LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Football recruiting in June is a lot like the first precincts of an election. It's nice to win, but you're always wise to wait for those big late ballots -- particularly in Dade County, Florida.
Still, the shouts coming out of Lexington over first-year head coach Mark Stoops' recruiting haul cannot be ignored, and most of those shouts are of the word, "Yahtzee!" In fact, the catchphrase popularized by UK coaches is emblematic of the exuberance with which the new UK staff has attacked its considerable challenge.
The noise has grown so great that, even at this early stage of recruiting, it's foolhardy to ignore. There has been excitement in Lexington before. There has been fool's gold. But there is some reason to believe this time is different, and the book proposes to count the ways.
1. Math. Let's start with the straight-up math of the matter. Mark Stoops has signed eight four star recruits in six months. That's more than the UK program drew to campus in the past seven years. The Wildcats stand at No. 4 in the Rivals.com team recruiting rankings after climbing as high as No. 2 last week, and while, as discussed before, that ranking shouldn't be overstated, given that many of the heavy precincts are still to report, it does build major momentum -- which in recruiting, is valuable currency. But think about this. Even if UK dropped to No. 10 or 12, that would be earth-shaking recruiting news. Even if UK dropped to No. 20, it would be a seismic shift. The best UK has ever done in the Rivals.com final team rankings was No. 29 in 2013. So even if you add the required dose of perspective, the recruiting math this staff is putting together remains dramatic.
2. Marketing and Money. Not only has Stoops made all the right moves since arriving on campus, the UK staff and administration haven't been shy about letting anyone hear about it. UK has devoted unprecedented resources (for UK) toward marketing efforts and has backed up his efforts with the appropriate support through regular marketing sources and social media. Even so, the right grass-roots, organic movement can outpace any well-conceived marketing pitch, and the "Yahtzee" hashtag and buzzword of the UK staff may be on its way to doing that.
3. Momentum. It's easy to take for granted, because every week or two more recruiting good news comes, but when you have a recruit himself, a charismatic quarterback like Drew Barker, stirring up the public discourse with positive PR, it only adds to the momentum. The 'Book contends that UK has seen nothing like this in any offseason, no matter how good the preceding season was, nor how high the expectation for the coming season was. And make no mistake, the expectations for the coming season aren't on a pace with the present hype. But fans understand the importance of building a talent base, and likely are getting a large enough dose of excitement this summer to weather whatever next season brings on the field.
4. Geography. Take a look at staff's 2014 signees and you'll see another encouraging sign. The players are coming from everywhere, particularly Ohio, Texas, Florida and Georgia. All produce major football talent, and the UK staff is luring highly-regarded talent from those hotbeds. While the 'Book still isn't sold on the possibility of riding Ohio talent to an SEC title (Ohio State gets the best talent from Ohio every year, and how has it fared against the SEC's best lately?), those players can provide a baseline talent level, with some major players from Florida and Georgia providing the punch. Players like running back Stanley "Boom" Williams, the top-rated all-purpose back in the nation, and a Georgia native, are the kinds of kids the previous staff not only wasn't getting, but even going after in great enough numbers.
5. History. Why is this time different. The 'Book took a look back at coaching changes in UK history. It's unlikely that UK fans have had even the opportunity to get this excited about a new coach since Jerry Claiborne arrived in Lexington. Bill Curry? He didn't possess the spark nor the means to get people going the way they are now. Hal Mumme? People were excited, but nobody knew who he was. Guy Morriss? Nope. Fans were beaten down by probation. Rich Brooks? Some fans were openly disappointed. Joker Phillips? The coach-in-waiting was never a popular idea. Even if Stoops & Co. weren't recruiting like gangbusters, a pack of energetic young coaches like the Commonwealth hasn't seen in a very long time would have given the fan base a reason for excitement at an historic level.
6. Hard work. Sure, every staff works hard. Some work harder than others. The presence of Stoops Troops all over the state and with such frequency in their recruiting areas is no small reason for the present promise. Neal Brown, offensive coordinator, will be back speaking in Louisville on Monday. The aforementioned Barker, who made headlines when committing to UK, got 115 handwritten letters from the Wildcat staff in a single day.
