Kentucky will open its season on ESPN in what could be the team’s biggest game of the year when UK¿plays at Louisville on Sept. 2.
The game was originally slated for Sept. 1, but has been moved to a 3:30 p.m. Sunday kickoff for ESPN. This will be the seventh time the game has been played on a Sunday — 2002 through 2006 and 2008.
This year, Louisville returns more players, will have the home-field advantage and should go into the game as a favorite. Kentucky salvaged some respectability for its 2011 season with a season-ending win over Tennessee. But for the Cats to get back to bowl eligibility, beating Louisville is almost a must. Lose this game and the negative feelings that overwhelmed the program at times last year could return as many UK fans remain unhappy with how the team has progressed since Phillips took over.
It doesn’t help that UK’s tumultuous offseason continues to have player defections. Defensive back Daylen Hall was kicked off the team for unspecified reasons and linebacker Ridge Wilson, UK’s most experienced returning player at that position, was booted off the team after a drug arrest. Both players are from Louisville.
Now three more players are gone.
Linebacker Tim Patterson, the top in-state prospect in the 2010 recruiting class, is transferring. Kentucky had to beat Louisville to sign the Louisville Central star and then let him grayshirt and arrive on campus a semester late because of a knee injury. He had yet to play in a game after being redshirted last season.
Linebacker Justin Henderson of South Carolina, who played in four games as a redshirt freshman, is also transferring. Like Patterson, he was slated for backup duty at best in 2012.
Defensive end Nermin Delic has been dismissed for a violation of team rules. He looked like he could be a future star as a true freshman, but then he left UK for a semester before returning in January. Phillips said before spring practice started that Delic had some work to do to convince coaches and teammates he was serious about being on the team again.
“He’s a guy that left right when we were all excited about him. He has to show us, his teammates, that he’s committed to really wanting to be here. He has to do it in the offseason. Can’t do it during the season. You have to do it now,” Phillips said in March.
Obviously, Delic didn’t come close to doing that, and Phillips has sent him packing like he did Hall and Wilson as UK moves toward the conclusion of spring practice April 21 with the Blue-White Game.
Henderson, Patterson and Delic had not been big contributors for UK yet. But that’s now five defensive players in the past few months that are gone from a team that is short on experience and depth on defense — not exactly the best scenario to have going into a must-win season-opening game on ESPN that likely will set the tone for UK’s season.
Starting times for UK’s other 11 games have not been set. Kent State (Sept. 8) and Western Kentucky (Sept. 15), both home games, will have starting times finalized in the weeks ahead. The Southeastern Conference will set starting times for UK’s other nine games.