Kentucky Excited For Football With New Coach..

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Kentucky Excited For Football With New Coach.. Empty Kentucky Excited For Football With New Coach..

Post  Carolina Kat on Sun Mar 24, 2013 4:14 am

Kentucky excited for football? New coach makes the difference

Mar 22, 2013
by Paul Myerberg, USA TODAY Sports

Rarely has Kentucky's fan base been this excited for the start of spring football â?? and not merely because the men's basketball team, the defending national champions, were bounced from the first round of the NIT by underdog Robert Morris.

First-year coach Mark Stoops has given the Wildcats' moribund football program new life, rapidly remaking Kentucky from an SEC doormat into one of the trendy programs in the Southeast.

More than 33,000 tickets have already been purchased for this year's spring game, to be held on Apr. 13; last year's spring attendance was 4,500 (generously padded), while only 18,885 fans attended last season's home SEC finale against Vanderbilt.

The Wildcats' 2013 recruiting class, while compiled on the fly after the coaching change, was ranked 29th nationally by The new staff flexed its muscles by taking high-profile recruits away from USC and Nebraska, among others.

In all, the combination of the new staff, new talent, new outlook and new expectations has led to a feeling often reserved for the hardwood: excitement.

Spring dates: Kentucky opened practice on Mar. 18 and will hold its spring game on Apr. 20.

2012 record: 2-10 (0-Cool.

Returning starters: 12 (6 offense, 6 defense).

Five players to watch: QB Patrick Towles, RB Josh Clemons, DE Za'Darius Smith, LB Avery Williamson, S Ashely Lowery.

Spring questions:

1. A Vanderbilt-like climb? It's easy to draw parallels between Stoops' position at Kentucky with James Franklin's move to Vanderbilt in 2011. Both are high-energy coaches inheriting a program desperate for a spark; both had immediate success on the recruiting trail; both immediately altered the program's mindset heading into their first series of spring drills. Like Franklin, Stoops has also ratcheted up expectations for his debut campaign. Could Stoops' follow in Franklin's footsteps and lead Kentucky to a bowl berth in 2013? As he'll soon find out, reversing a losing mentality is just the start â?? there's also Florida, South Carolina and Georgia to worry about.

2. What are the schemes? Stoops will take a very hands-on approach to the defensive side of the ball while giving coordinator duties to D.J. Elliott, a former Florida State assistant. The defense will play in a 4-3 base set, though the Wildcats will be very flexible in terms of assignments up front and coverage packages. On offense, new coordinator Neal Brown will install an Air Raid-style system over the next few weeks. While still reliant on the run, Brown's offense is very pass-heavy. Now Kentucky needs to find a quarterback.

Position battles:

1. Quarterback. Pity Max Smith, who likely would have grabbed the starting job in 2013 under the new staff but will begin at step one under Stoops and Brown. Smith started the first three games of last fall, playing fairly well, before injuries derailed his season. Those injuries allowed sophomores Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles to gain some valuable experience on the FBS level, with that experience coming in handy as all three contenders challenge for the starting role during the spring. While Stoops hasn't ruled out naming a starter during the spring â?? at quarterback or any position â?? this is likely a competition that continues in fall camp. Keep an eye on Towles, who will be extremely comfortable playing in Brown's offense.

2. Offensive line. Kentucky must replace last season's two best linemen, led by guard Larry Warford, and it's not certain that the three returning starters remain at their old spots. Finding the best five-man group is the Wildcats' top priority, so look for new line coach John Schlarman to audition several linemen across the board over the next three weeks. You've already seen some movement: Zach West will try his hand at center and Kevin Mitchell at right guard. It will be interesting to follow the shuffling as Schlarman continues to tinker with this group up front.

Copyright 2013

Carolina Kat

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