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After a winning season, Mark Stoops rises in the SEC coaches rankings

Progress for Kentucky Wildcats football comes in small steps and Mark Stoops appears to be headed in the right direction

NCAA Football: TaxSlayer Bowl-Kentucky vs Georgia Tech Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

With a bowl season under their belts, fans of the Kentucky Wildcats football team are starting to see a little bit of respect thrown their way by the hordes of preseason prognosticators.

Granted, the pundits still drool over the Alabama Crimson Tide and it is rare to find any pre-season list that does not have Nick Saban and his team listed as the class of the league. However, Kentucky is in the rare position of not having to compete with Vanderbilt on these preseason lists.

To be honest, it's kind of nice to see the Wildcats getting at least a modicum of preseason respect.

The folks over at Athlon Sports did their rankings of the top coaches in the SEC and to no one's shock, Nick Saban was listed as the top coach. However, Mark Stoops got a little bit of credit for his first winning season at Kentucky and he has moved up the list a little bit.

10. Mark Stoops, Kentucky

After showing small signs of progress through Stoops’ first three seasons in Lexington, Kentucky had a breakthrough year in 2017. The Wildcats finished 7-6 last fall and earned the program’s first bowl bid since 2010. Additionally, Kentucky recorded its first non-losing mark in league play since 2006 and snapped a five-game losing streak against rival Louisville. After four years, Stoops is 19-30 overall and 8-24 in SEC action. With a solid roster foundation in place, along with the momentum from last season, Kentucky should be able to take another step forward in the win column in 2017.

Granted, no one is going to go burn their couches on having the tenth best coach in a fourteen team conference, but for once, Kentucky is not languishing at the bottom, battling with Vanderbilt for the bottom spot.

It is interesting to note that both Stoops and Derek Mason are listed ahead of the higher profile coaches of LSU and Georgia, Ed Orgeron at #13 and Kirby Smart at #12. This is probably the first time in recent memory that Kentucky has been of both of these schools in a preseason football ranking.

It is also interesting to note that despite the usual hype he gets, Tennessee's Butch Jones comes in at a very middle of the road #7 ranking, despite back to back nine wins seasons. After Saban at the top, Mississippi State's' Dan Mullen and Florida's Jim McElwain round out the top three.

While the move out of the SEC cellar was the first step of the Mark Stoops masterplan, this ranking just shows how much coaching talent is stockpiled in the SEC and the distance that the Wildcats still have to cover.

The greatest journey, however, starts with a single step and all indications are that Mark Stoops and company are finally on the right foot.