Kentucky football players and coaches know there are plenty of doubters going into this season.
But when asked about the question marks and potential lack of tested playmakers, all of them gave a knowing look.
It's the look of someone who might be in on a big secret.
That's how Joker Phillips sees it, too. He said as much to the media in a brief gathering before the Cats coach went to a speaking engagement at Fasig-Tipton on Thursday.
Never miss a local story.
"There's a lot of buzz going around our facilities right now," Phillips said. "It's getting me excited about the season."
It's not the typical pre-season noise, either, he assured.
"I've never heard this type of buzz going around with our players, and that's exciting to hear," he said.
Phillips and the position coaches can't start working with players directly until camps start later this summer, but they do interact with the players.
The head coach said he's been hearing positive things from his experienced offensive linemen. Guys who have "been here a long time, seen guys come and go, seen guys with four stars come and go and not play here," as Phillips described.
"That's the thing that gets you excited about this football team," he said.
Because of limited contact, Phillips didn't immediately single out these buzz-worthy players, but when pressed, the names came pouring out.
Wide receivers Daryl Collins, DeMarco Robinson and Nile Daniel; running backs like Marcus Caffey and Josh Clemons; and offensive lineman Darrian Miller from Bryan Station.
"I'm excited about all of our skill positions on offense," Phillips said. "Defensively, there are a couple of guys who have walked through the door that some of our older guys are excited about."
When asked what message he wanted to get out about Kentucky's program in his second season at the helm, Phillips pointed to the new marketing slogan already seen on billboards around town.
"Rise," he said. "We're on the rise. We feel like we're continuing to rise. We plateaued a little bit by going 6-7, but I think this program is definitely on the rise."
His players echoed a similar sentiment when they chatted with the media earlier this week.
Former Lexington Catholic star Winston Guy said he's confident UK will rise to the occasion.
"We lost a lot of good people, but this team is going to have more leaders than we had last year," Guy said. "Everybody should expect us to be better than we were last year. Everybody just needs to be patient."
Three Cats get SEC nods
Three Kentucky players were named to the 2011 Coaches Pre-season All-SEC Team, which was announced by the league Thursday.
UK offensive lineman Larry Warford was named to the first team on offense and linebacker Danny Trevathan was named to the first team on defense. Punter Ryan Tydlacka was named to the third team for specialists.
Arkansas led the annual coaches' poll voting with 14 players on the three teams, followed by Alabama's 13 players.
The Crimson Tide had the most first-team players with seven in all. Georgia, which had nine players total, had six first-team players.
The school with the fewest players is Tennessee with two. UK had the second fewest with three.
Fan football lunch set
Kentucky's annual football kickoff luncheon has been set for July 29 at the Hyatt Regency in Lexington.
For $40 a person, fans can hear Coach Joker Phillips' thoughts on the upcoming season and will have a chance to ask questions of the second-year head coach. There also will be a highlight video from last season.
For reservations, email Elizabeth Briggs at email@example.com.