Kentucky has gained bowl eligibility for the first time in six years, but one regular-season game remains, and it’s a big one.
The Wildcats will attempt to pull a massive upset Saturday at Louisville, a team that was firmly in the mix for a College Football Playoff berth until its loss against Houston last week. The Cardinals will surely still be plenty motivated against their rivals this weekend, and the two rosters match up pretty evenly in terms of recruiting rankings.
Louisville — despite its success on the field under Coach Bobby Petrino — has not had a recruiting class ranked in the top 30 nationally in the past five years.
Here’s a breakdown of where Louisville’s players were ranked as recruits, with some comparisons to how they stack up — recruiting-wise — to UK’s roster (all rankings from Rivals.com):
Louisville has one five-star player, 11 four-star players, 52 three-star players and 13 two-star players on its roster.
By comparison: UK has one five-star recruit (true freshman offensive lineman Landon Young), 14 four-star recruits, 49 three-star recruits and 10 two-star recruits on its roster this season.
Louisville’s projected starting lineup — based on this week’s depth chart — includes one five-star recruit (senior safety Josh Harvey-Clemons), four four-star recruits, 13 three-star recruits, three two-star recruits and one starter who was not ranked in high school (senior center Tobijah Hughley).
By comparison: Among UK’s expected starters (going by last week’s lineup and this week’s outlook), the Cats have four four-star starters (TE C.J. Conrad, RB Boom Williams, WR Dorian Baker and safety Mike Edwards), 12 three-star starters, five two-star starters (including QB Stephen Johnson) and one starter who was not ranked in high school (LT Cole Mosier).
The Heisman favorite
Lamar Jackson — in just his second season of college football — is the clear favorite to win the Heisman Trophy next month and has arguably been the most exciting player in the country all season.
He didn’t exactly come out of nowhere.
Rivals.com ranked Jackson as a four-star recruit and the No. 17 dual-threat quarterback nationally in the class of 2015, and he picked U of L over reported offers from such programs as Auburn, Clemson, Florida and Florida State. 247Sports ranked him as the No. 9 dual-threat QB in the class.
Jackson — out of Boynton Beach (Fla.) — has proven to be a perfect fit for Petrino’s offense, throwing for more than 3,000 yards, rushing for more than 1,000 yards and accounting for 47 touchdowns this season. He scorched UK for 186 yards and two TDs on the ground last season.
Walk-on to starter
U of L starting center Tobijah Hughley was not a highly touted recruit out of Lafayette High School in Lexington in the class of 2012. In fact, he wasn’t even ranked, joining the Cardinals as a walk-on before blossoming into the regular starter at center during his sophomore season in 2014.
Hughley earned a scholarship from Louisville during fall camp in 2014, and Saturday will be his 35th career start with the Cardinals — making him the most experienced player on U of L’s offensive line.
“All the other players respect (Hughley) because of his work ethic and how much it means to him,” Petrino said before the season. “He’s a guy that’s in the huddle and on the field that you know is giving you everything he has, and every player respects that.”
Louisville hasn’t been shy about adding high-profile transfers under Petrino, and a few of the Cardinals’ most decorated players — according to the recruiting rankings — actually transferred to U of L from other schools.
Senior safety Josh Harvey-Clemons — the Cards’ only five-star player — transferred from Georgia. Former four-star recruits Alphonso Carter (Tennessee), Ja’Quay Savage (Texas A&M) and Shaq Wiggins (Georgia) were also transfer players.
Louisville has six Kentuckians on its roster who were recruited as scholarship players: Kyle Bolin (Lexington Catholic), Reggie Bonnafon (Trinity), Derek Dorsey (Manual), Austin Johnson (DeSales), James Quick (Trinity) and Keon Wakefield (Male). The Cardinals have one Kentuckian in their 2017 recruiting class: Belfry offensive lineman Cole Bentley.
UK has 11 in-state guys who were recruited as scholarship players: Drew Barker (Conner), Eli Brown (Warren East), Kash Daniel (Paintsville), Matt Elam (John Hardin), Zy’Aire Hughes (McCracken County), Jacob Hyde (Clay County), Drake Jackson (Woodford County), Adrian Middleton (South Warren), Davonte Robinson (Henry Clay), Ryan Timmons (Franklin County) and Landon Young (Lafayette).
The Cats have two commitments for the class of 2017 from inside the state: Belfry offensive lineman Austin Dotson and Lafayette quarterback Walker Wood.
Louisville currently has 22 commitments — including three four-star players — for the class of 2017, and that group is ranked No. 23 nationally by Rivals.com.