What Mark Stoops and his staff accomplished last national signing day was remarkable. Kentucky football had never finished in the Top 30 since the advent of recruiting services and their rankings. Even more unbelievable was the fact Stoops assembled a staff, and then recruited a nearly full class, all within the span of two months.
Fan expectations rose, and many were anxious to see what Kentucky football could pull off this year with a full recruiting cycle, but those expectations went on to be tempered by a 2-10 season. Doubts about keeping Kentucky's most prized recruits and thus losing all recruiting momentum spread among the small circle of Kentucky football literati, and went on to disseminate further like an epidemiological model to the larger section of the fanbase that approaches Kentucky football more casually. The mental toughness of some fans started to fail.
Nevertheless, the recruits remained firm to their pledges. The recruiting momentum actually continued through last week when the staff finished this signing class out with four impressive commitments. Cornerback Kendall Randolph was reportedly chose Kentucky over Oklahoma. Josh Krok had been committed to West Virginia since the summer but was flipped after an official visit to UK. Jervontius Stallings chose Kentucky over Mississippi State. Finally, Matt Elam chose Kentucky over Alabama. The momentum seemed to speed up instead of slowing down. How does the staff do it? The sales pitch Kentucky makes could possibly be found in the recruiting material that a 2015 recruit recently tweeted out:
http://t.co/1djEOeDZS5 RT @32_brown: S/o UK for sending me this big poster that took up a big portion of my wall lol pic.twitter.com/gacCh03L4l— Josh Edwards (@JEdwar247) January 25, 2014
Notice the left margin. There's an emphasis on recruiting, the excellent staff, a mention of Kentucky's fairly unique strength and conditioning program, new facilities, playing time, SEC membership, and a strong tutoring program for all of Kentucky's athletes. Many of these facets can be found at most programs, but Kentucky's pitch seems to be recruits who play in Lexington are uniquely positioned to benefit from them all.
The commits have also stated repeatedly they know the program is in "rebuilding" mode. The line has been said so many times by so many recruits it's likely a talking point from Kentucky coaches being parroted. If so, the staff has shrewdly made the rebuilding of the football program a key point in their overall recruiting pitch effectively lowering expectations and preempting negative recruiting. Come play at Kentucky: there's a chance you'll get early playing time, but just know what we are building takes more than one or two seasons. The approach worked and deflected the results of a poor 2013 season. Combine this with Kentucky's intent to earmark the state of Ohio's deep talent pool for annual plunder, and the broader framework for how this historic class came to be comes into focus.
The results speak for themselves.
- Rivals currently has Kentucky ranked 13th. The only non-SEC schools higher are Florida State, Clemson, Notre Dame, Miami, and Ohio State. These teams had a combined record of 55-12 last year.
- 24/7 currently ranks Kentucky 19th overall. Behind the non-SEC schools listed above as well as Texas, Stanford, Michigan, UCLA, and Oklahoma.
- ESPN currently ranks Kentucky at 20th.
- Scout currently ranks Kentucky 16th. While only 9th in the SEC, that would be good enough for 2nd in the B1G 10.
These schools all benefit from some combination of deep in-state talent pools, big brands, a history of putting their players in the NFL, and successful seasons. Kentucky doesn't really benefit from any of these compared to these schools which makes the results all the more mind-bogglingly for UK to have a consensus Top 20 signing class going into Nationally Signing Day.
The 2014 Signing Class
Barring any last minute decommits, the class is balanced and meets the various demands of the roster. There also shouldn't be any academic causalities. The defense needs an immediate injection of talent, and signing four JUCOs should help. Offensively, UK signed a quarterback that could start his freshman year, a four man offensive line class, and wide receivers with varying body types and skills to fit the "slot", "deep threat", and "possession" molds. Many of the guys within this class will redshirt, and that is a very good thing indeed.
- Cornerback: one JUCO transfer and two true freshmen.
- Safety: one JUCO transfer and two true freshmen.
- Linebacker: one JUCO transfer and three true freshmen.
- Defensive Line: one JUCO transfer and four true freshmen.
- Quarterback: one true freshmen
- Running back: two true freshmen
- Wide Receiver: five true freshmen
- Tight End: one true freshman
- Offensive Line: two true freshmen interior OL's and two true freshmen offensive tackles.
I'll hold off going into any great detail on each of the signees. One, there's no need to jinx anything. Two, we have written up profiles on each of these players that we'll roll out as real-time as possible next Wednesday. The profiles contain basic information, high school accomplishments, other schools that were recruiting them, and also some context on how each player is expected to contribute next season.
National Signing Day can't get here fast enough.