Mark Stoops hasn't coached a game yet, but he's making an impact for Big Blue. (Mark Zerof/USA TODAY Sports)
Wait, hold on … this says Kentucky has the number one class in football? Is that right? The same Wildcats team that went 2-10 last year?
You bet it is, and here's the proof (Kentucky fans, you might want to print this out for posterity):
Obviously all of the usual caveats apply: Recruiting is incredibly fluid, Kentucky’s per-star average isn’t as high as some of the other teams near the top, they're likely to be passed by some of the traditional as we get close to signing day and we don't know if all of these players will stick around if the Wildcats suffer through a rough autumn. But you have to give new head coach Mark Stoops and the fans of Big Blue Nation a lot of credit for this development, however temporary it is.
When your program is as down as Kentucky’s, Stoops needed something to point to as a recruiting pitch, and he got that during the spring game when over 50,000 fans turned out, good for the second best mark in the country. If you’re a new coach needing to sell high school kids on a fan base ready to throw itself behind a potentially resurgent program, being able to point at that spring game can only help. (It also probably doesn't hurt to promise a chance at immediate playing time, something two-win teams can generally offer.)
Rivals recruiting analyst Mike Farrell noted the enthusiasm on Twitter last night, after the commitment of Florida lineman Derrick Kelly pushed the Wildcats to the top spot:
More than 400 followers in about 12 hours from #kentucky football fans. That's pretty impressive. Thanks for the follows.
— Mike Farrell (@rivalsmike) June 19, 2013
For Stoops to have the top-ranked recruiting class at any point is remarkable and just another sign of how strong the SEC is. (The conference currently has four of the top five classes, and you'll notice another new coach – Butch Jones at Tennessee – also doing tremendous work.)
How is Stoops doing it? One tactic is an ongoing raid on his old stomping grounds of Ohio. Mark, like his brothers Bob (Oklahoma head coach) and Mike (current Oklahoma defensive coordinator, former Arizona head coach), is from Youngstown, and he’s using the familiarity with his home state to clean up. Of the five four-star commitments currently pledged to Big Blue, three are from Ohio (with one from Kentucky and another from Georgia), with four more three-star recruits coming from the Buckeye State. If you want a reason the Big Ten should be nervous, look no further than the SEC's worst program stealing four-star recruits from its backyard.
It’s an easy pitch for Stoops, with Lexington only 90 minutes from Cincinnati and 5 hours from Cleveland: Come play in the most respected conference in football against the best teams in the sport and do it close enough to home that your families can still make all of your home games. If you’re an Ohio kid without a particular interest in playing in the Big Ten but wary of homesickness, why not consider Lexington?
It is a long, long way until signing day, but this is fun news for a Wildcat program that hasn’t been .500 or better in conference play since 2006, when they were 4-4 in the league. It's unlikely Stoops can hold onto the top spot, but just being in the conversation is quite an accomplishment.
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