Could Kentucky's six straight losses to end the season be a class killer?
Probably not, but they definitely mean Mark Stoops will have to work a little bit harder to lure players to UK, one recruiting analyst said.
"It certainly affects things," said Mike Farrell, national recruiting director for Rivals. "Any sort of losing streak like that to end a season is not going to help recruiting."
In his final sales pitch to players around the country, Stoops can point to a close loss at No. 24 Louisville as a sign of progress, but the coaches recruiting against the Cats are going to point to the string of consecutive losses as six reasons not to go to UK.
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"They got off to a good start and didn't finish strong, and other schools are going to use that against them," Farrell said of the Cats' six straight losses by an average of 22 points.
"They needed to win more SEC games than they did this year — that doesn't mean they're not going to get them — but they needed to win to show that they can compete," Farrell said. "The division they were in was wide open, so it would've been nice to show they could get more victories."
Before the Louisville loss, Stoops was asked whether the Cats' five-game losing streak, including lopsided losses to Georgia and Tennessee, had hurt the Cats' recruiting.
The UK coach didn't even let the reporter finish the question.
"No, not at all," he said. "I feel very good about where we're at and where we're going recruiting."
Rivals currently has Kentucky's class ranked No. 29 nationally, including four players rated as four stars and 13 three stars. As it stands, the class is 11th best in the Southeastern Conference ahead of Vanderbilt, Missouri and Florida. Last season's class was ninth-best in the SEC.
There are plenty of big-name players on UK's radar who could help the Cats make a significant jump in the rankings, getting them closer to the unprecedented highs of last season when they finished rated No. 17 in the nation.
Those players include the nation's 11th-best player in running back Damien Harris of Madison Southern; wide receiver Ryan Davis, who is ranked No. 52 overall; and defensive back Marcus Lewis (No. 93), who has UK in his final three and will visit this weekend.
Then there are players like linebacker Josh Smith (No. 195), who has committed to Vanderbilt but is still taking a long look at UK, or defensive back Tyree Kinnel (No. 211), who is committed to Michigan but is taking longer looks at UK, Notre Dame and West Virginia, among others.
Players talk to other players, and Stoops seemed confident that his current Cats will be part of the sales pitch.
"We have a good group of players that enjoy playing here and have really worked hard and done the right things," he said. "I think you could ask them, I think they have full trust in what we're doing. So I don't worry about that at all on the recruiting front."
As bad as the six-game losing streak looks on paper, Farrell doesn't think it's a catastrophe for UK because Kentucky has Stoops.
"He's a guy who can overcome it," the Rivals analyst said. "He's a really good recruiter. I don't think it's going to be disastrous, whereas some other coaches might not be able to dig out of it.
"I think he's a guy that they have plenty of confidence in that success is on the way."
So much of the first two years for a new coach in an un-established program is about selling his vision, Farrell said.
Stoops has talked a lot about that.
"We have a good plan in place and that we're following through with just about everything that we've talked about," he said earlier this season. "The results on the field will come. You just gotta keep on putting your head down and staying to the grind. Things don't come easy."
It helps that Stoops, who received a contract extension mid-season, has been able to sell that vision along with amenities such as new dorms all over campus, a $120 million renovation to Commonwealth Stadium and a $45 million practice facility, which is scheduled to break ground a few weeks before National Signing Day.
But after two years, it's less about vision and more about results, Farrell said.
"They did OK this year. I think they were competitive in a few games that they certainly wouldn't have been competitive in before Stoops," he said.
"This year was OK. It's nothing close to a disaster, and I think it's going to hurt recruiting a little bit, but it could've been a lot worse, so I'm still optimistic."