With UK basketball season and the Billy Gillispie era drawing to a close, spring football around the corner and the Cats 2009 schedule apparently being finalized this week, its time to reset this thing.
Let's talk about the schedule.
Sept. 5 vs. Miami (Ohio) (in Cincinnati)
Sept. 19 vs. Louisville
Sept. 26 vs. Florida
Oct. 3 vs. Alabama
Oct. 10 at South Carolina
Oct. 17 at Auburn
Oct. 24 vs. Louisiana-Monroe
Oct. 31 vs. Mississippi State
Nov. 7 vs. Eastern Kentucky
Nov. 14 at Vanderbilt
Nov. 21 at Georgia
Nov. 28 vs. Tennessee
First off, I like the addition of Miami of Ohio as an "away" game. UK gets a guarantee game without writing a big check, and will benefit from a return game to Commonwealth in either 2010 or 2013. It gives the Cats a chance to play in an NFL stadium, and is a treat for the Northern Kentucky fan base. Moreover, this will be a fun game to attend, and will give UK's less zealous season tickets holders a break from paying to see three guarantee games.
That is the good news. The bad news is that UK now has a totally unnecessary open date on September 12th, then plays eleven straight weeks. The effect of playing this many games in a row may be blunted by the two non-conference games interspersed later in the year. Still, it isn't an ideal circumstance for a team that generally lacks the depth of its late season opponents and is always limping in the home stretch.
I've said this before but I'll say it again. The scheduling problem had an easy fix. UK and Eastern both have open dates on Septmber 12th. It would have made too much sense to switch this game from November 7th. First, the switch would have reduced the consecutive week stretch from 11 to 9. UK would have an open date right before a critical road game at Vandy, and ensuing contests at Georgia and home against UT. As it is, the open date before Louisville will be nice, but not very useful. Secondly, playing the EKU game earlier hopefully would have placed another W in the record before what might be a humbling two game homestand versus Florida and Alabama. The added confidence would have been nice not only going into those games, but assuming they go poorly, the residual good feeling would have helped going into what I think will be the most important part of the season (more on that in a moment).
If I could ask Mitch Barnhart one question today, it would have nothing to do with who will coach the basketball team this year. I'd ask him why this switch wasn't made. I doubt EKU would have objected, given what this game means to it financially. There doesn't seem to be a rational argument against it.
This all appears moot now that season ticket renewals have gone out. I realize that I am getting bogged down in minutia, as I often do, but it is late March, and there isn't much else to say.
Another note about the schedule. Last year I circled back to back home games against USC and Arkansas as the keys to our season. Of course, I did not anticipate that we would lose to Vandy, but that part of the schedule did end up being fateful. Had we found a way to hold on against South Carolina, we likely would have finished the season in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. Conversely, without the improbable comeback against The Razorbacks, the season would have ended without a bowl and with many questioning the program's direction.
This year has such a stretch. Unfortunately, it will be contested on the road. Assuming the first four games on the schedule play out as expected, UK will head to Columbia 2-2 on October 10th with two in-conference home losses on its resume. The next week it will travel to Auburn. A win in either game would go a long way in getting us to a respectable season. Lose both and we'll have no momentum going into what should be the most manageable stretch of the season, not to mention a pencil thin margin for error left for getting bowl eligible.
I am going to try to get to spring practice for an hour or two here and there. You'll hear from me then, for sure.
And for the record, I would also love to ask Mitch about whether he has considered John Beilein, whose name no one else ever brings up.
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