LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky coach Mark Stoops has announced that junior Patrick Towles has beat out redshirt freshman Drew Barker in a tight competition for the Wildcats' starting quarterback position.
Stoops said Monday that Towles is playing at a ''high level'' as Kentucky prepares for its Sept. 5 opener against Louisiana-Lafayette. Towles started all 12 games last season and passed for 2,718 yards and 14 touchdowns in helping Kentucky start 5-1 before it closed the year on a six-game losing streak.
Though considered the favorite to retain his starting spot, Towles still had to battle Barker daily in fall camp as Stoops took long looks at both players. The coach ultimately cited the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Towles' experience, poise and consistency as reasons he got the nod over Barker.
''He did some really good things with his progress,'' Stoops said, announcing his decision on a day originally scheduled to feature Kentucky defensive players. ''He's just more comfortable and making really good decisions.''
Unlike last year, when Stoops playfully made Towles think he wasn't the starter before telling him he had won the job, the coach was more straightforward in announcing the decision in separate meetings with the players. Stoops said Towles took the news calmly, a sign of confidence that the job was his to lose.
''There were no tricks, which I really appreciated,'' Towles joked.
That's because Towles has played like it was going to take a lot for Barker to unseat him from the pocket. Stoops has praised his QB's performance in drills and Saturday's first scrimmage, so much that he quickly dropped the news of his choice to be under center.
Despite earning the job again, Towles is taking nothing for granted knowing that the 6-2, 225-pound Barker is waiting in the wings.
''Even though I'm the starter, it's still not over,'' said Towles, his hair and practice clothes still dripping with sweat. ''I'm going to go out there with the same mentality that I always had: compete every day and try to improve. I'm not going to be complacent at all. ... I think I'm the best equipped.''
Towles has said that he enjoyed being pushed in drills by Barker and sophomore Reese Phillips, who is recovering from an Achilles tear this spring. A dual threat who can run as well as throw - he added 303 yards rushing and six TDs last season - Towles has focused more on improving his mechanics toward becoming a better pocket passer and being more efficient under new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson.
The returns of sophomore receivers Dorian Baker, Jeff Badet (who was injured) and Alex Montgomery (redshirted) have given Towles several targets as he tries to lead Kentucky toward respectability. And once again, he's in charge.
Asked what he has learned from another year of competition, Towles answered, ''You've just got to learn to focus on you. ... You can't get in the habit of seeing how other people are playing. You've have to take a very proactive approach and the perspective of today, I have a lot of work to do.
''If you do that, you're going to get somewhere.''