LEXINGTON, Ky. --- Although we have all been
"educated" by the sports media on the insignificance of athletic competition, it
will be nice to welcome back football tomorrow. Stadiums across the nation were strangely
quiet last week. It will be a welcome respite to have college football back for the
purposes on fun, entertainment and the pure joy of competition. Has it ever been anything other
Here are five things to watch:
1. GATOR BAIT?
Second-ranked Florida visits Lexington tomorrow as the team christened No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press poll. That's because the Gators have what coach Steve Spurrier believes might be his best team. Take a look at the impressive success Florida has enjoyed during the last 10 years, and Spurrier's statement takes on significant meaning. There's no nice way to say this, but your Wildcats might be doing well to even make this a semi-competitive game. Kentucky has not beaten Florida in 15 years, and the talent gap seems no smaller this year between the two SEC brethren than it has in any other. While we don't believe in moral victories here, we'll give the Cats a break this week if there is still some suspense hovering over this game in the second half. If that happens, give rookie coach Guy Morriss and his staff and players credit for showing up in less than ideal circumstances.
2. BOYD TO MAN?
UK freshman quarterback Shane Boyd is going to get his first real taste of big-time college football tomorrow. The difference between Ball State and Florida is about the same as, oh, the distance between Muncie, Ind., and Gainesville, Fla. Watching Boyd play against the Gators tomorrow will be a prime opportunity see if he can "step up" (this week's cliché brought to you by Ashland Oil Inc.). Former starter Jared Lorenzen didn't take a single snap against Ball State two weeks ago. Not a good sign for big No. 22. It's obvious that the Wildcat staff believes its best chance to win is with Boyd, who possesses good speed and the ability to roll out and escape pressure. (Former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh says today's quarterbacks must have mobility and improvisational skills to succeed). Should the Cats give a decent account of themselves against Florida with Boyd in the cockpit, we could be witnessing the beginning of a four-year run as the starter. (Trivia: Who was the last UK quarterback to start four years?) Tomorrow's game could go a long way toward determining the future of Kentucky football. Pay attention.
3. MOW BIG BLUE?
Did Kentucky's revamped defense play well in the first two games? Hard to say. The fact that Ball State put together an 88-yard, 9-minute drive on the Cats two weeks ago has to be somewhat alarming to new coordinator John Goodner. Jamal White returns from a two-game suspension this week to reclaim his job as a starting inside linebacker, and that should be a plus. Starting outside safety David Johnson could also be back. You also have to love some of the plays that came from the defensive line in the first two games, particularly from Dewayne Robertson and Dennis Johnson. Let's watch closely tomorrow to see if Game 3 of the 2001 season reveals a more stubborn Cat defense, especially against a Florida offense that can toast your posterior in quick fashion. The Kentucky secondary is also going to be exposed tomorrow, good or bad. It would be unusual around UK to see defensive improvement as a season progresses rather than a complete meltdown by November.
4. STAND UP AND BE COUNTED
The names change but the song remains the same at Florida. During the Spurrier era, the Gators have cranked out one NFL prospect after another. This year, the names are Jabar Gaffney, Rex Grossman, Alex Brown and on and on and on. By showing up at Commonwealth Stadium tomorrow or watching the game on television, you will find out pretty quickly where the Kentucky football program stands in the SEC. Florida has a beautiful way of exposing strengths and weaknesses of its opponent. Remember Rick Pitino's first year at UK, when his terribly outmanned squad beat or scared teams they had business being on the same floor with? It sent a message that brighter days were forthcoming once the mess was cleaned up. Same deal with Morriss and the football program. Even if the Cats can't pull off a miracle and beat the Gators, tomorrow's game could reveal much about the future of UK football, just in the way the Cats compete, hit, block and tackle. Some Kentucky players have recalled with pride this week the fact that UK hung 504 yards of total offense on Florida last year. Hogwash. That game was a complete mismatch. Until the Cats can prevent the Gators from toying with them, it's all just a smokescreen.
5. GOD BLESS AMERICA
Lastly, in light of the tragedy our country is experiencing, allow me to venture off the beaten path for a moment and add some personal commentary. Going to football games, or any athletic event, is part of the American experience. The fun of being a fan, tailgating and cheering --- and doing so freely --- is representative of what it means to be an American. But sports have never meant anything more than that. Two people have been murdered in Lexington within the last week. Is that any less tragic than people losing their lives in New York and Washington? We deal with tragedy on a regular basis, not just when Tom Brokaw appears on NBC News to tell us about an event of international significance. So as you engross yourself in tomorrow's Florida-Kentucky football game, do so as a proud American who has always realized that sports are great entertainment and mean little in the grand scheme of life. Above all else, have fun, be safe and enjoy yourself. God bless America.
Trivia question answer: I have no idea.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The "Friday Five" is a weekly feature written by Brett Hait, a veteran UK sports reporter and BBD contributing writer.