So, the Blue-White football game is Friday night and Mark Stoops wants to see you there. The question is, what are WE going to see?
I gave up on pre-season prognostications and evaluations many, many seasons ago – 17, in fact.
During the spring of 2000, following Kentucky’s surprise trip to the 1999 Music City bowl, Hal Mumme’s team looked terrific. The quarterback, new starter Jared Lorenzen, was spraying the ball to a couple dozen wideouts and running backs. One of the UK linebackers, all full of vinegar and bluster, predicted nine or even 10 victories. I told people, “They look good. Really good.”
Swing and a miss.
That fall, the Wildcats managed only two wins. Claude Bassett got caught, got fired and got gone – and so did Mumme, leaving behind a program shackled by NCAA penalties. I pledged from then on to offer only tepid observations framed with the phrase, “But what do I know?”
Because what can you tell from spring scrimmages?
“I get that question every time I walk off the field,” Mark Stoops said on a recent edition of “The Big Blue Insider” radio show.
And if he’s not sure, how the heck am I supposed to be? Of course, he has a bit more invested, emotionally.
“I have to worry about all sides – offense, defense, special teams, every player,” he said. “It’s very difficult for me to walk off the field with a perfect practice. There’s always some frustration because there’s so much going on.”
Not that Friday night’s game will be as intricate as what we’ll see in September.
“It’s always a little sloppy in the spring because you’re much more watered down than you want to be,” Stoops said. “As you’re building a program, you’re thin in the spring. It’s hard to put one good unit out there that looks good, let alone two. It’s never as pretty as it’s going to be in the fall but we’ll give it our best effort. The players have been working their tails off.”
And it would help, he said, if a lot of people showed up to watch. The game is on Friday night because had UK decided on a traditional Saturday, ESPN (the Mac Daddy of the SEC Network) would have dictated the time slot. With Keeneland happening right now, there was no guarantee of an evening kickoff that would accommodate fans who want that racing/football exacta. So the Cats will come running out of that tunnel on Friday, hoping to see a crowd similar to the ones in place at other spring football games around the Southeastern Conference.
“We compete in the SEC,” Stoops said. “We all know what that is and what that’s all about. To compete at the highest level, we need great support. Our players need to feel that. Our recruits need to feel that. SEC football is a way of life. We need to be a part of that.”
And in order to feel a part of it all, fans need to know what to watch for. Stoops says, look for big plays, executed with athleticism – not incompetence.
“What you need to look for,” he said, “is one side or the other having success because they’re making great football plays – not the other side being inept. That’s what I don’t like. If we make a great defensive play, I want it because we made a play, not because the offense screwed up. We saw a lot more of that this spring, a lot cleaner football. And I hope to see that Friday night.”
Stoops said he knows there’s a lot going on right now. He’s a Little League baseball dad himself. But on Friday night, he’ll be watching his fifth UK team square off in Commonwealth Stadium. He’s hoping you’ll be there, too.
“I can promise you, the Wildcats are going to win,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s the only game where I’ll guarantee a victory.”
With my horrid track record of evaluations and prognostications, I won’t even go that far. Given my luck, it’ll end in a tie. But an infusion of college football right about now should be fun.