Outcome of Cats-Cards game not critical on recruiting trail, analyst says

broberts@herald-leader.comSeptember 12, 2013 

Saturday will be Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops' first taste of the intrastate Cats-Cards rivalry.

DAVID STEPHENSON

The Commonwealth Stadium sideline will be jam-packed with University of Kentucky football recruits Saturday.

UK quarterback commitment Drew Barker will be there to see the Cats battle Louisville.

Uncommitted John Hardin defensive lineman Matt Elam is coming to town for the first half before he heads back home to play in his own game Saturday evening.

Four-star running back Stanley "Boom" Williams — one of UK's highest-profile commitments — will make the trip from Georgia.

All eight of UK's pledges from the state of Ohio are expected to be in attendance, as will several uncommitted prospects from the Buckeye State.

It's a big recruiting week for Coach Mark Stoops.

But UK also will be a big underdog.

If things go south for the Cats, will that put a damper on Stoops' recruiting gains?

"In covering recruiting for 11 years, who wins and loses an individual game — I can't think of a single time where it's really factored into a kid's decision," Rivals.com analyst Josh Helmholdt told the Herald-Leader. "What these guys are looking at is not how the team is today, it's how it's going to be for the next four or five years while they're at the school."

High school seniors cannot sign with a college until February, and many of Kentucky's top commitments are still being actively recruited by other schools.

Helmholdt said UK will probably have some decommitments between now and National Signing Day, just like every other school.

But the members of UK's recruiting class of 2014 — currently ranked No. 7 in the nation — have been warned about expectations for this season.

The Louisville game marks a rough stretch of four consecutive contests against teams ranked in the pre-season top 10. The Cats won't be favored in any of those games. They'll probably be double-digit underdogs in all of them.

Even if they lose all four, it won't matter much from a recruiting standpoint.

Simply playing competitive football could help UK with its visiting recruits.

"If they see something where Louisville comes in and beats Kentucky, but Kentucky is showing promise for the future? That's going to be a positive for them," Helmholdt said. "Kids will walk out of that with a good vibe from the atmosphere of the game, a good vibe from the coaching staff, and then they are able to see progression on the field.

"You're going to have a very good recruiting weekend even if you don't win that football game."

And a poor performance could have its pluses on the recruiting trail.

Star players at the high school level are used to being on the field, and standing around on the sidelines once they get to college isn't a winning proposal. When those prospects see a team struggling, they also see an opportunity for immediate playing time.

"Early playing time is still a very high factor in kids' decisions to commit to schools," Helmholdt said. "I hear it a lot from recruits."

Even UK's worst-case scenario — a blowout loss with fans either leaving early or booing from the stands — is unlikely to have much effect on visiting recruits, according to Helmholdt. He said the one thing that has a truly negative impact on recruiting is when "the future of the program looks dire."

The analyst noted that Stoops has prospects "buzzing" about Kentucky to the point that one game isn't going to stop the momentum.

"I think most people expect Louisville to win this game. And recruits do too," he said. "So if (UK loses), that's kind of what the recruits are expecting.

"Now, if Kentucky does win? That would be huge. The upside is so much higher than any potential downside of having recruits in for this game."

Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com.

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