With the Joker Phillips era set to take off on September 4th, the biggest question going into the season undoubtedly is, “Who will be under center for the Wildcats when they take the field at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium?” The three options: RS-Sr. Mike Hartline (Started ’08 and ’09 until knee injury), So. Morgan Newton (Started in place of Hartline ’09), and RS-Fr. Ryan Mossakowski.
Before I explain who I’d like to see take the job, let me break them down individually. Mike Hartline has the most experience of the three obviously but has taken some heat from the fan base for a mix of making mistakes and for not being the gunslinger Kentucky is used to having under center. He has some wins under his belt in the SEC and helped win the Liberty Bowl two years ago vs. East Carolina. More importantly perhaps, he is 2-0 vs. Louisville. Morgan Newton is a rising sophomore who burned his redshirt last year when Hartline went down against South Carolina and started the rest of the year. His first start was at Auburn and he came away a winner. Though he really shared most of the second half snaps with Will Fidler and Randall Cobb he did manage the team well in the first half. Newton also started for the win at Georgia later in the year. These wins really got the fan base excited about Newton. Ryan Mossakowski is a bit of a mystery. He was redshirted last year perhaps for not being the starter but also because he suffered a severe shoulder injury his senior year of high school. I’ve only seen him at the Spring game earlier this year and while he looked decent and showed off a strong arm I personally believe this a two-man race between Newton and Hartline if not only for the fact that they have starting experience in the SEC.
I am nearly certain this position will end up in the hands of Newton or Hartline so with that said let’s look at the pro’s and con’s of each player. Newton’s assets include a big, strong arm, can be elusive to defenders when on the run though he’s not a burner, and he has that big-play making ability. Hartline brings good pocket awareness and better than average accuracy to the table. Being his fifth year in the program, he also has all the experience. The negatives with Newton are lower than average accuracy and too often just doesn’t see the open man because he doesn’t go through his progression as quickly as necessary. Also sometimes in key situations Newton does things that simply do not make sense. I remember distinctly a 4th and 12 facing Kentucky against Mississippi State late in the game and facing a deficit, Newton felt pressure and decided to try and run when there was nowhere to go instead of trying to make a throw. Negatives with Hartline are lack of superior arm strength along with being a bit too conservative. Hartline never goes after the big play. In some situations I like that but in some games you have to go out and try to make big plays or you won’t win. Hartline really doesn’t pass the eye-test. Really the only reason he’s in the position he is in because he has such a grasp of the offense and the experience it takes to win in the SEC.
Being Joker Joe’s first season in charge, I would expect him to take the conservative route and hand the reigns to Hartline. The fan base is as divided as possible on this choice but ultimately Joker knows the most important goal this season is making a 5th straight appearance in a bowl game. (I never thought I would ever say that as a Kentucky fan.) Even if Newton and Mossakowski have to sit this year, the future is bright with them having a few more years to run the team and with the best recruiting class Kentucky football has seen in quite some time coming next year, maybe someday Joker can bring an SEC East crown to Lexington.