“Turn the program around”, “change the course”, “rebuilding process” are prevalent mottos repeatedly mentioned by Mark Stoops’ first three recruiting classes. While encouraging at the time, I’ve grown tired of promising clichÃ©s. I’d rather listen to the narcissistic King-like phrase “taking my talents to” than hearing the above mentioned for the thousandth time. Don’t panic, I’ve not jumped out of the notorious Bill Curry Canoe. But, for Kentucky to actually turn the corner, 2016 has to be the last class to justifiably proclaim desperate declarations.
The 2013 class was resourcefully assembled as Vince Marrow was deployed to Ohio and vital in-state players decided to stayed home. 2014 was a flashy class highlighted by a hot-shot quarterback; a coveted, mammoth defensive lineman, and a plethora of skill players that led to message board overload and social media proclamations of grandeur. On my first Signing Day Show I also joined in the praise borage. Contrary to popular belief, 2015 was actually Mark Stoops’ best work to date as necessity replaced pizazz, and substance trumped probable. At a minimum, the current rookie class will produce two immediate starters as well as upgraded back-ups. De-recruitment shouldn’t be a roadblock to development as it seemed to hamstring some of its predecessors. De-recruiting is a term used for humbling or providing a reality check to highly touted stars once on campus. 2016 is shaping up to be not only the best class in program history, but also the grand finale of a four year recruiting cycle. Given its start-point, I consider that a successful development. With committed talent, on the field success is non-negotiable. The question is, what is the definition of success?
Recently, I asked my crack college football research panel to provide their definition of a successful 2015 season. Here are some of their responses:
— More filled seats and student attendance.
— Four SEC wins, beat Louisville or Tennessee and a bowl game.
— No less than six wins, a bowl game is a must.
— 7-4 or better.
— Six wins and a bowl game, beat the Ville is a must.
— .500 conference record, 4-0 in non-conference all while beating beatable opponents.
— Beating Louisiana Lafayette, young roster and expectation will change weekly.
— UK needs a superhero to surface. 1 QB, 1 offense. Passiveness does not earn bowl games. Go all in or go home.
With eight home games and a quarterback deficient schedule, UK should win 6 games. However, I would define that as an accomplishment, not necessarily a successful season. 6-6 should be a minimum goal with the secondary purpose being to keep the 2016 class in-tact while adding equally talented players on the first Wednesday in February or National Signing Day. Being a four decade UK Football fan, I tend to lean toward the Process more than immediate gratification. Patience is an inherited virtue. However, the time for the process to yield fruit is upon us. One (6-6) without the other (in-tact 2016 class) would lead to a return cycle of “turning the program around”. That ship has sailed. However, due to inherited roster woes, I’m also convinced that Mark Stoops’ three year rebuilding project will actually require four. I truly believe that Mark Stoops and his staff are the right coaches at the right time to make a difference. The more I study program history the more I’m convinced that if this leadership collection cannot turn it around I’m not so sure that it can ever be done. Thus, the 2016 class is a critical, final building block in UK’s program construction project.
The 2015 schedule is an important ledger, but another vital list is below. The 2016 class will be the first group to benefit from tangible facility upgrades. No more graphs. No more drawings or pictures. Cranes and bulldozers will be replaced by over-sized hot tubs and an in-center barber shop. SEC opponents have taken notice. LSU’s Senior Associate Athletic Director, Eddie Nunez, recently said in an interview with the Advocate, “When you have teams like Kentucky and Vanderbilt building new facilities and passing you up, you have to enhance”. Quite the back handed compliment. In no point in program history has the resources been so plentiful. Getting to this point has been a painful journey. The university has stepped up and cashed in its full support. If the stadium is half-full during an eight home game slate that includes the university’s first Thursday SEC game (Auburn), a beatable Florida team, two historical rivals (Louisville and Tennessee), plus a new found grudge match in EKU, well the blame can only lie in Commonwealth Stadium newly upgraded bathroom mirrors. I’ve often argued the age old chicken and egg theory with intelligent, insightful media members. Finally, the question has been answered. The chicken has laid the egg. The egg has given birth to a chicken. No more excuses. It’s time.
2016 COMMITTED PLAYERS
DEFENSIVE LINE (3)
DE Jaylin Bannerman 6’5 220 Pickerington, Ohio
DT Ja’Quize Cross 6’4 305 New Market, Alabama
DT Kordell Looney 6’5 285 Springfield, Ohio
DEFENSIVE BACK (3)
Tobias Gilliam 6’0 185 Huber Heights, Ohio
Jordan Griffin 6’1 173 Jonesboro, Georgia
Devante Robinson 6’1 175 Lexington, Kentucky
Roland Walker 6’3 225 Trotwood, Ohio
Zy’Aire Hughes 6’1 180 Paducah, Kentucky
Gunnar Hoak 6’4 195 Dublin, Ohio
RUNNING BACK (2)
Asim Rose 6’1 195 Garfield Heights, Ohio
Benny Snell 5’11 215 Westerville, Ohio
OFFENSIVE LINE (3)
Luke Fortner 6’5 285 Sylvania, Ohio
Drake Jackson 6’2 307 Versailles, Kentucky
Landon Young 6’7 300 Lexington, Kentucky
Dakota Holtzclaw 6’7 217 Worthington, Ohio
Kayaune Ross 6’5 220 Lakota, Ohio
TIGHT END (1)
Justin Rigg 6’6 240 Springboro, Ohio
Grant McKinniss 6’1 210 Findlay, Ohio