Mark Story: 2013 will be most anticipated college football season in (state of) Kentucky history

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJanuary 3, 2013 

Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals have as good a chance to win the 2013 NCAA championship as anybody.

If recent trends continue, John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats may yet have a run at a third straight Final Four in them.

Murray State, Eastern Kentucky and Western Kentucky all look to have a viable shot at making the NCAA Tournament.

On the women's side, no one will be surprised if Kentucky and/or Louisville make it to the Final Four this season.

Amid all this hoops promise, my mind keeps coming back to one thought:

I cannot wait for college football in Kentucky in 2013.

For various reasons, we may be on the verge of the most anticipated college football season in our state's history. Let's take an early look at what could lie ahead for the commonwealth's three FBS football programs:

Kentucky Wildcats

2012 record: 2-10 (0-8 Southeastern Conference)

Reason(s) for excitement: A brand new coaching staff led by Mark Stoops. A respected defensive mind from a family of coaching royalty, Stoops brings hope that Kentucky will upgrade a "D" that was last in the country in third-down conversion percentage allowed (52.3). His new offensive coordinator, ex-UK wide-out Neal Brown, is a Tony Franklin disciple bringing the Air Raid back.

Reason(s) for worry: From a team that already lacked talent, UK loses its best player, offensive guard Larry Warford, best wide receiver, La'Rod King, and best defensive back, Martavius Neloms.

Issue that must be resolved: In a three-headed competition, who will win the quarterback job? Maxwell Smith is the most polished passer, but, having been injured in both of his two seasons at UK, can he stay on the field?

With seven games started in 2012 as a true freshman, Jalen Whitlow is technically the most experienced QB on the Wildcats roster. His mobility would give the Air Raid an extra dimension. Patrick Towles is a Kentucky high school legend.

Dominant story line for 2013: With Alabama coming on an already rugged schedule, do Stoops and company have any realistic hope of producing a quick turnaround?

Louisville Cardinals

2012 record: 11-2 (5-2 Big East Conference quad-champions; beat Florida in Sugar Bowl)

Reason(s) for excitement: Charlie Strong has 17 starters back, 10 on defense. Off the throttling of Florida on Wednesday night, the Cardinals should open next season in the top 10. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater should start next season in the Heisman Trophy conversation.

If injured standouts Michaelee Harris (wide receiver) and Dominique Brown (running back) return 100 percent from knee injuries that knocked them out of 2012, U of L will be even more dangerous.

Reason(s) for worry: Louisville will have to handle a level of expectation the program has never faced.

Issue that must be resolved: Scheduling. U of L's known non-league foes for 2013 are Ohio, Eastern Kentucky, UK and Florida International. Boise State has pulled out of the Big East, costing U of L a marquee foe. At this late date, can Athletics Director Tom Jurich find a power foe willing to play Louisville next season and give the Cardinals a chance to establish national championship bona fides?

Dominant story line for 2013: Can Louisville play its way into the BCS title picture?

WKU Hilltoppers

2012 record: 7-6 (4-4 Sun Belt Conference; lost to Central Michigan in Little Caesars Bowl)

Reason(s) for excitement: Departed head man Willie Taggart has been replaced with Bobby Petrino, a controversial figure but an unquestionably brilliant coaching mind. WKU returns star-caliber players in running back Antonio Andrews, safety Jonathan Dowling and middle linebacker Andrew Jackson (assuming no one turns pro early). Western Kentucky opens the season against Kentucky and Tennessee.

Reason(s) for worry: WKU loses its entire starting defensive front, plus star tight end Jack Doyle and veteran quarterback Kawaun Jakes.

Issue that must be resolved: To replace Jakes, Petrino has two promising options: sophomore-to-be James Mauro, a 6-foot-7 pocket passer, or former Seneca High School star DaMarcus Smith, who would give WKU more of a dual-threat look.

Dominant story line for 2013: It's all about Petrino, and whether WKU reaps rewards from giving Bobby P. such a quick reprieve after his mighty fall at Arkansas.

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

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