A three-spot from Mark Stoops’ final press briefing before Saturday’s opener against UL-Lafayette:
1. Mark Stoops loves him some Jordan Jones. As you may have already heard, expected starting linebacker Ryan Flanningan won’t play Saturday because of his shoulder injury. The senior wasn’t able to go through contact drills on Wednesday and trainer Jim Madaleno ruled out Flannigan for the opener. But when asked if Khalid Henderson will take Flannigan’s stop, Stoops hinted that Jones might get a crack at starting.
The true freshman linebacker made a mark with the coaches early in camp before coming down with an undisclosed illness which caused him to miss a couple of weeks. The Youngstown native and former Cardinal Mooney star has picked up things quickly since returning to practice Tuesday. He will definitely play on Saturday night.
Predictions for the two SEC opening-night games on Thursday:
South Carolina vs. North Carolina: After a disappointing 7-6 season a year ago, Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks start their comeback tour at 6 p.m. on ESPN against North Carolina in Charlotte. Spurrier didn’t take the slide well. He trumpeted his team’s bowl win over a mediocre Miami. He took angry exception to AJC columnist Mark Bradley’s prediction that the Head Ball Coach wouldn’t stick around much longer. He publicly proclaimed that he would coach six more seasons at South Carolina, a message surely aimed at future recruits.
On the field, Spurrier is breaking in a sophomore quarterback in Connor Mitch, who threw all of six passes a year ago. South Carolina’s real 2014 problem, however, was on defense. The Gamecocks allowed 433 yards per game, an increase of more than 83 yards from the season before. Opponents averaged 30.4 points per game in 2014, up from 20.3 in 2013 and 18.2 in 2012. Spurrier sent out the bat signal to old friend Jon Hoke and rehired his former Florida defensive coordinator. Hoke, who teams with holdover Lorenzo Ward, has preached aggressiveness and better tackling technique during the pre-season. The Tar Heels will put that to the test.
The latest in our SEC football previews involves Arkansas:
Record last season: The Razorbacks won just two of eight SEC games but swept all five of its non-conference games to end up 7-6. The Razorbacks won three of their last four games, beating LSU 17-0, Ole Miss 30-0 and Texas 31-7 in the Texas Bowl. The Lone loss came 21-14 at Missouri. The Tigers scored the go-ahead touchdown with 4:38 left then recovered a fumble to seal it. The Razorbacks bounced back to thump arch-rival Texas in the bowl game, a moment in which Bret Bielema termed “borderline erotic.”
Here we go. Technically, FCS powers Montana and North Dakota State opened the college football season with a thriller last Saturday in Missoula. Even Brent Musburger and Jesse Palmer were on the hand to broadcast Montana’s thrilling last-second 38-35 win over the defending FCS champions. It was a great way to start the season.
Thursday night brings our first smattering of FBS games and it’s a pretty good slate. South Carolina and North Carolina travel to Charlotte for a border war on ESPN. Jeff Brohm’s high-octane Western Kentucky offense takes on Vanderbilt in Nashville. National championship contender TCU travels to dangerous Minnesota. And Jim Harbaugh makes his Michigan debut as the Wolverines travel to Utah.
Here are the college football games on television Thursday:
Big Blue Links for Thursday starts with Jennifer Smith’s story about UK staffers and students have pitched in to get the “new” Commonwealth Stadium ready for Saturday’s opening night. UK kicks off the football season at 7 p.m. (ESPNU) against UL-Lafayette. Completion of the stadium renovation project is coming right down to the wire and UK AD Mitch Barnhart all but admitted Thursday that not everything is going to be done. The game is not a sellout.
My notes column opens with my prediction for this Kentucky football season. I was talking with All Wildcats’ Jeff Drummond on Wednesday and we agreed that there is little margin for error with this team. If everything clicks right, it could go 8-4. Injuries and bad bounces could produce a 4-8 mark. I’m playing that right down the middle.