Add it all up and The 'Book can't argue with Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell, who said, "We have never seen anything like this from Kentucky, ever. I understand that it is only June, but I cannot remember that program having this kind of momentum in all my years covering recruiting. The class has added some tremendous playmakers, and they are getting guys from all over."
BRANDO PREDICTS CARDINALS WILL BE NO. 1 TEAM IN 2013
CBS analyst Tim Brando has the University of Louisville at No. 1 in his 2013 college football rankings. Remember, he's picking who the No. 1 team will be at the end of the season, not putting out a list of his preseason top 10. He picks U of L and Ohio State to play in the national championship team.
Said Brando: "At No. 1, a strong team, the Louisville Cardinals. What a year it's been for Louisville, what a fall it will be. Louisville, your national champion pick, they'll play Ohio State, and yes, the SEC, for the first time in eight years, it would be, shut out of the national title game. Shocking to some, I'm sure."
When he appeared at a Cardinal Caravan stop in Shelbyville two weeks ago, U of L head coach Charlie Strong took a quick spin through his depth for the upcoming season.
"At quarterback, you have Teddy Bridgewater, and Will Gardner had an outstanding spring. Then you have Brett Nelson and Kyle Bolin coming in. At running back, you have Dominique Brown, Senorise Perry is coming back from an injury and we don't know where he will stand until we see him make his first contact. Then you have Corvin Lamb and Brandon Radcliff.
"On the offensive line, we lose Mario (Benavides) and Kupp (Alex Kupper), but we still have Jamon Brown coming back outside, you have Jake Smith, you have John Miller, you have Nacho Garcia and you have Kamran Joyer back with Ryan Mack begin an alternate. So we feel like we've recruited well enough that we've got guys who can step in.
"Wide receiver, I think DeVante Parker is one of the best receivers in the country. He makes unbelievable plays. And then you've got No. 7, Damian Copeland, also capable of unbelievable things. THen you look at a guy who has always made plays, Eli Rogers has always made big catches, been in the right places. Then you have Kai DeLacruz, and Robert Clark, a guy we redshirted last year. Clark is going to step in and help us. Tight ends, you've got B.J. Butler a guy who played defensive line for us, we moved him to tight end. He's athletic and can make a ton of plays for us. Jalen Harrington is another defensive player the we moved to tight end and had a tremendous spring. And then you've got a guy who is always dependable, and always where he should be, Ryan Hubbel made a lot of plays for us last season.
"On the defensive side, I feel like up front we should be a lot better than we've been. You look at Marcus Smith, an outstanding player, and Lozo, Lorenzo Mauldin, makes a ton of plays. He told me the other day he wanted to set a sack record. Then you talk about DeAngelo Brown, another big guy inside, Brandon Dunn. That group has played a lot of football for us. The linebacker position, you've got Preston Brown, James Burgess and Keith Brown, guys who have played a lot for us. Probably the two best safeties in the country are Calvin Pryor and Hakeem Smith. And cornerback is a position that we've got to have some guys step up. We talk about Charles Gaines. We talk about a guy we call Sugar Black but he never has made any plays for us, Drew Johnson. A bunch of young players. Back there. But overall we're a team with a lot of starters back, and the key is just not being complacent."
HERBSTREIT LOOKING TO EXTEND ESPN DEAL
ABC/ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit hopes to be staying around for a while. The former Ohio State quarterback and ESPN have been reported close to an eight-year extension for a little more than a week, with no official word coming.
Herbstriet was an original member of the College GameDay program in the mid 1990s, and has seen it rise to the most successful college sports program in the country.
WHICH COLLEGE FOOTBALL PROGRAMS HAVE HAD THE BEST OFFSEASONS?
Coachingsearch.com weighs in with this intriguing ranking, taking all factors into account, but mainly improvement in position from where the last season left off, to determine which programs have had the best offseason. Many of these hinged on keeping highly sought-after coaches, but some came as the result of the work of new staffs. Kentucky made the list based on the (aforementioned) recruiting progress made by Stoops and staff. Louisville made it based on keeping Strong, and holding onto offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, who was courted by Virginia Tech, according to the site. Their rankings: