Billy Reed: Cheers for Western, Morehead, Eastern

Thanks again to Billy Reed for pointing out what you may not have noticed — the state’s often-overlooked state universities are giving UK and U of L fits in sports.

by Billy Reed

Big Red likes the way things are going

Memo to UK and U of L fans: It’s NOT always about you. So as Archie Bunker used to tell Edith, stifle yourself. Enough with the whining about how poorly your teams played. Instead, give a big round of applause to the other universities in our commonwealth.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the state universities are on a roll. It began last March when Morehead State and the relentless Kenneth Faried shocked Coach Rick Pitino’s Cardinals in the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament. It was a stunning end to what had been a feel-good season for the Cards.

Now let’s check out the early football results:

•    U of L 21, Murray State 9.

•    UK 14, Western Kentucky 3.

•    Kansas State 10, Eastern Kentucky 7.

The history books will record those as victories for the favored teams. But the gambling books will reveal that all thee state university teams easily covered the point spreads. Heck, with a break here or there, the Racers, Hilltoppers, and Colonels could have all emerged with victories.

I don’t expect UK and U of L fans to rejoice. But when you consider the relative size of the athletic budgets and compare the facilities, even the most diehard Blue or Red rooter has to admit that their sister institutions are doing something very right and very good with their athletic programs.

Had it not been for two plays – a fake punt by U of L and a fumbled punt by the Racers – the score in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium could have been decidedly different. Junior quarterback Casey Brockman generally did an excellent job of running Coach Chris Hatcher’s wide-open passing game. And the Racers defense took away a U of L touchdown by forcing Victor Anderson to cough up a fumble.

Write this down: Hatcher will not be coaching at Murray State next season. Assuming the Racers have another winning record, he’ll be hired to run a D-I program somewhere. Heck, U of L tried to hire him to be its offensive co-coordinator, but Hatcher wants to run his own show.

In Nashville, Western Coach Willie Taggert almost grabbed a big win at the expense of his good friend, UK’s Joker Phillips. The Hilltopper defense completely befuddled UK quarterback Morgan Newton, who didn’t come close to living up to all the rave notices coming from behind the Wildcats’ closed practice doors. And the Wildcats didn’t have a running back nearly as good as Western’s Bobby Rainey.

Write this down: Rainey will be playing on Sunday next season.

The UK-Western game was played in Nashville because the Wildcats refused to play in 22,113-seat L.T. Smith Stadium. As it turned out, the WKU stadium could have almost handled the disappointing 24,599 that didn’t even fill half of the Tennessee Titans’ stadium.

At this point, I’m not ready to blame the poor attendance on anything but the game’s late start and the oppressive heat. But you also have to wonder if UK’s fan base is blaming Joker for a 6-7 record last season that should have been markedly better.

And how ‘bout those Eastern Colonels?

Before a crowd of 50,292 in Manhattan, Ks., they were leading Kansas State 7-3 deep into the fourth quarter, only to be done in by Collin Klein’s 37-yard touchdown pass to Chris Harper with 1:39 remaining.

This is the same Kansas State that belongs to the once-proud-but-now-imploding Big 12 – or Big 10 or Big 8 or whatever it is now that Nebraska has gone to the Big Ten, Colorado to the Pac 12, and Texas A&M has served notice that it’s on the way out the door.

It was the 150th victory for K-State Coach Bill Snyder, but I guarantee you he didn’t leave the field nearly as happy as EKU’s  Dean Hood. The game was a definite positive sign that the Colonels are on the way back to the national D-IA prominence they enjoyed under Coach Roy Kidd.

Unlike UK and U of L, the other state universities do not have separate athletic associations. Each supports intercollegiate athletics out of the general fund. Each also doesn’t have nearly the scholarships, facilities, booster support, and fan base that UK and U of L enjoy. Yet they’ve hired coaches who know what they’re doing, and those coaches in turn have found players who were overlooked or rejected, but who can compete.

I hope the good performances by the state universities don’t discourage the Big Two from continuing to schedule them. It’s good to let Morehead, Murray, Western and Western share the big stage that UK and U of L command. And if they can do something that makes their fans proud, good for them – and good for the health of sports in Kentucky.

So put a sock in it, all of you who think the Kentucky sports world rises and sets on UK or U of L. Send a note of congratulations to your buddies who went to the state universities. As for me, I’m wondering if maybe my alma mater, Transylvania, which meets UK in a preseason basketball exhibition, might now…

Nah. Forget that. I’ll just stay with giving a big shout-out to Murray State, Western, and Eastern for jobs well done.