Respect? SEC players insist UK a 'quality opponent'

August 01, 2003


Sports Editor

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Kentucky was put in a customary spot at the Southeastern Conference Football Media Days.

The only team the Wildcats were picked to finish above in the SEC Eastern Division was Vanderbilt in the poll released here Thursday. That seems to be the UK's annual positioning in the SEC poll.

Kentucky had only three players - return specialist Derek Abney, offensive lineman Antonio Hall and defensive lineman Vincent Burns - named to the preseason all-conference teams.

However, that doesn't mean SEC players lack respect for Kentucky.

"I think Kentucky is a team that can beat anyone in the SEC," said Mississippi lineman Jesse Mitchell. "Kentucky has great facilities and some great players. They are a quality opponent for anyon. (Quarterback) Jared Lorenzen throws the ball harder than anyone I have seen. They have some really good linemen. I think Kentucky is definitely a contender to win any time it plays."


SEC fans, and media members, would disagree. The Cats seem to be the opponent that every conference rival expects to beat every year.

"I think players probably do respect Kentucky more because we know what Kentucky has. We play them. We know what they bring to the field," Mitchell said. "You don't write down a win before you play Kentucky. They've had some quality wins, like the one at Arkansas last year, and they get better every year. They are a team you better respect or you'll get beat."

Alabama tailback Shaud Williams has never played against Kentucky. He'll get his first chance to play the Wildcats Sept. 13 after the Tide open the season against South Florida and national title contender Oklahoma.

"But there is no way we are going to overlook Kentucky," Williams said. "I've seen enough of them on TV to know they are good and I know they would love to come to Alabama and try to make a statement by beating us."

Alabama linebacker Cornelius Wortham was recruited by Kentucky when Hal Mumme was coach.

"I really liked a lot about Kentucky and the program they had going," Wortham said. "I have followed the team since then and I know they are a worthy opponent. SEC teams are all good, and that includes Kentucky."

Mitchell thinks some SEC teams are so good that it sometimes leads to a national perception that other conference teams are not that good.

"Sometimes some SEC teams make things look easy and that makes it hard to appreciate how good a Kentucky can be," Mitchell said. "But anyone that doesn't understand that Kentucky has talent just does not know, or understand, football."

Changing: Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville has a team many feel not only can win the SEC, but could also challenge for the national title. He also indicated that Auburn's fortunes have been aided by the problems at Alabama that have seen one coach resign, one hired and fired, and another one hired since the 2002 season ended.

"When you change coaches, it sets recruiting back two years," Tuberville said. "It hurts getting kids on your campus for camps.

"You only have 25 scholarships at most and you can't afford to make any mistakes. When you change coaches, you have more margin for error that first year or two. A coaching change hurts and gives your rivals a big edge in recruiting."

Petrino backer: Tuberville lost his offensive coordinator, Bobby Petrino, to Louisville after the 2002 season. He thinks Petrino will have no trouble in his first head coaching job at Louisville this season.

"He is going to do great," Tuberville said. "He is a hard worker, a great organizer. He is a definitely a person who can handle being a head coach. He did a tremendous job for us and we miss him."

Tuberville does have one complaint about the new Louisville coach.

"I notice he's been putting all the expectations on us to win the SEC and challenge for the national title," Tuberville said. "Well, I expect him to win Conference-USA his first year and also beat Kentucky. How's that for expectations for him?"|None***

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