By KEITH PEEL
Saturday night’s game against the Georgia Bulldogs really hurt. Not because we lost a game we should have won. Not because the loss once again denied us bowl eligibility. Not because it kept us from moving into first place in the SEC East.
It hurt because it may have longer term implications in our ability to recruit quality players. Make no mistake that Mark Stoops has been the best recruiting coach we have had at UK since Fran Curci. But even at the high level we are recruiting at we still find ourselves at number 11 or lower in the SEC.
I also realize that ranking recruits in high school football is a very inexact science. If it were exact Benny Snell Jr. would most likely be playing at Alabama or Ohio State right now. But I also know that if our competitors in the SEC EAST are consistently recruiting 4 and 5 star players and we are recruiting mostly 3 star players, it is almost impossible to catch up. (if you don’t think so just ask the teams chasing UK in basketball).
With all that being said Saturday’s loss really hurt because we needed a win against a traditional SEC powerhouse program to validate the improvement we have made. It is great to beat the Vanderbilts and Missouris of the SEC East, but we needed a signature win to once and for all show recruits that the improvement is real.
In the recruiting class of 2017 Kentucky currently ranks 39th nationally and 11th in the SEC. Our competitors in the East (Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee) rank 17th, 3rd, 14th and 9th nationally, respectively, and all rank 8th or better in recruiting in the SEC. Only Vanderbilt and Missouri rank lower than UK in the SEC East in recruiting in 2017.
In order to turn the corner and be competitive in the SEC East, we needed to beat a perennial powerhouse team to boost our profile nationally. Unfortunately it didn’t happen and we missed a golden opportunity to continue receiving national exposure on networks like ESPN and CBS.
There is still a lot of football to be played with games against Tennessee and Louisville and hopefully bowl eligibility against Austin Peay. Maybe, just maybe, we can pick up a signature win against a UT team that is having an off year or surprise Louisville as the Cardinals look past us to the ACC Championship game.
Either way if we want to truly turn the corner we need to beat one of the blue bloods in the SEC soon and continue to beat them in the future if we hope to attract top ranked talent going forward.