Four games into the 2009 football season, it is apparent that Mike Hartline now occupies the Michael Porter Endowed Chair for the Fan Whipping Boy at the University of Kentucky.
Let's be frank: As a starting quarterback, Hartline is flawed.
Thirteen starts into his UK career, it is evident that the junior from Canton, Ohio, does not have the physical tools of the modern QB standouts — Couch, Lorenzen, Woodson — who have played for Kentucky.
With six interceptions thrown and a fumble lost already in 2009, Hartline is turning the ball over at an alarming rate for a quarterback who does not have the big-play ability to cancel out such miscues.
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Yet even with Hartline's issues, Rich Brooks and Joker Phillips are correct in their stated belief that No. 5 under center is UK's best chance for success in 2009.
The alternative scenarios for Kentucky at quarterback seem likely to bring more flaws than the status quo.
The Cobb Option: A year ago, when its offense bogged down midway through Southeastern Conference play, Kentucky benched Hartline and moved then-true freshman Randall Cobb from wide receiver to QB.
Presumably, that option could be exercised again in 2009. Thing is, it really didn't work last season.
With Cobb running a version of the read-option (basically a full-time Wildcat formation), Kentucky went 1-3 in his four starts at QB. UK gained more than 300 yards of offense exactly once (331 against Georgia) in those four games.
The issue with putting the dynamic Cobb at quarterback in 2009 is that he wouldn't have himself to throw to.
Cobb has caught 21 passes and three touchdowns so far. The rest of the wide receivers on the UK roster have combined for 25 catches and one TD.
The Fidler Option: Hart line's backup, Will Fidler, is a fourth-year junior with exactly zero starting experience.
The main problem with Hartline's play in 2009 has been the interceptions.
Brooks said Monday night on his radio show that in practices, Fidler has been consistently more turnover-prone than Hartline.
The Freshman Option: True freshman quarterbacks Ryan Mossakowski and Morgan Newton were the crown jewels of the most recent Kentucky recruiting class.
At the 2009 Governor's Cup preview luncheon, Brooks said his preference was to play one of the new QBs this season and redshirt the other.
(Because Mossakowski was coming off major shoulder surgery, the assumption had always been that he was the likely redshirt candidate.)
Now, however, the UK coaching staff says that neither freshman QB is ready to play.
Every day, I get raging e-mails from Kentucky fans blasting that decision. The level of anger has taken me aback.
The Kentucky coaches showed a year ago that they would play a true freshman (Cobb) at quarterback if they thought it was their best hope for success.
If that's not what they are seeing in practice this year, haven't they earned the benefit of doubt on that decision?
Unless a freshman quarterback is going to play a substantial role, you're better off having him sit out.
How glad were you during Andre Woodson's fifth-year senior season of 2007 that UK hadn't burnt his first year of eligibility in a bit role in 2003?
UK is in this quarterback quandary now because Curtis Pulley self-imploded due to off-the-field disciplinary issues before last season.
Pulley would have been a talented bridge between Woodson and the victor in the eventual Newton/Mossakowski quarterback duel.
Which brings us back to the guy who was next in line after Pulley kicked the UK QB job away.
Hartline needs to stop turning over the football. If he doesn't, Brooks said Monday, that somebody else will get a chance under center — and that will be justified.
A year ago, Hartline threw only eight interceptions all season. Back then, he was habitually referred to as a "game manager" at quarterback. Somehow, that was deemed a negative.
At this point, Kentucky's bid for a fourth-consecutive bowl bid may well ride on the return of efficient game management from its QB.
In the meantime, I call your attention to this set of stats:
It took Tim Couch 16 Kentucky starts to win eight games.
Woodson's eighth victory came in his 21st UK start. Jared Lorenzen's eighth win came in start No. 24.
Mike Hartline had won eight games at UK by his 11th start.
With all his flaws, isn't it time to cut him a little bit of slack?