I’m still taking a little time off — isn’t a vacation supposed to mean “No Work” — but I did want to weigh in quickly on a couple of points today. Here’s Point #1, with more to follow later in the day:
Joker Phillips, now’s your chance.
With Penn State football getting hammered by the NCAA on Monday, players from across the state of Pennsylvania (including those on the Nittany Lions’ current roster) are about to be up for grabs. That’s one of the most talent-rich states in the nation. By comparison, high schools in the Commonwealth of Kentucky have produced just 56 NFL draft picks since 1988, the smallest number produced from a current SEC state.
Do the math, folks.
UK needs to go outside its own state borders to find talent. Georgia has served as a key target for the Cats under Phillips and his predecessor, Rich Brooks. Driving I-75 South, Lexington is 280 miles from the Georgia border. Taking I-64 East, Lexington is about 340 miles from Point Marion, Pennsylvania, but the states are closer than that as the crow flies. The point? It shouldn’t be that much tougher to sell Pennsylvania recruits on UK than it is Georgia athletes.
Speculation on Monday centered on Ohio State — of course — Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Rutgers and Boston College taking best advantage of Penn State’s downfall. West Virgina and Maryland will likely benefit as well. Kentucky? Not mentioned by a soul.
The Cats need Ohio and Pennsylvania players to augment those athletes brought in from Georgia and their own homefront. Going toe to toe with Urban Meyer isn’t easy, but there’s no reason Kentucky of the big, bad SEC shouldn’t be able to nab Cincinnati and Kentuckiana-area athletes who often wind up at Louisville and Cincinnati of the Big East instead. (UK currently has nine Ohio natives on its football roster.) Now — using the SEC and its annual draft successes as strong selling points — Phillips and his staff should target the devil out of Pennsylvania, a state that has produced 184 NFL draftees since ’88.
Granted, the Wildcats aren’t in the SEC East with a Pennsylvania school so parents in the Keystone State wouldn’t be able to see Junior come back to his home turf to play a football game every other year as is the case with UK’s Georgia signees. But with the SEC’s two national television contracts, seeing their son in HD each week shouldn’t be a problem for Ma and Pa Pennsylvania.
The idea that Kentucky can rush in and fill the crater that’s going to be left where Joe Paterno’s statue and the Penn State football program once stood might look silly to non-Wildcat fans. But if Phillips could supplement his roster with just one or two Pennsylvania players per season, it might be well worth the effort involved in putting down roots just a little to the north and east.
By my quick count, the Cats currently have zero Pennsylvanians on their roster. Phillips needs to remedy that. Now he might at least have a fighting chance.