I think I can speak for the vast majority of Cardinal fans when I say that the talent that Charlie Strong has brought to the program since his arrival is a major source for excitement. B.J. Butler was probably the first sign that thing were going to be different under HCCS. Butler decommited from Georgia and became the gem of Strong's first recruiting class. Other talented players followed suit and transformed the team into a group of guys that have galvanized the fan base.
Joker Phillips has seen fan support dwindle since he has become the head coach of the wildcats. Some of the criticism he has received has been well deserved and some of it has just been bad luck. One thing that I feel he hasn't gotten enough credit for is his recruiting. Has he changed the level of talent like Charlie? No. But he has kept guys some guys at home, he's landed a couple of guys that could have gone to better SEC schools, and he's gotten a couple of underrated guys that have already shown promise. The success that Charlie has had and the classes that James Franklin at Vanderbilt is landing are causing UK fans to want more from their coach. I can understand their complaints to a certain degree, but Joker has done a good job adding speed on both sides of the ball and he is still landing some of the top talent in Kentucky. He'll need some of his recruits to step up next week if he wants to pull off the upset
Kentucky is in dire need of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Since Randall Cobb left Kentucky has relied heavily on LaRod King to spark the offense. Obviously that has allowed defenses to key on him when they need to slow down the offense. The returning receivers outside of King combined for thirty catches last year and must improve upon that number. Redshirt freshman Daryl Collins will most likely be the player that Louisville will have to keep an eye on this year. Collins decommited from Alabama last year in search of immediate playing time. He went down with a dislocated kneecap in fall camp right before the season last year and lost his freshman season. Collins is a legit talent that can make plays in the passing game. He will definitely upgrade the receiving core Max Smith gets to work with. Demarcus Sweat is also getting a lot of buzz out of Lexington. He's a true freshman that made a ton of plays in high school. He will more than likely get a chance to play and will help add playmakers out wide for UK.
Kentucky has to replace a ton of talent and experience on defense with Winston Guy and Danny Trevathan off to the NFL. We could see as many as six new players on defense but some of these guys played well in their limited time last year. Alvin Dupree will give Jamon Brown and Alex Kupper all they can handle next week. He has the talent to get into the backfield and make plays. He fits Rick Minter's system well and got UK fans pretty excited when he got some playing time at the end of last season. Avery Williamson got plenty of playing time last year and will be relied on to run an inexperienced group of linebackers that return zero starters. I honestly thought that he was a better player than Ronnie Snead but my guess is that Snead's leadership and experienced won out in the end. Tyler Brouse is said to have won the right to replace Danny Trevathan at the weakside linebacker spot. If he really has beaten out the very talented Malcolm McDuffen I really want to see why. With the defensive tackles UK has up front, my mom could get five tackles a game at this linebacker spot. Having a guy as good as Trevathan really helped the defense improve last year. Brouse must have shown the coaches something if they have entrusted him with this role.
Kentucky will really need their newcomers to step up and make plays this year. They struggled with a listless offense last season and most are predicting it to be worse this year. I really do think that they have better players at the wide receiver position but we will have to wait and see if their inexperience will hamper them. Kentucky's defense improved under Minter last year but it loses 381 tackles from it's linebacker unit. That'll be hard to overcome. Kentucky's pass rush should improve but unless their linebackers play well Louisville's running backs will have a big day.
I posted about the lack of an impact this years recruiting class would have not too long ago but Louisville will have some new talent to showcase Sunday. Charles Gaines is listed as a starter at one of the wide receiver spots and I think we are all excited to see him show off his speed. However, outside of Gaines I don't expect to see any other players on offense that didn't play last year. Corvin Lamb is injured and Bryce McNeal isn't listed on the depth chart. We could see McNeal play just like we did with Adrian Bushell last season, but I would imagine that he's out of shape as well as the fact that he hasn't had much time to learn the playbook.
Keith Brown and Gerod Holliman are both listed as backups on the newly released depth chart but we should see both get playing time against UK. Brown is listed as a middle linebacker but I would expect him to split some time with George Durant outside. Brown is a big time talent that has been on campus since spring practice. He earned high praise from both Preston Brown and Daniel Brown when he lined up with the first team during fall camp. Holliman is still my pick to be the nickelback this year. He returned an interception for a touchdown in the scrimmage last week and is just too talented to keep on the sideline. I don't think Holliman will unseat Calvin Pryor at free safety but Vance Bedford will find a way to get him on the field. Mike Evans had a solid year as our nickelback last year. Holliman fits the role perfectly and would add to an already stout defensive backfield.
Louisville returns players with starting experience at every position except for strongside linebacker and "Z" receiver this season. Starting experience is somewhat overrated but it is important to have guys on the field that know what they're doing. False starts and blown coverages have killed the team for what seems like forever. The fact that almost every player we see line up on Sunday will have played with the guy next to them should be a huge advantage. Kentucky will have some talented players fill in this year but Louisville will not be as reliant on new players to step up. Louisville was in Kentucky's shoes last season. Time will tell if Collins, Williamson, and Brouse can play the role of Bridgewater, Parker, and Bushell for Kentucky.