By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
Over the past few weeks I noticed a sports article that said Tim Couch had been included on the 2021 ballot for possible inclusion into the National College Football Hall of Fame. Seeing that announcement made me stop and think about those teams from the Hal Mumme era of 1997-1998 when Couch was the quarterback.
Coming into the Kentucky program as a highly recruited USA Today High School All-American player out of Leslie County Couch proved to be arguably the best quarterback to ever play for the Cats. He completed 67 percent of his passes over his career while passing for 8,435 yards and 74 touchdowns in three seasons (actually only two if you throw out the year he played for coach Bill Curry). That’s a pretty prolific passer.
But the thing I found interesting about those 1997-1998 seasons was the quality of talent that also played with Couch.
I would argue that there has never been a better trio of offensive players at the quarterback, running back and wide receiver positions at Kentucky than Couch, Anthony White at running back and Craig Yeast at receiver on those 1997-1998 teams.
Those Mumme teams of 1997 and 1998 had an All-American at quarterback in Couch, an All-American in Yeast at wide receiver and a running back in Anthony White that averaged over 1,000 yards combined rushing and receiving each season.
In fact, over those two seasons that Tim Couch played for Mumme he averaged 4,100 passing yards per season. Had he stayed four years at UK and played for Mumme all four years he would have easily finished as the all-time career passer in the SEC. Couch’s 1998 season was the best passing season on record for an SEC quarterback until last year when Joe Burrow’s National Championship winning season eclipsed that mark.
Along with a prolific passer like Couch at quarterback those teams also had an incredible receiver in Yeast. Yeast, when he left UK, was the all-time career reception leader in the SEC while also being second in all-time career receiving yards. That combination of Couch to Yeast might be the best quarterback-wide receiver duo to ever play in the SEC.
Now, when you throw in Anthony White at running back — and throw in is a loose term because White is one of only a handful of collegiate players to have over 1,500 yards rushing and 1,500 yards receiving in their careers — you get a trio of players that could dominate on offense. White averaged almost six yards per carry and was so valuable coming out of the backfield for Couch in a flare pass-type setting or as a safety valve receiver. He had excellent hands, was extremely slippery out of the backfield but also extremely fast once he had the ball in his hands. Any player that can average over 1,000 yards of offense per season on a team that also had a prolific receiver like Yeast has to be considered a great offensive player.
Now I know that Kentucky Football has had some great offensive players over the last several decades including Jared Lorenzon and Andre Woodson at quarterback along with talented running backs like Moe Williams all the way through Benny Snell. Some of those UK teams also had great receivers — from Derek Abney through Randall Cobb and of course no list of UK football greats would be complete without Lynn Bowden Jr. on it.
But none of those players played together at UK at the same time. And that’s the point. Having an offensive trio like Couch, Yeast and White on the same team at the same time was a once in a lifetime occurrence. In my opinion it has never happened before and may never happen again.
So whether Couch eventually gets inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame or not, hopefully everyone will realize that he didn’t do it all on his own. He was part of a trio of offensive players that UK fans may never see again.
But that’s as it should be because, no matter how hard the national media tries each year to build up one player as the be-all, end-all of college football, it’s still a team game. And I think each one of these guys understood that.