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College football analyst Tony Barnhart sees valid reasons for UK fans to be excited

uk football helmetBy LARRY VAUGHT

HOOVER, Ala. — Tony Barnhart understands that Kentucky has won just two games — and no Southeastern Conference games — the last two years. However, Barnhart, a former college football reporter for ESPN and now a college football insider for CBS Sports and the SEC Network, can see reasons for UK fans to be excited going into Mark Stoops’ second season.

“To me, if I am a Kentucky fan, I am excited about all the leading indicators. The indicators are good. Now they were not a very good team a year ago and didn’t win a conference game, but you go out and if you believe they recruiting rankings, they did a very good job of recruiting,” said Barnhart. “Now you have to build and put four or five of those (recruiting classes) together and get some consistent play at quarterback and then you have a chance to make some noise.”

Barnhart says former UK coach Rich Brooks provided the “road map” for success at UK when he went to four straight bowl games and beat Clemson and Florida State in bowl games.

“It can be done at Kentucky. But it is about players and it is about coaching and it starts with players,” Barnhart said.

Barnhart liked the way Brooks and his staff developed players even though he never had recruiting classes ranked as high as the one Stoops had last year and is putting together again this year.

“Everything I know about this staff tells me they are good at developing talent. There is no doubt at a place like Kentucky you have to get those two- and three-star guys and make them into a four-star. Coach Brooks was really good at doing that. But based on what I know about this staff, they can do it,” Barnhart said.

Barnhart doesn’t think UK has to have a banner season to continue to recruit well.

“I think you can keep selling the dream, but the fans have got to see signs that things are moving in the right direction. Maybe you don’t beat a Georgia, Florida or South Carolina, but you come really close and scare them,” Barnhart said. “There just have to be signs to give them something to hope for.

“But I think really the signs … when you start bringing in better players, they tend to give you those signs. If I am a Kentucky fan, I am hoping that those people who say this was the No. 17 recruiting class in the country know what they were talking about.

“You look at what this coaching staff has done going into Ohio and signing players and getting the best players in state to stay home. It absolutely has made a difference. Kids have to imagine themselves going to a place like Kentucky and having success. It is a great place, you get on campus and they love it. But they have to imagine themselves having success at Kentucky. To be able to convince a bunch of great players to come to Kentucky, I think that is a good sign for the future.”

Yet Barnhart admits he’s not sure what the strength of Stoops’ second team will be.

“I  think they feel pretty good about the running back position. I think they are making some strides on the defensive side of the ball. I just think the big question mark is are you going to have to play Drew Barker at quarterback. Is he going to be the guy? Is it going to be  Max Smith? Is it going to be Patrick Towles? I think you have to find a quarterback that can give you a chance,” Barnhart said.

“Basically the way offenses are now and for what Kentucky wants to do offensively, you just can’t be average at quarterback. You have to be pretty good. One of those guys has to step up and be pretty good.”

Barnhart does believe the launch of the SEC Network in mid-August will benefit UK football.

“Absolutely because of exposure. Kentucky is going to get more exposure on the SEC Network and people will look and be like, ‘Wow. I knew they played basketball, but did you know Bear Bryant coached at Kentucky, did you know Kentucky upset the No. 1 team (LSU) in the nation in 2007?’ They will learn all these things about Kentucky football that they did not know. That is the kind of exposure that Kentucky will get on the network that will help.”

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  1. Larry Pup

    No mention of Reese Phillips, and he could be the starter. Max Smith hasn’t even been in the conversation of late. Shows you how much this guy knows about the QB race at Kentucky. I do agree with a lot of what he said though. The biggest question marks to me right now are the Oline, the linebackers, the UK secondary, and can Stoops really coach both sides of the ball? He can sure hold his own recruiting we are learning. Before you guys go off on me, Coach has got it to do, and I’m sure pulling for him. Eliot needs to show a little more fire as a defensive coordinator IMO. He is too nice and reserved from long distance. I could be wrong about that. These are just my concerns going into the 2014 season.

  2. Ira

    Heck yesterday a sports show was still showing Whitlow on the team as QB. How is that research for you hahaha. I mean couldn’t even look at the school depth chart. It kills me how lazy they are when it comes to UK, but then it is par for the course.

    1. RJ

      I was watching ESPN earlier and they did the same thing. It’s the same with editing in the newspapers these days. Have you gotten through the LH lately, cover to cover (all three pages of it) without counting at least five misspellings, left out words or entire sentences missing? We keep throwing money at schools though…….

  3. RandyB

    While I appreciate any national or regional so-called experts, they rarely do more than
    state the obvious, and reveal how little they know when they do things like mention Max Smith as a option this season. What they think is almost useless, except to guage the national misconception about Kentucky, both in basketbakk and football. The national “experts” that are interviewed on Sunday Morning Sports Radio, on KSR and any of these sports talk shows don’t really know diddedly-squat. Conversely, I love hearing the opinions of Freddie Maggard, Tim Couch, Jared Lorenzen, Dusty Bonner , and yes, Larry Vaught..

    1. Larry Pup

      Amen RandyB!!!!!

    2. Mick Murrell

      While I like listening to and reading Tony he has become a caricature of himself. I think with commuting back and forth to New York he has focused solely on the Top SEC teams as he knows they are the only ones who will be on the CBS Eye.

  4. Ira

    For the most part the national and many top regional media knows what listeners want to hear about. It’s the top 20-25 teams. I’m fine with it, after all they get paid to read off those tele prompters. But laziness on some researchers part shouldn’t be excused by any of them. But I think what is worse, is the misconception of programs like UK, so when they mess up, well it’s only Kentucky so who cares anyway. In fact our fanbase cares every bit. It’s shoddy reporting and it also shows how big an egos one of them have towards others.

  5. Ira

    That should have been some of them have. Ego wise. I have to spell check my own spell checker more an more seems like geez. Never know what word gets changed to anymore

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