The University of Kentucky could be opening its football season outside the state of Kentucky for the first time in 27 years.
School officials confirmed this week that talks are under way for the Wildcats to take on Miami (Ohio) University at Cincinnati's Paul Brown Stadium. The last time UK played its first game somewhere other than Lexington or Louisville was in 1982, when Jerry Claiborne's first Kentucky team lost 23-9 at Kansas State. The Wildcats finished 0-10-1 that season.
The game hasn't been finalized, and the logistics still need to be worked out, such as whether it would serve as a home game for UK or how the tickets would be allotted.
But if the game does take place, it creates some interesting angles. First, the pros. Kentucky's 2009 schedule is extremely top-heavy: after hosting archrival Louisville on Sept. 19, the Cats will host defending national champion Florida and Alabama (No. 4 in the final polls) before taking a trip to South Carolina. Miami (2-10 last year) is rebuilding under first-year coach Mike Haywood, so on paper it appears to be an opportunity for the Cats to get a much-needed win under their belts before they head into the brutal part of the schedule.
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Secondly, it could serve as a recruiting showcase for the Wildcats. Several of the state's top prospects in the Class of 2010 hail from the Northern Kentucky area, including receiver/defensive back Austin Collinsworth (Highlands), tight end Tate Nichols (Ryle), and running back Miles Simpson (Simon Kenton). Collinsworth has offers from UK, Louisville, Cincinnati and Stanford; Nichols from UK, Louisville, Cincinnati, Indiana and Stanford; and Simpson from UK, Louisville, Cincinnati, Indiana and Central Michigan.
There are also a couple of negatives. Playing Miami on Sept. 5 would mean the Cats' open date would come the following week, so they would have to play on 11 consecutive Saturdays starting with the Louisville game. All you have to do is go back to Kentucky's 2007 season to see what kind of effect that can have on a club. The Wildcats went nine straight games without a bye that season, and after a gut-wrenching, triple-overtime win over LSU and a physical, 45-37 loss to Florida, a tired and beaten-up UK squad was flattened 31-14 by Mississippi State.
There had been speculation that Kentucky would ask Eastern Kentucky to move its scheduled Nov. 7 visit up to Sept. 12, which would have given UK a week off before it closed its season at Vanderbilt, at Georgia and at home against Tennessee. But that would have put the Colonels at a competitive disadvantage, forcing them to open the season at Indiana and at Kentucky before playing seven consecutive conference games.
Also, it's unclear how much of a draw a UK-Miami game at Paul Brown Stadium would be. The Kentucky basketball team used to play an annual game in Cincinnati, but that was discontinued after the 2006 season partially because of low attendance figures.
Lyons continues rehab
While former UK teammates Tim Masthay, Myron Pryor and Marcus McClinton worked out for scouts at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis this weekend, receiver Dicky Lyons Jr. continued his recovery from torn posterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee that ended his senior season in October.
The initial prognosis had Lyons sidelined anywhere from eight months to a year, but Lyons said last week his rehab is slightly ahead of schedule and he hopes to begin running this week.
"I was actually hoping to run last week, but I'm still waiting on my new brace to come in," Lyons said. "The knee feels good. I really feel like I can do more than what they're letting me do. It's just a matter of time on waiting to get cleared."
Lyons has been doing light jogging and weight work to strengthen his quads. He recently spent time in Florida working out with Masthay and other pro prospects such as Georgia's Mohamed Massoquoi and Vanderbilt's D.J. Moore. Lyons admitted to being frustrated at times over the injury.
"You have good days and bad days," he said. "I see all these guys I played against running routes, and all I can do is stand there and catch the ball. I'm watching these other guys and I don't see anything different. These guys could go high in the draft, and I feel like I'm just as good, and that's upsetting. But it's also motivation for me to keep working and eventually show that I'm as good as they are."
Lyons said he's already dropped 15 pounds to get back to his playing weight of 195. Lyons expects to be 100 percent by the time NFL training camps open in late summer. He had hoped to be able to run for scouts on UK's Pro Day on March 11 but will instead have an individual workout on April 3.
"That would be big if I could just get a 40 time down and show scouts that my speed is back and I didn't lose anything," Lyons said. "I've already talked to some teams. They've talked about getting me to camp (as a free agent), but if I can run and show them that the knee is fine, then maybe I slip into the late rounds of the draft. You never know."
Lyons is also busy off the field; he'll be marrying his longtime girlfriend, Mindy Howell, on March 14 before resuming his rehab. If Lyons has to go the free-agent route, he has a sentimental favorite: his hometown New Orleans Saints, where his dad, Dicky Sr. played.
"We had season tickets; I love the Saints," Lyons said. "I love the Saints like I love Kentucky. And they've got that great spread offense with (quarterback) Drew Brees. I'd love to go there and be a slot receiver."
East vs. West All-Star Game set
The second annual East vs. West All-Star Football Classic will be held Friday, June 12 at Western Kentucky University. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. UK signees scheduled to play include Sam Simpson (Henry Clay), Larry Warford (Madison Central), Mister Cobble and Ridge Wilson (Central), and LaRod King (North Hardin). St. Xavier defensive back D.J. Hall, who has committed to be a preferred walk-on at UK, will also play. Hall was a first-team All-State selection by The Associated Press.