As previously referenced by Matt “Don Ho” Jones, our man Stevie “Got Loose” Johnson has drawn some national attention this week for his post-game tweet assigning a degree of blame to the Almighty for Stevie’s drop of a game-winning touchdown pass against the Steelers on Sunday. Though Johnson’s electronic outcry was clearly misguided, I think it speaks more to the dangers of athletes in possession of an unfiltered pipeline to the public in the wake of an awful loss than any real comment on Johnson’s faith or character. Still, Stevie could have avoided the public flogging that is currently being administered by the press had he simply watched Saturday’s installment of the annual Kentucky v. Tennessee root canal. Had he done so, he would have learned conclusively that God does not care about football.
If God cared about football, then Derrick Locke, a senior who has battled to overcome serious injury, would not have fumbled on first and goal from the one yard line in his last regular season college game. If God ever intervened in football, he surely would have nudged the misguided fourth quarter pass of embattled Mike Hartline into the open hands of La’Rod King. If divine intervention played any role in football, Randall Cobb would have come home to beat the Vols in his last trip to Neyland Stadium. What Stevie did not learn, and what we as Kentucky fans need to understand, is that relief in this bitter rivalry, and the furtherance of the program, can come not from the heavens, but the stars. Kentucky just needs more good players.
It is easy to forget in the wake of a bitterly disappointing loss that Kentucky has made tremendous strides in the recent past in fielding a competitive football team. But the frustration of the fanbase clearly reflects a longing to break through the 6-6/7-5 glass ceiling that has bound the Cats to mediocrity in the last half decade. (Mediocrity, of course, being a significant improvement.) The simple truth is that such progress will never be consistently achieved without significantly improving the depth of talent in the program. Thus, the question is whether that progress is being made under the current regime.
According to Rivals, Kentucky’s current crop of commitments for the 2011 signing class is the 36th best class in America. If the class should finish at that level, it would represent Kentucky’s most highly regarded recruiting class in at least the last 5 years. (50th nationally in 2010, 41st in 2009, outside the top 50 in 2008 & 2007.) Add another major prospect, such as 4-star Boyle County linebacker Lamar Dawson, and Kentucky could flirt with a top 25 class, an unprecedented accomplishment for the Cats.
Of course even a top 25 class would rate near the bottom of a league with an embarrassment of blue chip riches. But that is okay. Kentucky does not have to win the mythical signing day championship. The star system is flawed enough that it is not an exact predictor of success. (2-star Derrick Locke v. 4-star Aaron Boyd for example.) Still, Kentucky has to bring in an entire class of legitimate SEC players (3-stars), with a sprinkling of blue chip prospects, in order to slowly fight its way up the SEC food chain. If the current class is any indicator, it appears Kentucky is moving in that direction. For example, of Kentucky’s 21 current commitments, only three rate below a three star ranking, according to Rivals. In 2007, only 10 of Kentucky’s class of 29 achieved three stars or better. In 2008, only 9 of 20 received a three star ranking. Thus, the talent level appears to be on the rise.
It is apparent that Joker Phillips recognizes that a talent infusion is imperative, as seen by his off-season coaching staff overhaul whereby he purged the staff of non-recruiters. He’ll need that staff to work overtime to overcome the inherent disadvantages of recruiting players to Kentucky. (Small population, limited historical success, limited high school talent, etc.) But if Kentucky is to ever beat those goons in orange, it has to do so first on the recruiting trail, and God’s not interested in helping there either. Just ask Notre Dame.