A defection from the University of Tennessee football program could end up being one of Kentucky's biggest recruiting pickups in years.
Four-star quarterback Austin Kendall's announcement this week that he was backing out of his commitment to the Volunteers surprised few in recruiting circles.
Tennessee signed three quarterbacks for the class of 2015 and were targeting other QB prospects from the 2016 class in addition to Kendall, who pledged to the Vols in August.
"When he was taken early, I thought he was going to be the only one, and I think he thought that too," said Mike Farrell, Rivals.com national analyst. "I think both parties were starting to look in a different direction anyway."
It seems Kendall is now looking toward Lexington.
Rivals.com ranks the North Carolina native as the No. 3 pro-style quarterback and No. 27 overall prospect in the class of 2016. UK has never signed a player rated that high by Rivals, which started publishing rankings in 2002.
As of now, Farrell is predicting that Kendall will be a Wildcat.
"Kentucky has really recruited him hard," he told the Herald-Leader. "It's close to home, they're giving him an opportunity to compete right away. ... I think it's a situation he feels more comfortable with. So we'll see how it shakes out, but right now they definitely are the leader."
Kentucky did not sign a quarterback in the incoming class, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Cats take two QBs in 2016. There are only three quarterbacks on scholarship: Patrick Towles, Drew Barker and Reese Phillips, who will miss the entire spring after recently suffering an Achilles injury.
Kendall — a 6-foot-3 prospect — was No. 1 on UK's wish list even while he was committed to Tennessee. He projects as the type of talent who could come in right away and be expected to compete for the starting job.
"He's got a really good presence about him," Farrell said. "He can move in the pocket, keep the play alive, do all of the things that you want a quarterback to do these days. ... He just continues to progress."
Kendall has visited Lexington several times, including a trip to one of UK's "junior day" events last month. His older brother, Ryan, is a walk-on wide receiver for the Cats, so there's a family connection, too.
Farrell listed Auburn as the No. 2 school on Kendall's list. The Tigers extended a scholarship offer last month, though Farrell said UK's expected offense under new coordinator Shannon Dawson was a better fit for Kendall's quarterbacking style.
"It's interesting, because I think he's more of a fit in a standard, pro-style offense," he said. "But we all know (Auburn Coach) Gus Malzahn can run any type of offense he wants. I know Florida is in there as well, but he doesn't have the comfort level with that staff at this point in time."
Kendall's decision could come soon.
Teams prefer to lock up quarterbacks early in the recruiting cycle, and players at that position like to go ahead and announce their commitments to make sure they have a spot at the school of their choice.
That could be very good news for the Wildcats.
"It all depends on when he wants to jump back in and commit," Farrell said. "Usually, after you commit and decommit, you're very patient, hesitant to pull the trigger again. But with quarterbacks, you can't wait forever.
"I think he's going to have to make his decision probably by the end of the May evaluation period. And that's not far away, so Kentucky's in good shape."