Yes, there's still a bowl game Saturday. Amidst all of the coaching stuff, Pitt still needs to lace them up one more time in 2010 ... er, 2011.
To help take a look at the Kentucky side of things, Chip Cosby who covers Kentucky sports over at the Lexington Herald-Leader, has graciously agreeed to participate in a brief Q&A. You can check out one of Chip's Notebook writings on the bowl game here.
Off to the Q&A.
1. Obviously the big storyline from Kentucky's vantage point is that it appears sophomore QB Morgan Newton will be getting the start for suspended starter, Mike Hartline. Hartline helped lead the Wildcats to a top 25 passing attack, though all purpose star Randall Cobb had a lot to do with that. How do you expect Newton to respond in this game? Even though Newton started some games last season, will he have the full playbook to work with or do you think he'll be given a simplified version?
Newton's been waiting for this chance all season after losing the job to Hartline in fall camp. Newton brings a completely different skill set that Hartline. He has a stronger arm than Hartline, but accuracy and reading defenses/making progressions has been an issue. He's also a threat to take off and pick up yards downfield. Newton led UK to road wins at Georgia and Auburn last season, but the coaches really simplified the offense and relied mainly on Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke to get by. It will be interesting to see if the UK staff takes the handcuffs of Newton for this game. I think they'll give him an opportunity to make plays, but it will still be a more scaled down version of the offense that Hartline was running.
2. Do you expect Cobb's effectiveness in the passing game to be limited without Hartline?
That's one of the things Cobb will be looking at in making his decision to enter the draft a year early or return to Kentucky. He put up great receiving numbers with Hartline throwing the ball to him. I wouldn't expect him to equal those numbers with Newton, but he'll still have a huge impact on the game. He'll get some carries out of the backfield, will play some QB and will return punts. So while his receiving yards may be down, his rushing numbers could be up.
3. Much like Pitt, Kentucky has had somewhat of a disappointing season. How are fans reacting to playing in this bowl game? And with basketball season in full swing, is football an afterthought?
Not many people in Kentucky are fired up about this game. The season-ending loss to Tennessee took a lot of steam out of the fans, and ticket sales have been very, very slow. I imagine most UK fans will tune in, but the level of apathy is much higher than UK's previous four bowl trips.
4. Pitt is going to have its hands full with Randall Cobb - perhaps in the return game the most as the team has struggled covering kicks. What type of NFL prospect is he? At 5'11", he may not be the best receiving prospect, but with his versatility, I've got to believe there's room for him on an NFL roster.
Randall Cobb will play in the NFL. He's just too good of a football player not to. He's still not a completely polished receiver yet, but he's been favored to the Steelers' Hines Ward and I believe would continue to improve as a receiver at the next level. Cobb's not going to wow scouts at the Combine with his size or speed, but when they watch film and see how productive he is, he'll end up playing on Sundays somewhere.
5. How do you see the BBVA Compass Bowl playing out?
Pittsburgh is more talented; no question about that. And I don't think either team is too fired up about playing this game. But throw in all the drama that's gone on at Pitt with the coaching situation, and it's just hard for me to imagine the Panthers being able to pull together and win this one. Kentucky is playing for a winning season in Joker Phillips' first year as head coach, and as long as they put forth some effort, I could see them winning an ugly, low-scoring game. UK 23, Pitt 17