This is probably not the greatest time to be referring to Aaron Rodgers for football wisdom, given the epic beat-down my beloved Green Bay Packers suffered in the NFC championship game Sunday night. But something he said not long ago applied to Packer fans then and would similarly pertain to Kentucky football fans now.
After a slow start in 2014, Rodgers took to his radio show on a Milwaukee station with a simple message: "Five letters here just for everybody out there in Packer-land: R-E-L-A-X," he said.
It turned out to be sound advice. The Pack righted itself in ‘14, tied with three other teams for a league-best 12-4 record and made it to the NFC title game (suffering a crushing overtime loss to Seattle. Less said about that, the better).
UK fans would do well to heed that advice when it comes to their own team; specifically, quarterback. Few programs, if any, in the history of the Southeastern Conference have ever dealt with a situation so intriguing:
Last season’s Opening Day starter returning, but only after reconstructive knee surgery;
His backup also returning, also after rehabbing not one but two injuries;
Third-teamer coming back with his own surgically-repaired knee, from an injury suffered in summer camp;
Talented redshirt freshman, who saw a sliver of action this past season, returns to challenge for playing time;
Incoming true freshman, a local product, has made some fans giddy over possibilities, as only a rookie QB can; and, oh yes –
last year’s emergency QB, who slid down the line of scrimmage from wide receiver and promptly led the SEC in rushing, is gone.
Lynn Bowden’s incredible season was literally one for the record book and it ended with the storybook finish in the Belk Bowl. The Wildcats had barely cleared Charlotte airspace before speculation began about next season, much of it shrouded in concern, if not outright dread.
“How do we replace Bowden? There’s no way anyone can do that again. There’s no way we can do anything next season without him…” Social media was buzzing.
This is where you need to take a quick trip to Mr. Rodgers’ neighborhood (the one in Green Bay, not old PBS recordings.) Big Blue Nation needs to relax.
No, there’s nobody on the UK roster who can duplicate what Bowden did. Nor would Mark Stoops ask them to. Bowden was a once-in-a-decade talent, pressed into service by circumstance. He delivered.
Now, Stoops, Eddie Gran, Darin Hinshaw and company can return to a more conventional style of football, the one we saw in 2018, which ended with the Wildcats beating Penn State in the Citrus Bowl.
Terry Wilson will be the incumbent, if he’s 100% after knee surgery. Sawyer Smith, who needed work done on both his wrist and shoulder, has proven he can play at this level.
Nik Scalzo, a highly-touted, dual-threat freshman QB, figured to be Kentucky’s third-stringer last year before re-injuring his knee to a season-ending injury.
Another dual-threat quarterback, Amani Gilmore, got in for a few plays this season and comes back as a redshirt freshman.
Then there’s Beau Allen, the Lexington Catholic product already, in the star-struck eyes of some fans, ready to step into the starting lineup.
No matter who takes the majority of snaps this season, he will not be Lynn Bowden, nor will he be asked to shoulder the same kind of responsibility. That’s because A) he won’t be able to, B) he’ll be a more proficient passer than Lynn and C) he’ll have a corps of talented running backs, ready to take advantage of what already is one of the strongest offensive lines in America.
So calm down, Kentucky football fans. Your quarterback situation, a righteous mess last year until Gran re-designed the playbook specifically for the running QB, is fine. There’s a lot of talent – and experience – coming back.
Just relax. That’s R-E-L-A-X.