John Sommers II
Kentucky has signed its best class in years, perhaps ever. What does it mean?
If you recognize the title of this article, chances are you've seen "The Candidate". This otherwise good but not great film starring Robert Redford as a legal aid lawyer who is unexpectedly elected to the Senate closes with one of the best movie lines ever. In the midst of a huge celebration, with all manner of toasting and backslapping in the background, an overwhelmed Redford leads his political guru across half of a hotel floor, finds an empty room, and nervously looks him in the face.
"Marvin, what do we do now?"
The question reminds us that politics and governance are two very different things, and the spoils of victory quickly give way to practical reality. Helping run the world's largest democracy is hard work, and running for office isn't a helpful experience.
The ink is dry on the LOIs of Mark Stoops' first class as Kentucky's head coach. Let there be no question, he and his staff have done an unbelievable job. In six weeks, Kentucky's new brass put together a class rated 28th in the nation by Rivals. The Cats flipped two recruits previously committed to USC and Nebraska. In Jason Hatcher, Kentucky finally broke into Trinity High School juggernaut. Along with Franklin County's Ryan Timmons, that gave them two of the state's four top prospects. Most importantly, Kentucky blew away its instate rival in the wake of a 2-10 year that coincided with that rival winning a little thing called the Sugar Bowl.
This is big.
But like every other 2013 recruiting class in the country, its already ancient history. With spring practice right around the corner, Stoops and Co. Now turn to the difficult task of turning a left-for-dead football program into an SEC winner. I have no reason to believe he isn't up to the task, but let's keep in mind it is a different skill.
While trying to put this year's recruiting class into proper perspective, I think I've stumbled upon where things really went wrong for Kentucky. Rich Brooks' last two recruiting classes were, in the context of the SEC, god awful. But when Brooks was at the helm, he got kids coached up, and they improved into serviceable SEC players as they moved on.
In contrast, Joker reshuffled the staff and managed to bring in better classes. The problem? Few got better once they got here. Though the 2009 and 2010 classes were thin, there were guys who should have had been able to do more. La'Rod King, Martavius Neloms, Morgan Newton, Jordan Aumiller and Taylor Wyndham all showed flashes as younger players and though a couple have had respectable careers, none shined.
At the same time, the talented players Joker brought in weren't ready to help him in 2011 and 2012. Last year's freshman class may have lucked out. While many got valuable playing time in a lost cause year where the staff had little choice, they now have a chance to play under different coaches who will hopefully get more out of them.
In 2013, the Cats will still be dangerously thin on upperclassman talent. Seniors Johnathan George and Raymond Sanders form a solid, if unspectacular duo at running back. Junior Darrian Miller and redshirt sophomore Zach West will lead a sparse offensive line. Of course, Max Smith will technically be a sophomore but is coming up on his fourth year in the program. The jury is still out on the wide receivers, who in all fairness have been operating without much help at quarterback for the last two years.
Defensively, things are better here and there. LB Avery Williamson and Miles Simpson have developed. Bud Dupree should be able to thrive with improving talent around him. Of course, Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble will be back for one last go 'round at the DT spots. It's now or never for those two guys, who performed poorly last year.
This year's class will have their chances. Four star JC transfer Za'Darius Smith will almost certainly start at defensive end. Hatcher figures to get a look as well, based on pure necessity as well as talent. The secondary will be manned by underclassmen no matter what, so I'd expect safety Marcus McWilson and cornerback Jaleel Hytchye to push for time.
The big question mark is at Wide Receiver, where DeMarco Robinson, DeMarcus Sweat and Daryl Collins have been bolstered by a lot of hype, if not a lot of production. As I said, it's hard to judge these guys too harshly given the QB situation in 2011 and 2012. Still, the opportunity is there for guys like Ryan Timmons, Jeff Badet and Alex Montgomery to step in either on offense or in the return game.
Finding an offensive line gem like Miller or Larry Warford in this group would be key, but that is a lot to ask and even tougher to predict.
Point being, while Kentucky's class bodes extremely well for the future, particularly if it is predictive of future Stoops' classes, its immediate impact will be incremental. How quickly UK can turn things around will depend on a completely different skill set. Simply put, Stoops will have to develop existing players in a way in which Joker was ultimately incapable. In the end, this was his biggest failing as a head coach.
If Mark Stoops wants the honeymoon to continue, he'll have to have a better plan than Redford did. I like his chances.
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