Mark Story: Is Stoops' recruiting success flipping the balance of power between UK and U of L?

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistFebruary 6, 2014 

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops talked about his highly rated recruiting class on Wednesday. For the first time, UK produced a live, four-hour web show coinciding with national signing day.

MARK CORNELISON — Herald Leader

Now that Kentucky has joined the rest of the South in treating college football's national signing day as a secular holiday, it seems an appropriate time for another edition of America's favorite game, Truth or Fiction?

Topic one: Kentucky cleaned Louisville's clock in football recruiting.

Verdict: Truth — that is, if you put stock in the rankings of the Internet recruiting services.

Rivals ranked Mark Stoops' second UK recruiting class 17th in the country; it had the first class of Bobby Petrino's second stint as U of L head man rated 46th (tied with Kansas State).

Scout had UK's class at 21st and Louisville's 45th. The analysts at 24/7 scored it UK 22, U of L 47.

Since Stoops was hired at Kentucky, the Wildcats' two recruiting classes (17th this year and 29th in 2013) have each been more highly rated by Rivals than Louisville's (46th and 52nd in 2013).

It is the first time since Rivals started ranking recruiting classes in 2002 that UK has finished ahead of U of L in back-to-back years.

So if the recruiting rankings have any merit at all, then Kentucky should be closing the talent gap that has allowed U of L to claim the Governor's Cup the past three years.

Topic two: Louisville fans should be concerned about Petrino's ability to recruit.

Verdict: Truth — albeit with a giant caveat.

One of my questions at the time Louisville signed on for a Petrino 2.0 was whether the coach's controversial departures at Arkansas, from the Atlanta Falcons and from his first stint as Louisville head man — in which Petrino's personal honor was called into question for different reasons each time — have damaged his ability to connect with recruits and their families?

That's still very much to be determined.

Once Charlie Strong bailed and Petrino was hired, Louisville never seemed, at least from my vantage point, to muster any significant recruiting momentum.

However, Petrino basically deserves a pass on the 2014 recruiting season. He did not get the Louisville job until Jan. 9, very late in the process, then had to deal with the new, extended NCAA recruiting dead period.

John Calipari and Rick Pitino each have weathered (different kinds of) scandals without any appreciable diminishment of their recruiting prowess. But Cal and Pitino are both more glib and charismatic on a personal level than is Petrino.

The caveat to any recruiting concerns regarding Petrino is that history shows the U of L coach has an unusually keen eye for spotting undervalued recruits with upside who can thrive in his system.

In 2004, Petrino's U of L recruiting class was ranked a pedestrian 77th in the country by Rivals, and that was with homegrown, four-star quarterback Brian Brohm included.

Yet that '04 U of L class showed how sharp an evaluator Petrino is. Of 20 prospects signed, it featured 16 two-star recruits — three of whom, Eric Wood, Gary Barnidge and Breno Giacomini, are still playing in the NFL.

Topic three: Kentucky's 2014 football recruiting class is the best in school history.

Verdict: Fiction.

It is accurate to say UK's current class is its highest rated of the "Internet recruiting site" era.

Saying that it is the best in school history is not a fact-based assertion unless you have valid rankings for every class the Kentucky football program has ever signed.

Which no one does.

Topic four: How your recruiting classes are ranked on national signing day is a definite indicator of how your team will fare in the years ahead.

Verdict: Fiction.

To show why, let's play a version of Guess That Team.

Over the five years prior to the 2013 football season, Team A's recruiting classes (as ranked by Rivals) were No. 4 (2013), No. 3 (2012), No. 12 (2011), No. 2 (2010) and No. 11 (2009).

Team B's recruiting classes in the same period were rated No. 41 (2013), No. 31 (2012), No. 48 (2011), No. 21 (2010) and No. 40 (2009).

Yet when the two teams played in 2013, the score was Team B 36, Team A 17.

Team B finished 12-2.

Team A finished 4-8.

Team B is Missouri, which won the SEC East and the Cotton Bowl. Team A is Florida, which was home for the bowl season.

Moral: Recruiting is important, but a whole lot more goes into building a winning college football team.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com .

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