2010 CFBZ Prediction: 4th in the SEC East
2010 Actual Finish: 5th in the SEC East (6-7, 2-6)
Rich Brooks finished the last of his seven seasons at Kentucky in 2009, leading Kentucky to four straight winning seasons and four straight bowl berths at the end of his run. Joker Phillips took over the helm this year and is tasked with trying to get Kentucky over the hump in the SEC East and turn them into a contender. In Joker's debut season their were some good moments for the Wildcats (opening the season with a win over Louisville and beating SEC Champ South Carolina top that list) and there were some struggles (going 2-6 in the SEC and 1-5 on the road). After only one year on the job the jury is still out on Joker but we do know that he has some big shoes to fill on offense with Mike Hartline and Randall Cobb departing. We caught up with the Kentucky based SB Nation blog A Sea of Blue to get their take on 2010 and a sneak peak into 2011.
1. Kentucky finished the year 6-7 and 2-6 in the SEC. Do you consider Joker Phillips inaugural season a success, a failure or somewhere in the middle?
Somewhere in between, I would say. It's impossible to call a losing season overall a success, and 2-6 in the SEC just not good.
I think mostly that Phillips earns a pass on this season because most people understand that it was his first season as head coach, and head coach is not the same as offensive coordinator. Short of failure, perhaps, but certainly a disappointment. The defense was just plain incompetent, and the offense was too hot and cold.
2. What were your favorite moments of the year?
Number one would have to be defeating South Carolina in Lexington. Kentucky has suffered long at the hands of Steve Spurrier, and that long losing streak against the Gamecocks has been one of the major targets of UK football fans. It was especially satisfying to come back from down 18 at the half to win in the game's closing minutes.
Number two would be defeating Louisville for the fourth straight time. Louisville is a huge rival, and they had a 4-game streak against Kentucky between 2003 and 2006. It was really nice to get revenge for that.
Finally, seeing Randall Cobb break the single-season all-purpose yards record at UK. Cobb has been a Godsend for Kentucky football, and that feat just cemented his well-deserved legend here at UK.
3. If you could have a "re-do" for one game, which would it be?
Ole Miss in Oxford. Kentucky had every chance to win that football game, and blew it. That would have possibly put the Wildcats on a great trajectory for a special season, and we allowed it to slip away with turnovers.
4. Which players surprised you the most with their performance last year?
That's easy -- Mike Hartline. Hartline went from a player who couldn't throw a spiral one time out of 10 to the SEC's second-leading passer. It was a transformation that almost nobody in the Big Blue Nation expected, but it made the difference between a bowl season and maybe a four-win season.
5. Star receiver Randall Cobb and QB Mike Hartline must be replaced next season. Who will step up to take their place?
Good question. Morgan Newton would seem to be the odds-on favorite to take Hartline's spot, but many, including me, fear that Joker Phillips is going to give short shrift to the talented Ryan Mossakowski, who is a better pure passer and the more highly rated of the two coming out of high school. At least we do have options at quarterback, but Newton failed to impress in the loss to Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass bowl.
For Cobb, there are no clear successors at the spot. La'Rod King showed great promise as our #3 receiver this year, but it seems a stretch for him to replace the multidimensional Cobb. Brian Adams and Matt Roark both made a few plays this year, but most Wildcat fans are skeptical about them as starters. Highly touted Aaron Boyd has been a disappointment, and hardly ever saw the field this year. It's hard to imagine him stepping up, but he has the talent if he ever gets the work ethic right.
Incoming freshman Demarco Robinson is an intriguing and overlooked prospect, and he has the kind of skills that could make him an impact player somewhat in the mold of Randall Cobb. He isn't a QB like Cobb was in high school, but he is an explosive athlete who can catch, run, and play the return game.
The player I really hope does well is junior wideout Gene McCaskill, who suffered an injury last year. He showed great promise before he was hurt, and if he comes back 100%, he could be a big playmaker at the wideout spot.