Mark Stoops says all the right things.
“I don’t pay much attention to that,” the Kentucky coach alleged before his turn at Southeastern Conference Media Days this week.
Going into his sixth season, Stoops said it won’t matter if UK is once again picked to finish near the bottom of the league’s East Division in preseason predictions.
In a poll released on Friday morning, the Cats found themselves picked fifth for the second season in a row. Several teams that UK has win streaks over, like South Carolina and Missouri, were selected ahead of it.
But Kentucky’s head coach and the players who were a part of SEC Media Days festivities on Monday seemed to have a quiet confidence this season.
“I like our football team,” said Stoops, who returns 17 starters combined plus several other veterans who have played significant snaps. “I like the experience we bring back. I like the talent we have and I love their attitude.”
That attitude included a bit of swagger this week from players like Benny Snell, who was selected as an All-SEC first-team running back in media voting.
The junior, who will attempt to best UK’s all-time rushing record this season, feels underrated as a player and a program.
“I don’t feel like I’m respected; I don’t feel like Kentucky’s respected,” Snell said of the Cats, who have gone 7-6 in each of the past two seasons and advanced to back-to-back bowl games. “You’re not going to do that until you win games, so I’m going to make sure my offense, my team, is ready to win games.”
“We know what we have in our locker room and we’re super excited,” said Conrad, UK’s leading returning pass catcher and a player named to the All-SEC third team on Friday.
“We know we’ve lost some games we shouldn’t have lost that have maybe put doubts in people’s minds that maybe this is old Kentucky football, but we know what we’ve got.”
It’s those close losses that seemed to drive UK this season. Five combined points were the deciding factor in three Cats losses.
A little more work, a little more experience could be the difference, the UK representatives argued.
“I know we’re very confident in our building,” Stoops said. “We’re very good with what we have and what we’re doing and the position we’re putting ourselves in.”
Kentucky players and their coach seem to embrace the underdog role.
“I hope to have a chip on our shoulder no matter what we’re rated,” Stoops said Monday. “That’s what I’m looking for. We do have a group that I like.”
Snell talked about chips on Monday more than a Frito-Lay salesman.
“I know that I’m the best and I’m going to stick to what I know, which is keep the chip on my shoulder, make sure I’m getting better each year,” the junior running back said.
Maybe that’s what gives Stoops the quiet confidence, that he has seen Kentucky getting better, making gains.
The head coach is just ready to get the season started and try to be better than the prognosticators’ picks again.
“If you’re not putting in the hard work this summer and taking things to another level and taking care of things in our backyard, then nothing matters,” Stoops said. “Talk is cheap. It doesn’t really mean much.”