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Kentucky Football Recruiting: 2016 Best Class Built On In-State Foundation

Mark Stoops is poised to sign his best recruiting class to date despite back-to-back 5-7 seasons. He can thank an unusually strong in-state recruiting class, and renewed success in Ohio.

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Stoops and his staff have proven they can use the hype of a revamped program to cobble together a solid first recruiting class in roughly six weeks. The following year, Stoops and his staff would demonstrate there was still some oil left in the tank, and sign their best class to date coming off a 2-10 season. The players signed in this class made up most of the 2015 season's starters and key contributors.

Last year's signing class suffered a string of decommitments despite the team's win total climbing to five wins. Arguably, it was the current regime's worst from a purely rankings perspective. This season, though, is poised to be Stoops' best despite a second 5-7 season. There's a few reasons for this.

One is the fortuitous timing of a strong in-state recruits that currently account for roughly 25% of the signing class. The strength of this class has been known for some time. Some of the names from two years ago have dropped off, but those were replaced by new names that emerged. For perspective:

247 Sports Composite
Year 4/5 Star 3 Star Total KY P5 Recruits
2013 5 6 9
2014 2 6
2015 2 10 6
2016 2 12 8

UK being lucky to have strong in-state talent is one thing, but credit to UK's coaches to signing the Commonwealth's best talent unlike previous seasons. Unlike in 2013 four of the top five top-ranked talents aren't going somewhere besides Lexington. For example, cornerback Davonte Robinson may be UK's most talented prospect of all, but he doesn't break into the top-five ranking. Furthermore, unlike 2013, when UK lost Hunter Bivin to Notre Dame and Ryan White to Vanderbilt, the 'Cats were able to hold onto a prospect like Robinson.

Landon Young, Drake Jackson, Kash Daniel, Zy'Aire Hughes, and Robinson make a strong nucleus for most P5 programs, and unlike missing out on Damien Harris last year, UK looks set to sign the state's best. This year UK signed their top in-state targets, and three of those targets also happen to be US Army All-Americans.

Kentucky's coaches have been in Lexington for three full years now. The state is relatively small which makes forging ties with high school coaches, and identifying rising prospects a bit easier. For example, the coaches have known about Landon Young since at least the summer after his freshman year of high school. Undoubtedly, they are aware of the Commonwealth's current rising freshmen and sophomores. This will make signing future in-state blue chips easier as relationships can begin sooner, and it can help be a buffer against negative recruiting or unfulfilled seasons, but Kentucky will have to reliably crank out that level of talent. That won't happen on an annual basis.

Additionally, and just as important, recruiting success continued in Ohio. Mark Stoops has said on a number of occasions that he considers Ohio to be "in-state". That philosophy paid off this year with seven of Ohio's top 50 recruits committed to Kentucky further padding UK's ranking. Kordell Looney and Tobias Gilliam are ranked somewhere in the middle for this class, but there's reason to believe they may be the best recruits in this class. Together, the Kentucky and Ohio recruits account for half of this class, and they all seem like very solid recruits.

The Ohio recruits may be the most impressive aspect of this class. Unlike last season, UK has (thus far avoided) out-of-state players decommitting. I suspect this is due to a combination of luck, personality, and recruiting adjustments that likely emphasized building ties early between the recruits and the staff, as well as between the recruits themselves.

The 2014 Class was Stoops' best to date, according to the recruiting rankings, but this year's class looks set to surpass that group. They'll do so signing fewer than the 28-man 2014 class, and after a season that was dispiriting to varying degrees.