If you’re a part of the Big Blue Nation, you more than likely are a fan of Mark Stoops. Over the course of the last 6 months Coach Stoops has dragged the Kentucky football program out of a hole in a frozen pond, dragged it to shore, and with the help of his young, vibrant coaching staff resuscitated it back to life. With the coaching staff’s success on the recruiting trail so far and the UK fanbase’s rallying around football, national media has started to take notice. So much so, that CBS Sports profiled Mark Stoops in their ” New Coach Reset” yesterday. This is some of what they had to say about UK’s new head football coach:
Reason for the change: By the three-quarters-pole of the 2012 season, not even Tennessee or Auburn could challenge Kentucky for the honor of being the SEC’s most miserable program. Not only did the Wildcats wrap up the season at 0-8 in the league and 2-10 overall, not only did they lose to the state’s resident Sun Belt squad, not only did they finish with the SEC’s worst offense in both yards per-play and scoring, they lost at home to Vanderbilt, 40-0. That bears repeating: they lost at home to Vanderbilt, 40-0. There can be no greater argument for an SEC coach’s firing than that, can there?
As exciting as the new regime has been for Kentucky football, it goes without saying that the crippling depression that was last year’s football season is partially the reason for the excitement. Sunshine wouldn’t be as awesome if we didn’t have rain, right?
Notable Prospects: Like many first-time coaches hoping for a quicker turnaround than expected, Stoops brought in several JUCO prospects with chances of immediate playing time, including four-star playmaker Za’Darius Smith at defensive end and three-star standout Nate Willis at corner. But the recruits who will have Wildcat fans most optimistic about Stoops’ future will be four-star defensive back Marcus McWilson from Ohio powerhouse Cardinal Mooney and four-star defensive end Jason Hatcher from Louisville, a USC target. To make Kentucky into anything like an actual SEC contender, Stoops has to 1. keep the rare top-of-the-line in-state talent in the state (and away from Louisville) 2. mine the highly fertile Ohio recruiting grounds for whatever quality players the Buckeyes miss. McWilson and Hatcher represented two big steps in those two directions.
Obviously, CBS is only using last year’s partial recruiting class as the basis for this part, but the thesis remains the same into 2014 as well. Lock down the state’s top talent (Drew Barker, Matt Elam) and poach Ohio for quality talent (almost everyone else). I do disagree that UK is relegated to Ohio State’s sloppy seconds though, the fact is that UK is going to get their fair share of top talent in Ohio, Stoops and Marrow have shown that in their half a year in Lexington.
Fan reaction: Kentucky’s legions of diehard basketball fans are known as Big Blue Nation, which would traditionally make the Wildcats’ not-quite-legions of not-so-diehard football fans … Big Blue Fiefdom? Big Blue City-State? Big Blue Unincorporated Rural County Community? Thanks to Stoops, though, it seems the answer is suddenly “none of the above.” Despite his largely head-down, nose-to-the-grindstone approach — or maybe because of it — Stoops has connected with the Wildcat fanbase like no new coach in the program’s history, drawing a record number of fans to the Wildcat spring game and sparking what appears to be actual belief in a fanbase that’s always found it a rare commodity. That buzz qualifies as one of the biggest surprises and biggest stories of the SEC’s spring — and it already seems to be paying dividends on the recruiting trail, where Stoops is off to a hot start for 2014.
Okay, I take small offense to this. The Big Blue Nation doesn’t just refer to basketball fans, it refers to the entirety of Kentucky sports. Basketball is king in Kentucky, that can’t be argued, but the idea that Kentucky fans are somehow ashamed of our football team is ridiculous. Just because decades of incompetence have given UK fans lesser expectations regarding the pigskin does not mean we don’t share the same love for them, it just means that for years pessimism and a ‘How are we going to lose this game?” attitude have been rampant in Lexington. Stoops is working on that.
2013 Outlook: The good news is that Stoops has some experience to work with across the depth chart after the young ‘Cats took their 2012 lumps, that thanks to tackles Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble the defensive line still has promise, that Brown has options at quarterback and should only continue to grow as a coordinator, and that things literally cannot get worse. But an SEC schedule that hands the ‘Cats a road date at Mississippi State and a home one vs. Alabama isn’t anywhere near “friendly.” Three winnable nonconference games and home games vs. Missouri and Tennessee should see the Wildcats trump their 2012 win total and possibly even double it, but anything more than that will have to wait another season.
I can honestly say I agree with everything in that paragraph.