Kentucky Wildcats Football: Breaking Down the Battle for Starting QB

Dan BodnerCorrespondent IAugust 13, 2010

Kentucky Wildcats Football: Breaking Down the Battle for Starting QB

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    The University of Kentucky has been blessed with some exceptional signal callers over the years, including Tim Couch, Jared Lorenzen, and Andre Woodson. Yet, perhaps no Kentucky team in recent history has had as much talent at the quarterback position as the Wildcats will in 2010.

    The quarterback competition in the Commonwealth is especially intriguing because it reflects all of the age-old quarterback debates: talent versus experience, pocket passer versus scrambler, and game-manager versus gun-slinger.

    Each of the quarterbacks on the roster brings something unique to the table, but the ultimate question is: which will bring Kentucky the most wins in 2010?

    Following is a look at each of the competitors.

Mike Hartline

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    If you simply look at measurables, it is hard to argue against Hartline. Standing at six feet six inches and weighing 206 pounds, the redshirt senior has the size about which coaches dream.

    Add in the fact that his brother, Brian Hartline, is currently an NFL wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins and you have a guy with an impressive football pedigree.

    Of the quarterbacks on Kentucky's roster, Hartline also has the most experience.

    The downside is that his experience has shown him as a guy with a propensity for interceptions and an inconsistency in completing passes.

    Ultimately, the problem is that Hartline has looked better on paper than he has on the field.  In roughly two years as a starter he has accounted for 2,502 passing yards, 15 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, and a completion percentage of 56.7.

    Many have touted Hartline as a game-manager who can come in and not lose games.  To do this he must prove that he can complete passes on a consistent basis and minimize turnovers, two things he has struggled with thus far in his career.

Morgan Newton

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    If Hartline's main appeal is experience, then Morgan Newton's must be talent.

    The six foot four inch sophomore was the biggest grab of Kentucky's 2009 recruiting class.

    Newton, a four-star recruit from Carmel, Indiana, was rated as the sixth-best quarterback coming out of high school in 2009 by Scout.com.

    His strengths are almost innumerable. He has great size, a rocket arm, and great mobility.  Of all the quarterbacks on Kentucky's roster, Newton is certainly the most athletic, clocking in at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

    Newton showed flashes in his first year at Kentucky, but also struggled at times.

    Statistically he did very little to separate himself from Mike Hartline. His completion percentage was almost four points lower than Hartline's, although Newton did have a much better touchdown-to-interception ratio.

    If the competition were based solely on athletic ability, Morgan Newton would be the winner without a doubt. Yet, in order to be the starting quarterback in 2010, Newton will have to show significant improvement in his decision-making and ability to read defenses.

Ryan Mossakowski

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    For every competition there must be a dark horse and in this case, Ryan Mossakowski fits the bill.

    Like Newton, Mossakowski was a four-star quarterback from Kentucky's 2009 recruiting class. Unlike Newton, Mossakowski did not play last season, instead the coaching staff decided to redshirt him.

    Also unlike Newton, Mossakowski is a pro-style, pocket passer.

    Of all the quarterbacks on Kentucky's roster, he is probably the best pure passer. In terms of playing style, he compares to former UK quarterback Andre Woodson and is well-suited to run UK's pro-style offense.

    He has the type of accuracy that Kentucky has been lacking over the past few years, but he faces an uphill battle in trying to overtake both Newton and Hartline this season.

    The biggest obstacle Mossakowski faces is his lack of experience. Of the three quarterbacks vying for the starting job, Ryan is the unknown quantity. No one knows just how he will respond against SEC defenses.

Prediction

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    When the dust finally settles, expect to see Mike Hartline behind center for the Wildcats against Louisville on September 4th.

    Conversely, you can expect to see Morgan Newton behind center in Kentucky's regular-season finale against Tennessee on November 27th.

    Hartline's experience will prove to be too much for the Newton and Mossakowski to overcome in the weeks leading up to the opener. Newton has simply not shown enough to consistency up to this point to justify leapfrogging Hartline and Mossakowski is simply too much of an unknown to take a risk on early in the season.

    However, Hartline will be on a very short leash.

    If he continues his history of inconsistency (and there's no reason to think he won't), the coaching staff will not hesitate to go with the younger Morgan Newton. Unless Hartline is able to lead Kentucky to surprise victories against teams like Florida and Georgia, Newton will likely be the starting quarterback by the season's end.

    Also, don't be surprised if Ryan Mossakowski ends up seeing quite a bit of action near the end of the season.

    If the Wildcats accumulate enough losses and Newton begins to struggle, the coaching staff would relish the opportunity to see what they have in Mossakowski going forward.