There is a lot of excitement around the Kentucky Wildcats football program as the 2013 season approaches, but if new head coach Mark Stoops is going to maintain that excitement around the program, he’s going to have to win games. To get the players needed to win games and stay competitive in the SEC, Stoops and the Wildcats will need to develop a strong recruiting presence in the state of Ohio.
Generally, the state of Ohio isn’t a hot bed for future SEC players, but for Kentucky, it’s the perfect place to pick out recruits. High school football in Ohio may not be on par with the state of Florida, or Texas, or a few other southeastern states, but it produces a plenty of division one football talent every year and many of those players are capable of playing in the SEC.
With Lexington being less than 100 miles from the Ohio border, Kentucky may actually be the closest BCS level program for many prospects in the state and at the very least the second or third closest geographically. That is an angle Stoops and the Wildcats must use in such a talent-rich state, especially because it’s an angle they can’t use when recruiting players throughout much of the southeast.
With the Cincinnati Bearcats no longer in a BCS conference, Ohio State is the only BCS school in the state of Ohio. However, with Buckeyes’ head coach Urban Meyer having such strong recruiting ties in the southeast because of his days with the Florida Gators, Ohio State is expanding its recruiting territory and taking fewer players from its home state. This means that talented prospects, who in the past would have been almost guaranteed to go to Ohio State, are now up for grabs for Kentucky and any other school that wants them.
Outside of proximity, the biggest recruiting advantage Kentucky has in the state of Ohio is the fact that they play in the SEC. In Ohio, the Wildcats won’t have to worry about competition coming from other SEC schools. They will also being be to sell to prospects on the possibility of playing in the best conference in college football, which would be a huge advantage, even over Big 10 schools. There are many four-star prospects in the state of Ohio that would relish the idea of going head to head with the four-star prospects of the southeast week after week, and Kentucky could become the place they go to do that.
With Stoops being born in Ohio and having ties to that state, there is even more incentive for the Wildcats to develop a strong presence in that state. Stoops making an effort in his home state is already paying dividends for the Wildcats as of the 21 verbal commitments Kentucky has in the class of 2014, eight are from Ohio, although none are among the top-10 recruits in the state which is something that could change if Kentucky can establish itself in Ohio and become a winning program.
Recruiting Ohio doesn’t mean that the Wildcats should abandon their efforts in their own state, Tennessee, Georgia, or Florida, because they’ll need a presence in all those states as well in order to compete in the SEC. However, there’s no reason why in the years to come Kentucky shouldn’t be able to get close to half of its recruits from the state of Ohio on a yearly basis. If Stoops and the Wildcats can make that happen, they’ll have a chance to become and ultimately remain competitive in the SEC, keeping the fan base energized and excited for a long time to come.
Bryan Zarpentine is a New York Mets writer at RantSports.com. He also writes frequently about the NFL, College Football, College Basketball, and International Soccer. Like him on Facebook, follow him on twitter @BZarp and add him to your network on Google+.