Florida is next up on our SEC football 2015 preview list:
Record last season: A 7-5 overall record and 4-4 SEC mark earned Will Muschamp a pink slip after just four years as the Florida head coach. The Gators started 3-1 before suffering a heartbreaking 30-27 home loss to LSU. Missouri then waxed Florida 42-13 the next week in The Swamp. Not even a 38-20 upset win over Georgia could save Muschamp’s job after that. A 23-20 overtime loss to South Carolina in The Swamp sealed Coach Boom’s fate. Muschamp was 28-21 overall and 17-15 in his four seasons. He did not coach Florida’s appearance in the Birmingham Bowl. The Gators beat East Carolina 28-20.
ESPN’s panel of SEC writers made choices for the league’s surprise team in 2015. Edward Aschoff is bullish on the Cats.
I like this Kentucky team. I don’t love it; it’s not a team that’s going to compete for the SEC East title, but the Wildcats will make a bowl game and pull and upset or two. Mark Stoops thinks his offense will be better with receiver Ryan Timmons heading a group of talented, yet unheralded, receivers. The secondary is getting more length from the freshmen, and the interior of the defensive line could be nasty with Melvin Lewis and Matt Elam. Watch out for Cory Johnson and Jason Hatcher on the outside. Kentucky will win seven games.
Click here for the remaining picks.
Big Blue Links for Wednesday:
- Ohio upsets Kentucky volleyball, reports UK Athletics. Craig Skinner’s 10th-ranked Cats fell 3-1 at Memorial Coliseum.
- Melvin Smith starting to zero in, reports Brian Hudgins of The Advocate. UL-Lafayette’s new defensive coordinator is veteran of the SEC.
- Eddie Gordon ready to go at center, reports Tim Buckley of the Lafayette Advertiser. A reserve role prepped the Ragin’ Cajun for a starting role this year.
- Reggie Meant is defeating a hard life with hard work, reports Ben Roberts of the Herald-Leader. Kentucky’s defensive tackle spent many of his early years in Haiti.
- Renovated Commonwealth Stadium opens Saturday, reports Jennifer Smith of the Herald-Leader. The new CWS feels more like an SEC football stadium.
- Maxwell Smith will start at San Diego State, reports the H-L. The former Kentucky quarterback is a graduate transfer for the Aztecs.
- UK takes athletic training to the kitchen, reports Janet Patton of the Herald-Leader. Dietitian Monica Fowler has helped players with a cooking school.
- Luke Maile makes his MLB debut, reports the H-L. The former Kentucky catcher made his debut for the Tampa Bay Rays.
- Arizona Fall League next for A.J. Reed, reports the H-L. Despite a monster year in the minors, the former UK star won’t be a September call-up for the Astros.
- Collin Cowgill back with Angels, reports H-L. The former Henry Clay and Kentucky star is finally off the disabled list.
- Jon Toth leads a veteran offensive line, reports Kyle Tucker of the Courier-Journal. The junior center has been a two-year starter.
- Matt Elam not backing away from 12-0 tweet, reports Jon Hale of the Cats Pause. Elam says every team should think it is going undefeated.
My Wednesday print column:
Dear Mr. Ahmed Zayat:
One more time.
That’s all we ask.
Let American Pharoah race one more time.
We are the first to admit our sentiments are selfish, that our request is more than a little bit driven by the fact this year’s Breeders’ Cup will be held at our very own Keeneland Race Course on Oct. 30-31.
The Breeders’ Cup is spectacular in its own right but American Pharoah’s participation would render the 2015 renewal historic. A Triple Crown winner has never before participated in the event’s 31-year history.
It goes beyond local pride, however. It goes to why you got into Thoroughbred racing in the first place. It goes back to the love of the sport.
We know, after American Pharoah’s second-place finish in the Travers Stakes last Saturday, you were quoted as saying your “gut feeling” was your horse would probably be retired. But we know, too, that you made that statement right after having been kicked in the gut.
Read the rest of the column here.