Is Mark Stoops recruiting talented enough players to make it to Atlanta for SEC Championship Game?

Mark Stoops (Vicky Graff Photo)

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer

National Football Signing Day has come and gone and the February results have become somewhat anti-climatic with the addition of the early signing period in late December but  here are a few observations from Kentucky’s performance this year.

First of all UK’s overall class ranking took a precipitous drop from late Fall 2019 until February 2020. Several players on UK’s commit list mysteriously dropped in the rankings even after their season’s had ended. It’s almost like the recruiting gurus thought that if a player committed to UK then they couldn’t have been as talented as was originally thought so it’s necessary to drop them in their rankings. I’m sure that’s not the case but it sure looks suspicious.

Secondly, with the commitment of four-star wide receiver Michael Drennen II from Dublin, Ohio Kentucky’s overall ranking moves from 24th up to 21st. That is good enough for 9th overall in the SEC. That puts the Wildcats behind the usual recruiting top dogs of Georgia, Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn, Florida, plus Tennessee and South Carolina.

If those rankings held true this year’s class could be expected to finish 9th in the SEC in 3-4 years. That would project out to about a 3-5 record in the SEC which is where the Cats finished this year. It’s hard to imagine that with the talent in this class the best UK could achieve would be a 9th place finish in 3-4 years but only time will tell.

And speaking of time telling and why recruiting rankings aren’t always the “be all, end all” predictor of future performance here is an interesting look at what time has shown on a couple of other SEC schools that perennially have highly ranked recruiting classes each year.

In 2013 Tennessee had the 11th best SEC recruiting class and 2014 they had the 5th best SEC recruiting class. Those classes finished 14th and 12th respectively in the final SEC standings four years later. Missouri is another interesting example of how recruiting rankings don’t always pan out. The Tigers had recruiting classes ranked 14th and 13th in the SEC in years 2013 and 2014 but they finished 6th and 7th in the final SEC standings four years later in 2017 and 2018. So what does that small sample say about recruiting rankings?

To me it says that it’s better to have a very highly ranked class but it doesn’t guarantee a high finish in the final SEC standings. It also says that certain coaches have a better ability to identify and develop players than other coaches. It clearly shows that Mark Stoops at Kentucky and Missouri’s former coach Barry Odom had the ability to get the most out of their players regardless of their recruiting ranking.

Now, here’s one more interesting tidbit about this year’s recruiting class. As most of you know, coaches recruit to the specific needs of their program. They look for guys that fit the program, have a will to win and will work hard to develop as a player. Sometimes it’s guess work on the coaches part but a lot of it is innate ability to judge football talent.

This year UK recruited the second best defensive line in the country only behind a National Championship Runner-Up Clemson. That is prime example of Mark Stoops and Company filling a primary need. If these coaches can take a “no star” player out of high school like Calvin Taylor and help him develop into an All-SEC performer, think what they can do with the second best defensive line candidates in the country.

Finally, Recruiting rankings don’t always give the true picture because they don’t include significant transfers. In Kentucky’s case this year’s rankings don’t include Auburn quarterback transfer Joey Gatewood. Gatewood was a four star player coming out of high school and was ranked as high as the No. 36th overall player in that year’s class. That would make him the highest ranked player in this year’s class and second highest ranked quarterback to ever sign with Kentucky. Adding him to a class that includes some very talented skill players and gifted athletes means that the competition at the quarterback position has been raised up to a new level. And competition is what makes every player improve.

So when you see that this year’s class, although it appears to be in my opinion the best Kentucky has ever recruited, is only ranked ninth in the SEC take it with a grain of salt. My prediction is that this class, along with the current players on UK’s roster, will take this program to new heights over the next couple of years and may even put them in a position to compete in Atlanta.

As former UK running back Jojo Kemp so aptly said many years ago, “We came here to change the program. Why not Kentucky? Why not us?”.

Why not indeed.

Leave a Reply