By Ira D. Combs
Tri State Sports Media Service Inc.
By the time this weekly column reaches the various weekly papers and Web site postings across the Commonwealth this week, the Georgia game Tuesday night (7:00 ET, ESPNU) will more than likely be behind us and all eyes will be focused on this Saturday’s trip to Billy Donovan’s Gatorland and the game many have circled as the first true test in conference play to derail the Wildcat Express on its way to a perfect 31-0 regular season.
So I’m taking a little bit of a risk myself focusing on the weekend after the Georgia game but at this point I just can’t see UK having a bump in the road in Rupp Arena.
With that being established let’s go ahead and talk about that supposedly dreaded two-headed monster back-to-back road swing at Florida Saturday (9:00 ET, ESPN) and the following Tuesday at LSU (7:00 ET, ESPN).
Here are the four big questions that have to be answered and will be on this upcoming road swing:
No. 1: Has this UK team (especially the four freshman) been through enough big-game, neutral-site settings to have learned about preparation for special games?
No. 2: Has this UK team experienced enough true road game hostile Super Bowl atmospheres to be prepared for Gainesville and Baton Rouge?
No. 3: Will the injury/sickness bug rear its ugly head on this road swing? Winning in Rupp Arena without both Alex Poythress and Trey Lyles is one thing. But winning in those hostile southern basketball pits of the O'Connell Center and Maravich Assembly Center is entirely different.
No. 4: Will the steady perimeter shooting in recent games take a night off at either one of these sites and force UK to win solely on defense?
Time will tell us, and shortly I might add, but these two upcoming stops on the SEC train are night and day compared to Texas A&M, Alabama, and the two Columbias of the SEC.
My greatest fear is a place that literally no one has talked about or contemplated as any type of a problem or bump in the road for this UK team. That is Knoxville, Tenn., and if you think that is a stretch, just take a little time and look at the history of UK’s play in K-town over the years. There has been a lot of very good UK teams rolled into town high and mighty then went back to Lexington with their heads tucked between their tails.
If that history search don’t convince you, ask UK's Hall of Fame coach Joe B. Hall, he was 1-12 in K-town for his 13 years at the helm and that one team that won was the 1978 NCAA championship team.
Yes this team is getting closer by the day to that coveted and historic undefeated season, yet they are still far and far away from finalizing it.
Stoops And Staff Get Final Answers This Week
As the old saying goes even with the modern day teenager give them a little time and they’ll change their mind when the sun comes up and again before the sun goes down each day. Hopefully, this train of thought will surface for Mark Stoops and his staff this coming Wednesday when we all find out who will be the new gridiron Wildcats to join the cause of rebuilding UK football into a respectable mid-tier SEC program.
To date for the 2015 class and especially the last week or so it’s been a rollercoaster ride of commitments then de-commitments with the recent past being the toughest stretch in losing five of their most prized recruits in key positions who jumped ship and pledged to Top 25 established college football programs. I guess, in a sense, it’s a sign of improvement when you lose recruits that you had in fold to Ohio State, Auburn, and Michigan State than like in past years to MAC programs and other football programs with little, if any, name recognition.
Wherever your thoughts fall, in my opinion after the last two years of Top 25 recruiting classes Stoops has pulled in, a bump in the road is acceptable as long as that 3rd year on the field this fall culminates in a six-win or better season (bowl bid invitation) and then the positive recruiting cycle should kick back in gear. The Stoops era is entering the phase of his tenure that you must show success on the field or things can fall apart quickly.
You can go online to www.combsbrothersonkysports.com for more coverage of UK basketball and football as well as KHSAA football and basketball. You can also follow us on Twitter at @combsbrothers5.