Kentucky Football: Building A Viable Wildcats Football Program: Part Two

USA Today Sports

This is the second post of a two-part series discussing the rebuilding process Kentucky is undergoing. Part One compared the 2013 season to the 2012 season, and then compared UK's program to others recently rebuilt. Part Two will focus on roster demographics.

Kentucky's football program displayed future promise last season, as covered in Part One of this series, but continued improvement will require changes to the current roster. These changes could come via recruiting, attrition, or by player development. At the end of the day, though, these changes are imperative to improving the program's health. While Part One focused on macro-comparisons, Part Two will be more of a micro-look on the current roster and how to improve it as quickly as possible.

Building A Roster

Neal Brown, Kentucky's offensive coordinator, plainly stated last summer that the staff's offensive and defensive philosophies won't exactly match what they deployed with their previous programs. Last week on the radio, Coach Stoops said they could have run systems more akin to the coaches' previous programs, but they would have suffered even greater losses. Both coaches are implying the limitations of their current personnel forced schematic compromises. It all sounds similar to a quote from a recent Secretary of Defense who once remarked, "You go to war with the army you have - not the army you might want or wish to have a later time."

The long-term goal for Stoops and his staff is to have a roster that is loaded with talent, depth, and experience. Added talent and depth will boost inter-squad competition, and make the team less vulnerable to injuries. Experienced units are typically more mentally tough than younger squads. Yet, flipping a roster is a process that usually takes years due to NCAA and SEC imposed roster and annual signing limitations. For example of the lengths yet to go, see below the two-deep charts for the Kentucky versus Tennessee game:

Offense

Tackle

Guard

Center

Guard

Tackle

WR

WR

WR

Miller

West

Toth

Mitchell

Swindle

TE

Badet

Timmons

Blue

Swindle

Godby

Myers

Gruen.

Love

Aumiller

Legree

Collins

Herrick

Kendrick

RB

QB

FB

Kemp

Whitlow

Jones

Mobley

Smith

Warren

Defense

Corner

End

Tackle

Tackle

End

Corner

Quinn

Dupree

Cobble

Rumph

Smith

Tiller

Hytchye

Hatcher

Douglas

Johnson

Huguenin

Simmons

Nickel

WLB

MLB

SLB

McClain

Henderson

Williamson

Forrest

McWilson

Simpson

Brause

Brown

Safety

Safety

Lowery

Dixon

Blaylock

Faulkner

Bolded are the players that Stoops and his staff recruited. It's immediately apparent that the team's main contributors were from the Joker Phillips Era. Those players largely comprise of the talent, depth, and experience of the 2013 team. In fact, Stoops recruits comprised of 16% of the offense's two-deep, and 21% of the defense's. Next season there will be more of Stoops players in the two-deep. Cornerback Nate Willis started every game but the Tennessee game this season. Meanwhile, there are four defensive players from the JUCO ranks who the coaches project will seriously compete for starting positions along with redshirt defensive linemen. Offensively, the conversion probably take more time. Redshirt freshmen offensive linemen Ramsey Meyers and Kyle Meadows will compete for starting positions, but the skill positions may not change much. Who knows about the quarterbacks.

In any case, every future season the overall percentage of Stoops' players will increase. How will Stoops accomplish this? Mainly through the attrition of less qualified players, and the injection of new talent via recruiting or transfers.

Attrition

Every year attrition occurs at programs across the country. Reasons will vary but usually get categorized as either academic, behavioral, lack of playing time, or personal reasons. Since Stoops hire last December there have been several Kentucky football players who were told it would be in their best interest to transfer. No doubt, this will continue this offseason as well. Last year's roster appears to indicate there were 78 scholarship players. During the recent Senior Night festivities against Tennessee there were 19 seniors honored. There were no more than 13 seniors on the team so it's possible that the surplus number were juniors with enough credits to graduate this year. Other candidates for attrition are redshirt freshmen, sophomores, or juniors who will not get significant playing time next year. Comparing the depth chart to the overall roster will provide the reader candidates.

It's likely more attrition than the early graduates is on the immediate horizon. If there were indeed 78 scholarship players on the roster, and 19 departed, that means there are currently 59 players on the roster. The incoming signing class was expected to number 28 players, which would mean the roster would be above the 85 person limit by two. It's also possible that walk-on players awarded a scholarship this season will not have one next season. Offensive guard Max Godby is an example of a walk-on awarded a scholarship this year but there's been no public guarantee that he'll have one next year.

The end of the fall semester is December 20th and news should be forthcoming soon after. More attrition usually follows after depth charts are set at the conclusion of spring practice.

Recruiting

If attrition is responsible for culling a roster, then recruiting is the addition of new - and hopefully improved - personnel. This year, it is expected for Stoops and his staff to add at least 28 new players to the roster. After last year's 22 person signing class, there will be at least 50 players on the roster recruited by Stoops and his staff. After the 2015 signing class, that number will be even higher and should be close to achieving an 85 man roster comprised entirely of Stoops' recruits. Outside of the JUCO recruits, UK fans shouldn't overestimate the capability of these players to immediately contribute. They will need time for development and physical maturation.

A Wild Card?

There is a wild card in all of this that may help Stoops achieve a roster of 100% of his recruits even quicker, and would mean even more attrition than previously assessed. In the last few days there has been a link being passed among the University of Kentucky affiliated Twitterverse: there appears to be a SEC loophole to the NCAA imposed annual signing limit. Typically, a school cannot sign more than 25 players in a given year, though there are minor exceptions. (For example, UK signed a 22 person class last season so if they are able to sign any January 2014 enrollees this year, those players will count towards last season's 25 man class. And in fact, at least three of this year's JUCO commits have stated they are January 2014 enrollees.) This SEC loophole essentially says that any recruit that signs financial aid paperwork prior to December 1st will only count against the overall 85 team limit rather than the specific class's 25 person limit. It just so happens that Kentucky had five high school seniors sign the financial paperwork prior to the deadline. On the radio last week Stoops hinted there would be a few National Signing Day surprises further suggesting this class will be much larger than the previously believed 28 person signing class. The roster could be flipped at a much faster pace than previously expected.

Conclusion

The process to build Kentucky into a viable football program will take some time, but today's environment is littered with examples of schools that went from poor records to competitive records in 3-4 years. It almost seems like all that is required is a great new coach, a commitment to increased spending, and some patience. The future appears to be promising one year into the Mark Stoops Era. A bowl game probably won't happen in 2014, but all trends are pointing upwards. After this roster is comprised of Stoops' recruits, and those players are developed, the Kentucky program will begin to mirror the recent turnaround success stories within the SEC and elsewhere. Another year or two of seasoning and then things could become very exciting. Maybe sooner.

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