When the Kentucky Wildcats hired Mark Stoops to be their next head coach, they brought in a talented coach with a long track record as a high-energy motivator with a fantastic ability to recruit. He has infused that energy into the Kentucky program and sparked Big Blue Nation into a football fervor that has not been seen in the program’s history. But how much will Stoops have to win in 2013 to keep that excitement alive?
It’s hard to say since football has historically been second fiddle at Kentucky to basketball program (and still is). But interest is definitely at an all-time high for the Wildcats, as evidenced by the record setting 50,000 in attendance to watch their spring game, ranking them up there among the SEC elite in terms of interest in the spring. Stoops cultivated that excitement with his personality and one of the better recruiting classes the program has seen in a long time (if ever).
But fans flocking to the football field next fall should exercise some patience. Stoops inherits a team that was just 2-10 in 2012 and finished as one of two teams to finish without a win in conference play. They had an offense that struggled to move the football, ranking No. 106 in passing yards per game, No. 89 in rushing yards and No. 119 in scoring, averaging just 17.9 points per game. Their defense didn’t do them any favors, either, surrendering 31 points per game in 2012, good for the No. 87 rated scoring defense in college football.
In short, Stoops has some rebuilding to do at Kentucky. As good as his recruiting class was, it may take some time for the freshmen to find their roles on the team and become contributors on the field, leaving some of the leftovers from the last regime as the main pieces for Stoops to put together his first Kentucky team in 2013. The talent is certainly on its way, but it likely won’t arrive and get acclimated in time to really help the Wildcats next fall.
And the Cats won’t get any help from their schedule. Nine of the Kentucky’s 12 regular season games next season take place against teams that went bowling last year, including non-conference tilts against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, who welcome former Arkansas Razorbacks‘ head coach Bobby Petrino back into the coaching ranks, and the Louisville Cardinals who will likely be a top 10 team when next season opens. Then they face the gauntlet of the SEC, including a four-game stretch to open conference play against the Florida Gators, South Carolina Gamecocks, Alabama Crimson Tide and Mississippi State Bulldogs.
It will be an uphill climb for a Kentucky team that will be trying to establish a new identity for themselves. Hopefully, Kentucky fans practice patience and stick with the team as they try and get over the hump because brighter days are coming for the Kentucky program. They just won’t be happening in 2013.
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