I’m sure many of you have heard/read something negative about Joker Phillips since he took over as head football of The University of Kentucky. Some of them are valid concerns or criticisms and others are less than valid. We will look at this phenomena in depth soon, but tonight I’d like to look at one area in particular. Recruiting. People have started to complain about Joker’s recruiting, despite the fact that is probably his biggest strength.
It’s difficult for me to fathom why people are unhappy with the recruiting of a 2nd year head coach whose team’s best talent is in the players he brought in. Last year, half of the true freshmen class played for Kentucky. That’s not normal for SEC football or college football in general for that matter. It either points to a lack of talent in the upperclassmen that Rich Brooks left or a great increase in talent amongst Phillips recruiting classes. It was likely a mixture of the two. But I can’t stress enough that this is abnormal for college football, it isn’t the same as basketball.
Now add the fact that 2 or 3 players that did redshirt last year will likely be starting. Zach West is basically locked in as the left guard. Darryl Collins would have played last year if not for an ACL tear, now projects as the starting slot receiver. Marcus Caffey moved from running back to corner and ended spring as a starter. The coaches raved about him on a daily basis. Josh Forrest is in a dogfight with Miles Simpson (another Phillips signee) for the S/LB hybrid position.
The rest of the recruiting class is sprinkled throughout the 3-deep with several players listed as the top backups for their position. Again this is remarkable for even redshirt freshmen. Bookie Cobbins, Shaq Love, Farrington Huguenin, Travaughn Pascal and Demarius Rancifer could all make major contirbutions to the 2012 season. That makes 19 out of 25 players who are poised to contribute by their 2nd year in college. Those are good results for any school and the numbers don’t even count Daylen Hall, who would have played a lot this year or James Elliott who transferred due to home-sickness.
The 2012 class has as much, if not more, potential than the 2011 group. According to Scout.com (I refuse to use Rivals, as they have a habit of downgrading a player’s ranking once he commits to UK) the class features 22 3* prospects and 3 2* players. While it lacks the glitz of 4 or 5* guys, the class is as solid, top to bottom, as any I’ve seen UK sign. Most guys had multiple BCS offers ( a common complaint in previous years) and several players were more highly pursued than their rankings indicate. It is flat-out ridiculous to rank Patrick Towles a 3* and Dyshawn Mobley a 2*. The class would have been even better if Daniel Ross and Tyrone Pearson could have qualified to play in the SEC, as both were highly-touted defensive linemen.
I understand that Kentucky needs to recruit better to hang with the SEC’s big boys and that mining for hidden gems sometimes leads to wasted chances. But the reality is that Joker Phillips and his staff are recruiting better than any previous staff who wasn’t cheating.