The Kentucky football team will start the season Saturday night by hosting the Southern Miss Golden Eagles, a formidable foe that is expected to challenge for the Conference USA title.
Not surprisingly, Southern Miss, which won the C-USA West Division last season, has built its roster by stocking up on under-the-radar recruits. The Golden Eagles’ have had no better than the 74th-ranked recruiting class, according to Rivals.com, over the past five years. (Their class was ranked 95th nationally in 2015 and 83rd in 2014).
Here’s a breakdown of where Southern Miss’ players were ranked as recruits, with some comparisons to how they stack up — recruiting-wise — to UK’s roster (all rankings from Rivals.com):
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Southern Miss boasts just 17 three-star players (and seven of them were members of the most recent 2016 recruiting class). Most of the Golden Eagles’ roster — 61 players — were considered two-star prospects before arriving in Hattiesburg. They have zero four-star players on the team.
By comparison: UK has one five-star recruit (freshman offensive lineman Landon Young), 15 four-star recruits, 49 three-star recruits and 10 two-star recruits on its roster this season.
Southern Miss lists 24 total players as starters on the offensive and defensive units. Of those, only five were three-star recruits in high school: Wide receivers Isaiah Jones and D.J. Thompson, left tackle Will Freeman, nose tackle Dylan Bradley and middle linebacker C.J. Perry. Eighteen other starters were two-star recruits, and one (senior linebacker Elijah Parker) was not ranked coming out of high school.
By comparison: UK lists 27 players as starters on the offensive and defensive units. Six of those players were four-star recruits in high school: Wide receiver Dorian Baker, quarterback Drew Barker, running back Boom Williams, tight end C.J. Conrad, linebacker Eli Brown and safety Mike Edwards. Another 17 starters were three-star recruits, two were two-star recruits (including center Jon Toth), and two others were unranked in high school (left tackle Cole Mosier and fullback Will Tom Collins).
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Rivals.com gives high school prospects a numerical grade in addition to their star rankings, and three Southern Miss players earned a 5.7 mark — the highest level of three-star recruit — before signing with the Golden Eagles.
Rod Crayton — an Alabama native — was ranked as the No. 36 defensive tackle in the class of 2013 and amassed reported scholarship offers from Arkansas, Louisiana State, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Tennessee and several others before picking Southern Miss. He had eight tackles in eight games as a sophomore last season and is listed as a No. 2 defensive tackle going into Saturday’s game.
Isaiah Jones was actually a four-star recruit in the class of 2013, signing with Florida State out of high school over scholarship offers from Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State and several others. He had two receptions in 2013, was ruled academically ineligible in 2014 and transferred to East Mississippi Community College, where he played last season. Now a junior, he’s listed as one of the Golden Eagles’ starting wide receivers Saturday.
Devontre Parnell signed with Louisville over offers from UK, North Carolina State, Vanderbilt and others in 2012. He played sparingly for the Cardinals due to a series of injuries and announced in June that he would join Southern Miss’ squad as a graduate transfer for the 2016 season, a designation that makes him immediately eligible to play. Parnell is listed as one of the No. 2 cornerbacks on the depth chart.
By comparison: Kentucky has 33 players on its roster who were ranked as “5.7” recruits or higher in high school.
Nick Mullens was one of the most prolific passers in Alabama high school football history, but he didn’t register as much more than a blip on the recruiting radar. The 6-foot-1 quarterback was graded as a two-star recruit by all of the major recruiting websites and chose Southern Miss over scholarship offers from Jacksonville State, UAB and Murray State. He’s made the most of his opportunity. Mullens was the Conference USA offensive player of the year last season, setting single-season school records for passing touchdowns (38) and passing yards (4,476) and is seen as a possible NFL Draft pick after his upcoming senior season. Mullens will be one of the best QBs that Kentucky faces all year.