UK Recruiting

Kentucky's recruiting rivals will come after Stoops' troops

Head coach Mark Stoops on the field with some full stands behind him as the Blue team beat the White team 24-23 during the Blue-White football game  on Saturday April 13, 2013 in Lexington, Ky. Photos by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Head coach Mark Stoops on the field with some full stands behind him as the Blue team beat the White team 24-23 during the Blue-White football game on Saturday April 13, 2013 in Lexington, Ky. Photos by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

The college football world is paying attention to Kentucky.

That's not exactly normal.

New UK coach Mark Stoops and his band of assistants have brought in eight four-star prospects over the last seven months. Those UK coaches woke up Friday morning with the third-ranked recruiting class in the country for 2014.

That's certainly not normal.

Stoops and company know there's plenty of work to be done. Not just to bring in more top-notch recruits to bolster the UK rebuilding effort, but to make sure the players they've already lined up actually show up in Lexington this time next year.

Therein lies the challenge, says national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell.

"Getting a commitment early is part one. Part two is getting them to sign," Farrell told the Herald-Leader. "We'll have to see how the season goes. I don't think any of these kids expect Kentucky to be 8-4 or 9-3 next season. ... And I don't think he's lying to any of them. I don't think he's telling any of them, 'Hey, look at us. We're going to be in the mix for the SEC title game next season.' I think he's saying, 'Listen, we need playmakers. We need to change things here. And you guys can be the start of something great. But it's going to take a couple years.'

"As long as he's tempering expectations, I think these kids will be OK."

The immediate expectations for UK football are far from great. The Cats, coming off a dreadful 2-10 season, will once again be picked by most national analysts to finish at or near the bottom of the 14-team Southeastern Conference.

The players who have signed on for 2014 seem to know this, however, and that's part of the reason they've jumped aboard.

In-state quarterback Drew Barker has become a ringleader of sorts for UK's 2014 commitments, launching a Twitter campaign to bring his fellow classmates to Kentucky in an attempt to turn around a program that has slipped from bowl status over the past couple of seasons.

Barker could be the key to holding together this stellar class should things go south once the games start this fall. The Conner quarterback — rated among the best in the nation — has made it clear he's not going to waver on his commitment to the Cats.

He's clearly bought in to the vision of the new coaching staff, and having a player at that position to rally the rest of the class through a tough season and into National Signing Day will be a major plus for Stoops.

Still, the national scene is teeming with doubters who point out that signing day is a long way off with a lot of football to be played in the meantime.

"There's a sense of disbelief, and there's also a sense of, 'It's not going to last,'" Farrell said. "That's kind of the feeling of those who are watching this happen and have never seen it happen before. They're like, 'Well, it's great to be No. 3 in the country in June. Talk to me in February.'

"That's the type of attitude that he's going to have to battle against until they start winning. And I think he's prepared for that."

UK's recruiting rivals won't give up just because a player says he's committed to the Cats.

That's just not how it works in football.

On Wednesday, UK commitment Denzel Ware posted an apparent Facebook exchange between himself and Louisville assistant coach Ron Dugans.

In the back and forth — which occurred after Ware committed to Kentucky on Sunday — the Cardinals coach attempts to get the lineman to flip his commitment to U of L. Ware eventually tells him that he doesn't want to play for anyone other than the UK coaches.

Ware's post set off Twitter arguments between UK and U of L fans, and drew praise — and some Louisville ragging — from his fellow commitments. The UK coaches surely smiled at the sight of it, but they're also well aware that this is only the beginning.

Power programs will continue to come after Barker and Ware and Boom Williams and Darius West and all the rest of UK's top-notch recruits.

If the Cats get off to a sorry start next fall, they'll come even harder.

"They're definitely going to use it. Negative recruiting is part of this game," Farrell said. "Guys will point out if they talked a good game and they're not winning. But, again, it's all about setting expectations for these kids. If they're prepared for what's to happen this upcoming season, then they're going to be fine. If he's preparing them for a bowl game in the first year, then he's got some problems.

"Unless he make the bowl game. If he makes the bowl game, he looks like a genius."

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