BOZICH | The 10 Questions U of L, UK, IU & WKU football must answer
By Rick Bozich
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- There are quarterback questions. There are defensive coordinator questions. There are injury questions.
With more than three weeks until the first local college football games, questions carry the narrative of the 2018 season.
I decided to buckle my chinstrap and tackle these 10 as we wait for Louisville, Kentucky, Indiana and Western Kentucky to plunge into a season that will begin with modest expectations.
1. Where’s the buzz?
I warned Eric Crawford that I would steal his question. Consider it done.
I asked him for his number one question on the local 2018 football season. He did not hesitate:
Where is the buzz?
Nobody is suggesting Louisville is in position to shock the world or even Alabama in the Cards’ season opener. Beating Central Michigan by 17 points won’t prove anything about Kentucky’s ability to contend in the Southeastern Conference East Division.
Indiana at FIU will be forgotten in the Sept. 1 evening time slot by Michigan at Notre Dame; Louisville vs. Alabama; Cincinnati at UCLA (Chip Kelly’s debut) and other sexier matchups.
WKU will need a miracle to win at Wisconsin.
Nobody is ranked in the Top 25.
If ever the opening of a season needed a local peg, like Louisville vs. Kentucky, in Week One, this is the season.
2. Is Louisville losing ground in the ACC pecking order?
In its first two ACC seasons, Louisville trailed only Clemson and Florida State in the Atlantic Division. Who doesn’t?
In year three, the Cards overtook Florida State and hung a 7-1 record, just like Clemson. College Game Day visited. Lamar Jackson won a Heisman Trophy.
Cue the marching band.
Cut the marching band.
The Cards backtracked to 4-4 in league play last season. North Carolina State climbed into second place. Louisville found itself with the same record as Wake Forest and Syracuse.
Chasing Clemson and Florida State happens. It's understandable, Chasing N.C. State and fighting off Wake Forest and BC will never be considered Fun City. Nor should it be.
3. Can Kentucky keep Tennessee in the rear-view mirror?
The time was when Kentucky lived in a more grinding division than Louisville. That was the time when Georgia, Florida and Tennessee all carried themselves as if nothing less than a New Year’s Day bowl game was acceptable.
Georgia is on the brink of greatness. Florida expects to regroup quickly with Dan Mullen, a former Urban Meyer assistant who proved he could win at Mississippi State.
The Vols are a mess, led by their fourth head coach since they toppled Phil Fulmer in 2008. Jeremy Pruitt got the job because their fan base didn’t want Greg Schiano and a cast of thousands didn’t want to be the next Johnny Majors.
The Wildcats defeated the Vols for the second time since 1984 while finishing four games ahead of Tennessee last season. One sign of achieving real progress at UK would be staying several steps ahead of Tennessee.
The Wildcats won’t overtake Georgia, but they need to keep cruising ahead of Tennessee and (I shouldn’t have to say it) Vanderbilt.
4. Why is Indiana opening at Florida International?
There are 64 teams in the Power Five conferences.
Four of those teams open on the road against a non-Power Five opponent. You know, one of those games that has a million ways to make your program look inept but few to make it look fantastic.
There is Syracuse at Western Michigan; There is Washington State at Wyoming; There is Wake Forest at Tulane.
And there is Indiana at Florida International.
At FIU in the season opener for the second time in three seasons.
5. Can Western Kentucky survive its first four games?
WKU is the second-biggest underdog on the board at VegasInsiders.con opening weekend. The only FBS team getting more points is Oregon State, a 35 1/2-point underdog at Ohio State.
That’s one more point than WKU will get at Wisconsin in lovely Camp Randall Stadium.
After getting well against Maine in their home opener, the Hilltoppers will then face consecutive road games with Louisville and Ball State. Considering the way WKU wobbled to a 6-7 finish last season, the Hilltoppers’ ability to survive the first four games without injuries and a crisis of confidence should dictate the arc of their season.
Because after the first four, WKU comes home to play Marshall.
6. Can Louisville stop the run?
Louisville allowed 163.4 rushing yards per game last season. That was the highest total since 2009, Steve Kragthorpe’s last season.
The Cards also allowed 24 rushing touchdowns, after giving up only a combined 30 over the three previous seasons.
The Cards allowed 33.4 points in league games. Only Syracuse and North Carolina, the ACC’s two last-place teams, allowed more.
Can Louisville stop the run?
It is The Question surrounding the Cardinals until further notice.
7. Will Kentucky kids put Kentucky back in the Wildcats?
Before Mark Stoops had scoreboard victories to celebrate, there were recruiting victories to tout. Social media crackled with joy, especially after Kentucky scored with premier four-star in-state prospects like Jason Hatcher (2013), Drew Barker (2014), Matt Elam (2014) and Eli Brown (2015).
None delivered four-star careers in Lexington.
Maybe Landon Young (tackle from Lexington Lafayette); Drake Jackson (center from Versailles) and Kash Daniel (linebacker fro Paintsville) flip that script. They’re four-star recruits expected to be prime contributors.
Few things excite a fan base like in-state kids performing up to their recruiting hype.
8. Are grad transfers the answer for Indiana?
Tom Allen must be creative to position Indiana as an occasional threat to the proven Big Ten East beasts. Slugging it out for the best high school prospects has never worked for the Hoosiers.
Allen appears to have a plan. He fortified his 2018 roster with four transfers who should help on Sept. 1.
Brandon Dawkins (Arizona) is in the mix at quarterback; Nick Lindner (Miami- Florida) will get snaps on the offensive line; Kayton Samuels started seven games on the defensive line at Syracuse last season.
You can include sophomore linebacker T.D. Roof, who was granted immediate eligibility after being a special teams star at Georgia Tech last season. Indiana has four newcomers who should contribute more than the typical freshman.
The Hoosiers will need them.
9. Will Mike Sanford get a second chance to make a first impression?
Sanford was not simply competing against FIU, FAU, Marshall and the rest of Conference USA last season. He was competing against Jeff Brohm, Bobby Petrino and Willie Taggart, guys who brought the Hilltoppers six consecutive winning seasons while averaging 8.8 victories.
Sanford lost two of his first three and then five of his last six.
It happens. New coach. New players. New system.
But Brohm spoiled WKU fans, leaving Sanford the challenge of proving WKU can chase Conference USA championships. The grumbling was out of proportion to the situation, but it was there.
10. What’s the best chance for College Game Day to visit the area again?
Would you settle for Sept,. 2, 2019?
Any time Notre Dame comes to town there is a chance that ESPN will follow, especially when it will be the first appearance by the Irish at Cardinal Stadium (nailed it).
GameDay visited Louisville in consecutive seasons and also made a quick stop in Bloomington for the Ohio State opener last year.
But … 2018.
I don’t see it.
If I had to make a case, here are my nominees:
Florida State at Louisville Sept. 29 is the obvious pick but I’ll stop here and promise to write several entire columns about this idea if Louisville handles Alabama.
South Carolina at Kentucky Sept. 29. All it would require is a 4-0 start by the Wildcats that would include wins over Florida and Mississippi State as well as a 4-0 start by the Gamecocks, who would have to topple visiting Georgia Sept. 8.
Michigan State at Indiana Sept. 22. This is the longest of long-shots but it’s also Indiana’s only shot to carry an unbeaten record into a home game against a ranked opponent.
IU would be 3-0 by beating FIU, Ball State and Virginia. Sparty figures to be 2-0 after handling Utah State and Arizona State.
Never mind. That won't work. But I tried.
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