Well the 2013 recruiting class is in the books more or less, pending the decision of Tevin Lawson and possibly James Hearns. (Lawson should decide within a week. Hearns may not be eligible until this summer) With an exciting new coaching staff, the best recruiting class in school history, and $110 in facilities upgrades coming in just two months, excitement around the program is sky high. The Spring Game may set a record for attendance this year. As a matter of fact, it will if a group of die-hard football fans have their way. After that things get serious, Mark Stoops will start his inaugural season in Nashville against Bobby Petrino and Western Kentucky.
A lot will depend on what unfolds on LP Field. Obviously the Cats need to win, and should win. But the interesting question is who will take the field in those white road uniforms? Not to knock newly interested basketball-first fans, but a good signing class does not usually lead to immediate improvement in football. I know we are used to seeing freshmen light up the basketball court en masse under John Calipari and Joker Phillips didn’t give even half of his last class the benefit of a redshirt year. I will be surprised, and disappointed, if that trend continues under Mark Stoops.
Kentucky could match the 2013 total of 13 signees playing in the Fall, but take into account that the total includes four junior college signees who rarely redshirt. It also includes kicker Austin MacGinnis, who likely wins the place-kicking job. The best scenario I can imagine involves some current players improving enough to hold freshmen at bay and allows the coaches to redshirt all but eight signees. (Possibly including Borden)
It’s important for fans to understand that if things start to go south during the season, benching players in favor of freshmen isn’t the answer. It is vital to the future of this program that incoming players get redshirted as often as possible. A freshman shouldn’t play unless he is head and shoulders above the competition and is a starter or key contributor. Even then you have to be careful of playing too many youngsters. Joker Phillips went with a youth movement during his final season, partially by necessity, and we all saw how that turned out.
Some people have argued that Kentucky needs to be in a “win-now” frame of mind in 2013 to help solidify the next recruiting class and should therefore play anyone that gives them the slightest edge in a game. While I definitely agree that showing improvement on the field is key to continuing momentum and impressing the high-level recruits UK is after, I think the coaches will manage the roster with the future in mind. Phillips did several players a disservice by burning their redshirts for a handful of snaps during what was easily identifiable as a lost season.
In regards to the current roster, there is quite a bit of young talent. Much more than people seem to think. Poor coaching and a glaring lack of experience (along with poor quarterback play) cost the Wildcats 3-4 wins last year. With proper coaching several players fans have written off as busts will likely become valuable contributors. As far as winning goes, the schedule isn’t really as daunting as many think. With an upset or two, there is a bowl game in that schedule. If, that is, current players improve and Stoops isn’t forced to play freshmen across the board. If that happens, you can expect similar results to last year.