Amid scorching temperatures and humidity so sweltering that you sweat sitting in the shade, it's hard to believe the 2011 football season is around the corner.
But as Governor Steve Beshear noted Thursday at the University Club just outside Lexington, fall is just around the corner, and that means football is getting ready to start.
As an annual tradition before the season, the Kentucky and Louisville coaching staffs came together Thursday for the Governor's Cup Luncheon. With the Governor's Cup situated in front of a dais and a couple hundred people in attendance, including Beshear, ESPN analyst Lee Corso, and several former Kentucky and Louisville greats (this year's honorees were Tim Couch, Dan Neal, Howard Stevens and Wally Oyler) UK head coach Joker Phillips and Louisville coach Charlie Strong spoke about the upcoming season.
We've got video above of Phillips' news conference, but below are a couple of extra notes and quotes from each coach:
- After Strong left the makeshift stage and downplayed Louisville's expectations for this season, longtime reporter Billy Reed said that in all of his years of doing the luncheon he had never heard a coach say his team was going to be really good. Joking with Reed, Phillips took the bait. "We're going to be pretty damn good this year," Phillips said to a tent full of laugther. "We're going to get some young guys to step up. We're going to be pretty darn good. We're going to kick some people."
- In all seriousness, Phillips said his team and staff are excited to start the season just like everyone else. "The reason you're excited, especially today, is because this is our last event," Phillips said. "We know that after this event, we lock the doors and go to work on football."
- Phillips reiterated Thursday what he's said in several of his preseason talking engagements: There is a lot of production to replace on offense, they're excited for the young players to step up, the offensive line is the offense's strength, and the defense, which has its top 11 tacklers back, will be the team's overall strength. "There are some questions, but we do have some answers," Phillips said. "We've got to get a lot more questions answered in fall camp."
- Phillips once again mentioned the luxury of signing freshmen who are true receivers. In the past few years, UK has had to turn athletes into receivers. With all the talk about the young receivers and who could potentially play right away, a reporter asked a pretty valid question: What about a few of the returning veterans? "Better step up," Phillips said. "That's the message and that's our policy. At the end of spring, you had to be in the top two or else a freshman is coming in ahead of you. Same with the freshmen that were on campus last year. They know that. They know now. They came in and they were No. 3. If they're not No. 2 now, they'll be four. I don't think it's fair to a freshman, leaving home for the first time, he's coming here to campus, it's hot, he thinks he's the greatest thing since sliced bread, and now he comes in on the depth chart and he's buried fifth or six. I don't think that's fair to him. And we've got some talented guys here that we have to find out if they can help us. How can you figure out if they're fifth team? We've got to get those guys reps right away."
- One of the returning veterans that not a lot of people are talking about is junior Gene McCaskill, who missed the entire 2010 season with a knee injury. Wide receivers coach Tee Martin thinks McCaskill could be the X-factor because of his ability to play multiple receiving positions. "When he went down, I realized how many people he was for us because he can play all three (receiving) positions," Martin said. "Unfortunately it put La'Rod (King) in a situation that wasn't really his comfort zone, and he did a good job. Along with Gene coming back, we can do some things we weren't able to do."
- Martin said he's received positive reports on McCaskill from the strength and conditioning staff and expects McCaskill to be ready for the start of fall camp. "We kept him involved the whole time," Martin said. "The only time Gene really missed anything the other guys did is if he had a mandatory doctor's appointment or something with rehab. But meetings, walkthroughs, being-on-the-field stuff, he's been around. ... I feel good about him being able to come in (and contribute)."
- For those that were worried about the report a week ago that incoming freshman Glenn Faulkner, ranked the No. 8 overall safety in the country by Rivals.com, was not on campus yet, Phillips reassured everyone Thursday that Faulkner is "on his way."
- From the Louisville side of things, Strong harped on how young his team was, noting a stat he'd recently read that said Louisville is ranked 119th in the country in terms of experience. "When I think about last season I think about the bowl game," Strong said. "The victory that we had, we were able to set the foundation for this program. There was 25 seniors on that football team. Out of those 25 seniors, 14 were starters. Now you lose 14 starters and you start thinking about rebuilding, and that's what we're in right now. We're in a phase of rebuilding. I know the governor said he didn't want to hear any weaknesses, but my team has a whole lot of weaknesses right now."
- Neither coach said a ton about the game other than to say it's great for the state of Kentucky and has elevated both programs. As always, Phillips was asked about the timing of this year's game, which falls on the third week of the season. "We like it," Phillips said. "We both get two games prior to. It's an important game for both programs. I guarantee Charlie likes it this year. He talked about young his team is. If you've got a young team, you want to get some questions answered. I really like have two games prior to this game. Hopefully we can get both get some questions answered in those two games."