Mark Story: In Kentucky college football, who is under the most pressure to produce in 2014?

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistAugust 2, 2014 

College football pressure takes many forms.

In 2012, the season in the commonwealth began with Joker Phillips and his Kentucky coaching staff fighting to save their jobs. Last year, Louisville star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater started the season trying to justify his inclusion among the Heisman Trophy favorites.

This year, much of the scrutiny in Kentucky college football will fall on those being asked to replace heralded predecessors like Bridgewater and departed Western Kentucky running back star Antonio Andrews. Well, that and UK's acute need to find a successful quarterback.

From 10 down to one, here are the figures in Kentucky college football under the most pressure to produce in 2014.

10. Alvin "Bud" Dupree, Kentucky. Coming into his senior year, the defensive end is the only UK player receiving substantial mention on pre-season all-SEC teams. Coach Mark Stoops has said the 6-foot-4, 264-pound, Irwinton, Ga., product compares favorably to the ends he coached during his tenure running the defense at Florida State. There is every reason to think Dupree can live up to the billing — but there is pressure to do so.

9. James Quick, Louisville. The ex-Trinity wide receiver came to U of L with massive hype — a five-star recruit by Scout and ranked No. 1 in Kentucky (2013) by Rivals. Yet he produced very little (six receptions for 73 yards) as a true freshman last year. With offensive guru Bobby Petrino now running the show, Cards fans will be expecting far more from Quick in 2014.

8. Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky. Steve Kragthorpe followed Bobby Petrino (in his first go round) as Louisville head coach and went 15-21 before being let go. John L. Smith followed Petrino at Arkansas and went 4-8 before being let go. After Petrino took the Hilltoppers to an 8-4 record last season, Brohm begins his first head coaching job inheriting a trend he needs to buck.

7. Todd Grantham, Louisville. They did not exactly have a statewide period of mourning in Georgia when Bobby Petrino plucked defensive coordinator Grantham off the coaching staff of Mark Richt. At U of L, Grantham takes over a defense that Charlie Strong built into one of the nation's top units. To add to the scrutiny he will face, Grantham is switching Louisville from a 4-3 base to a 3-4.

6. Leon Allen, Western Kentucky. Over the past two seasons, WKU running back Antonio Andrews accounted for a whopping 5,497 yards of total offense. With Andrews out of eligibility, it will fall to Allen, a 6-foot, 235-pound junior from Bradenton, Fla., to try to fill his cleats.

5. Mark Stoops, Kentucky. In 2015, the UK head man will be under the white-hot heat of expectations. He will be coaching a team that consists of three of his recruiting classes. He will have a schedule with eight home games. Stoops will be expected to produce a bowl trip. For this year, what Stoops needs to deliver is a clearly improved team over the one that went 2-10 in 2013.

4. Will Gardner, Louisville. All Teddy Bridgewater did in three seasons as starting quarterback was lead the Cardinals to 27 victories, beat Florida and Miami (Fla.) in back-to-back bowl games and become one of the most popular athletes in U of L history. The guy who has to follow that act is Gardner, a 6-foot-5, 226-pound redshirt sophomore from Douglas, Ga.

3. Neal Brown, Kentucky. The most important decision of the Stoops era at Kentucky might be picking the right starting quarterback this season. Presumably, offensive coordinator Brown will have a lot of say in that call. Wildcats fans will expect the UK offense in 2014 to look far more like the vintage Air Raid attack Kentucky marketed after it hired Brown away from Texas Tech in 2013.

2. Starting quarterback, Kentucky. Whether redshirt sophomore Patrick Towles, redshirt freshman Reese Phillips or true freshman Drew Barker wins the job, the immediate future of Kentucky football will be dependent on a QB that has never started a college game.

1. Bobby Petrino, Louisville. The reason employers keep overlooking Petrino's messy career arc — the constant flirtations with other jobs during his first stint at U of L; bailing on the Atlanta Falcons mid-season; the motorcycle mess at Arkansas — is the belief that hiring Petrino guarantees you will win big.

In his second go-round as U of L head man, Petrino inherits a program that was 23-3 in Charlie Strong's last two seasons. With Louisville "stepping up in class" by moving to the ACC, it will be difficult to sustain that level. Yet what puts the most heat on Petrino is this fact:

If he doesn't win big right away, the baggage he brings with him becomes far more of a liability.

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

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service