Monday Evening Quarterbacking

Vanetti: Well, football is finally here. I know your head has been wrapped around basketball this summer in the Bahamas with bikinis and margaritas and all that – whatever you had going on. But it’s time for pigskin. Stoops’ second season: do you have a final prediction for me of an overall record for the ‘Cats this year?

Jones: I think Kentucky is going to be a lot better this year, but I’m not sure. Record is tough because they don’t have a lot of games which they can win, to be honest with you, on paper. I sort of look at everything as a best-case-worst-case-scenario kind of thing. Worst-case scenario, they win three games, they only get a little bit better, and they’re tough to watch. Best-case scenario, they get hot, they win a game or two that they shouldn’t, they maybe get to six or seven, shock a team, get to go to a bowl game. But my guess is they’ll probably, if you’re making me bet, go 4-8 or 5-7 with a surprising win.

Vanetti: OK, yeah, it is Stoops’ second year. He’s recruiting and he’s come out and said  the last couple of weeks, “Look, these guys I’ve brought in are going to play.” So you are very, very young.

Jones: On their skill positions on offense, quarterback, wide receiver and running back, they are only going to play one player: Demarco Robinson at wide receiver, who has never played a snap under Joker Phillips. Think about that for a second. That’s unbelievable. That they had to have that much turnover.

Vanetti: Here’s the thing: Charlie Strong did the same thing. The freshman and sophomores dominated the first two years over juniors and seniors because they were better. They were better football players and they were building towards the future. I didn’t think they improved much last year, but it is what it is. I think this year they do improve. I agree with you. I think the possibility and the best-case scenario is five wins, and I think you can get there.

Jones: I disagree that they didn’t improve. Here’s the thing: on the one hand they were 2-10, and that’s terrible. But on the other hand, they can point to, like, four games and say they could’ve won those games. They could’ve won at South Carolina and at Mississippi State. They were in the game with three minutes left in both of those games. They should’ve beaten Vanderbilt on the road, and then they had Tennessee. It was a decent game. But they had three road games last year that had a couple of plays gone different, they win. Now all three of those games are at home, so I think that’s why there’s a little bit of optimism. Look, they’re not very good. Next year is the year for them. That’s the year they’re pointing to. What you want to see this year is just some level of improvement.

Vanetti: There’s no question about that. You want to see them putting a hat on people, hitting people, moving the ball. Your best aspect is your running backs. You’ve got a pretty decent offensive line. If you can control the clock, you can do better. You’ve got some defensive studs there, especially on the defensive line. If you can control the other team running the ball, then you’ve got a pretty good chance in some of these games.

Jones: And that’s the big thing, Tony. They’ve had four straight years, Joker’s three years and Mark’s first year, where the offense has been impossible to watch. They’ve just been awful. They have got to have good offense. The fans here, they’re dying to have a team that’s fun to watch.

Vanetti: There’s no question, and again, I think five wins is your top. I think the lowest you’ll get in the worst-case scenario is three wins. I think going into the Louisville game with five wins could make that Governer’s Cup really special. Because at that point Louisville will have enough wins that they’re going to a bowl, Kentucky’s playing for a bowl berth on that day, and it could make that a fun day in Papa John’s.

Jones: Well, let’s talk about that for a second. Let’s talk worst-case/best-case for Louisville, because I think the best case is probably 9-3, losses to Clemson, Notre Dame and Florida State.  There’s a worst-case scenario where it could be bad. I’ll just play it out because these are my fantasies. They lost DeVante Parker, which is tough. That kid should’ve gone to the draft. That was so silly for him to come back, and I hate to see him get hurt. But say they drop that first game at home. Say the offense is stagnant. I don’t think it will be, but let’s say it is. And they bottom out and go 6-6. I think that’s probably the worst they would do is 6-6. Would there be grumblings? What would the effect of that be?

Vanetti: I think that 6-6 would certainly be disappointing. All that offensive firepower, and the linebackers are young, but they are very, very good. I think there would be some grumblings.

Jones: What if they’re 6-6 losing to Kentucky?

Vanetti: Oh, if you’re 6-6 and you lose to Big Blue, then people would start freaking out. But it’s a first-year coach. Everyone gets a break. I mean, it’s not his players. It’s not his personnel.

Jones: I don’t know. You guys don’t give first-year coaches a break. I don’t remember Kragthorpe getting a break.

Vanetti: Well, Kragthorpe was handed the keys. He had 22 starters back.

Jones: But so was Bobby.

Vanetti: No, no, no. Bobby doesn’t get back the All-American quarterback. Come on, that’s a big piece of the puzzle. But I’ll make you a prediction. There’s more talent on the roster today, just in terms of overall talent, than they’ll be in three years. That doesn’t mean they won’t be good, because Petrino’s a great offensive mind. But I will bet you there’s more NFL talent on the roster today, than will be on the roster in three years. Is that fair?

Jones: No, because he can’t recruit.

Vanetti: The recruiting season isn’t even over, Matthew. And you don’t know the effect he’s going to have as the wonderful coach that he is. These players are going to get better under him.

Jones: But not if they go 6-6. That’s my point.

Vanetti: Okay. Worst-case scenario, they go 6-6. But best-case scenario for me: 9-3. They’re probably going to end up 8-4 is what I’m hoping goes on this year.

Jones: I could see that. I think that’s probably the correct prediction. I just think Louisville’s position is more precarious than other people believe. I think chances are they do exactly what you just said: they go 8-4 and everything’s fine. But if they go 6-6 after the recruiting year that Petrino had and likely headed towards a poor second one, there ain’t many good players on the horizon. I do think it could become difficult for him, especially if Kentucky – now this is a big if -  but especially if Kentucky continues to get better and continues to recruit. People forget that when Bobby was there, they kind of started owning the state of Kentucky in recruiting – especially the city of Louisville. That’s not happening. Charlie Strong looked towards Florida and it worked great for him. But he gave up the state of Kentucky. Mark Stoops has now taken the state of Kentucky. Bobby doesn’t have Charlie’s connections in Florida, so where does he go to get players?

Vanetti: He is recruiting nationally, and the hope is-

Jones: He’s not recruiting nationally.

Vanetti: He’s doing just fine. You’re doing great in Ohio. Louisville will be just fine. The recruiting is fine. Let’s get this played out. If they go 6-6, we’ll have that conversation. If you guys go back to 2-10 for the third season in a row, we’ll have that conversation.

Jones: All right, so what’s the first game? Kentucky is going to beat UT Martin. Give me the story.

Vanetti:  Oh, I think you probably win that 28-3.

Jones: I was going to say 35-10, so that’s not crazy. I’ll go Louisville-Miami. I’m torn on this because Louisville should win. They’re at home. Miami, however, has a secret weapon, which is they’re starting the starting quarterback, the true freshman, who’s the son of “Felicia” from the movie “Friday,” and that is quite a movie. Any kid who had to grow up with all of his classmates probably saying “Hey Felicia,” as a youth, has to be a tough young man. So I think it’s going to be good. I think Louisville wins 24-21.

Vanetti: I will agree with that score – maybe even a little bit less. It’s the first game of the season. Without DeVante Parker, I’ll take Felicia’s son, as it evens out. I can’t wait to see the signs in the crowd, and how drunk everyone will be, at 8 p.m. at Papa John’s on Monday night.

Jones: It’ll be like the real Louisville Purge. once again on Monday night.