The new year has not been kind to University of Kentucky football recruiting.
UK's class of 2014 was affected by just one so-called "decommitment" — Derrick Kelly flipping to Florida State — and finished the cycle ranked No. 17 in the country by Rivals.com.
UK's class of 2015 has so far lost seven players to other — some would say, "bigger" — programs, and four of those decommitments have occurred since Sunday.
That was the day Jeremiah Dinson backed off his UK pledge and later committed to Auburn. The next day, DaVon Hamilton flipped from UK to Ohio State.
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On Tuesday, four-star prospects Andrew and David Dowell decommitted from UK in favor of Michigan State.
The defection of the Dowells hurt the most, and UK is now left with only two four-star commitments and the No. 50 overall class in the country, according to Rivals.
To explain why UK lost those players, Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said to simply look at where they're now headed: Auburn, Ohio State and Michigan State.
"What do those three programs have in common? Two of them have won national championships in recent years, and Michigan State has been a Big Ten title contender — won the Big Ten two years ago," Farrell told the Herald-Leader.
Coaches at those schools can recruit on results, while Mark Stoops and his staff are left to "sell a vision," as Farrell put it. That's something they did well in the beginning, but a vision will take you only so far in recruiting.
"Then the football reality hits," Farrell said. "And some of the bigger schools start picking off your guys late in the game when they strike out on others. And that's survival of the fittest in recruiting."
Kentucky has made progress over the past two years, Farrell acknowledged, but not nearly enough to win last-minute recruiting battles with the likes of Ohio State.
"When you get late in the game like this, and the kids feel the attraction of the superpowers, it's really hard to hold them off after you've had another season where you didn't go to a bowl and things didn't pan out at the end," Farrell said. "They lost six straight games, and it's easy to lose a lot of momentum when you finish that way."
The Cats also lost five-star running back Damien Harris, the local kid who seemed destined for Lexington before eventually committing to Alabama this month.
The inclusion of Harris alone would move UK's class into the mid-30s in the Rivals rankings, but it also could have prevented the recent wave of decommitments.
"I think momentum can really be hurt by a national commitment like that," Farrell said. "People say, 'Well, it's one kid.' Yeah, it's one kid who everybody knew, everybody was looking at, and everybody sort of wanted to see a message from him. And the message was, 'I'm going to Alabama.'
"Damien Harris going to Kentucky would have sent a message. And I don't think you would have seen this spiral as far down as it did."
There's still a few days to bring in some more talented recruits, but Farrell said hopes of a second consecutive top-25 class — a legitimate possibility a week ago — are now out of the question.
The more important development for the future of UK football recruiting won't happen between now and national signing day anyway.
Whether or not the Cats can recruit with the big boys will largely depend on what occurs on the field next fall.
"It's bowl game or bust for recruiting," Farrell said. "You've gone from 2-10 to 5-7. Next year, they have to go to a bowl game. They have to have a couple of solid wins under their belts to see another recruiting class like they did last year."