There is plenty of buzz around the future of the UK football program, but I’m not sure how many people believe the Cats can play in a bowl game in Stoops’ very first season and I’m not sure why there is this sentiment that it will take 2-3 years to get to a bowl game. It’s true that it takes more time to build a BCS-caliber football program than it does to build a Final Four basketball team. One year and a handful of recruits is all it takes in basketball to become elite, but getting to six wins and making a bowl game in the first year can be done in college football. Simply a change of attitude can be enough in year one for major change and results on the win-loss column. Recruiting is what takes it to the next level, where Vanderbilt seems to be at and Ole Miss is getting there.
I hear a lot of UK fans say they expect improvement, but that we won’t necessarily see a major increase in wins in the first season, especially with UK’s grueling schedule. Recent history in the SEC, however, tells us otherwise. We’ve written a lot on this site about James Franklin and the wonders he has done in a short period of time at Vanderbilt, but Franklin is not alone. Hugh Freeze also guided Ole Miss to a bowl game in his first season on the job. Both of these programs were at no higher level than Kentucky at the time Franklin and Freeze took over. In fact, Vandy and Ole Miss were even in worse shape than the Kentucky program Mark Stoops is taking over. Both Vandy and Ole Miss lost to Kentucky the season before their current head coaches took over and they each did not win any more games than UK did last year. Also, when you factor in the injuries from 2012, the team Stoops is taking over (not even including the new recruits) is a much better one than what was on the field most of last season.
Here’s a look at the progression of Ole Miss and Vanderbilt since hiring Franklin and Freeze:
On The Field Before Freeze: 2-10 and lost to Kentucky 30-13 (0-8 in SEC).
On The Field With Freeze: 7-6 and won BBVA Bowl with 38-17 win over Pittsburgh.
Recruiting With Freeze: Current class ranked No. 19 by ESPN, No. 11 by Rivals, No. 13 by Scout
On The Field Before Franklin: 1-11 and lost to Kentucky 38-20 (1-7 in SEC).
On The Field With Franklin (Year 1): 6-7 and lost in Liberty Bowl to Cincinnati, 31-24.
On The Field With Franklin (Year 2): 9-4 and defeated NC State, 38-24, in Music City Bowl.
Recruiting With Franklin: Current class ranked No. 20 by ESPN, No. 16 by Rivals, No. 18 by Scout.
So where could UK’s six wins come from next season you ask? Well, Ole Miss played in the SEC West last season AND had Texas on their schedule. Their fans had to be having the same doubts as you may be having now about next season, but Ole Miss got it done and I don’t see why Kentucky can’t do the same.
I see Western Kentucky, Miami (OH), Mississippi State, Alabama State, Missouri and Tennessee as six winnable games in 2013, and I’m not ruling out an upset of anyone else either. I mean, last year’s team did almost beat Georgia and South Carolina, so other wins are possible too. If Kentucky happens to win five in Stoops’ first season, it would still be a three-game improvement and not a bad start by any means, but getting to a bowl in the first year is a reasonable expectation.