season is going to yield the kind of turnaround his two immediate Kentucky predecessors enjoyed when their seats were hot.

But history says none of us can be sure it won't.

Which is why, one way or the other, UK football in 2012 is going to be interesting.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230.Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory.Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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