March 2, 2024

Mark Stoops and Wildcats approaching uncharted waters

Kentucky Wildcats Football

Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops watches team warm up before Citrus Bowl against Iowa Saturday January 1, 2022 at Camping World Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

For the first time since 1978 Kentucky is ranked in the preseason AP Poll.

The Wildcats landed at No. 20 when the legendary poll was released Monday morning. Not to mention Kentucky is one of six programs from the almighty SEC that’s in it. Having that national credibility is a clear sign that Coach Mark Stoops has the Wildcats trending up, and he’s finally receiving his due.

The success didn’t happen overnight for the tenth-year coach though. He had to build the program from the ground up after the dreadful years of Joker Phillips’ tenure. During Stoops’ time on the sidelines the SEC has dominated in recruiting, National Championships and overall exposure. Stoops has simply rode that SEC wave all the way to the sandy beach of national recognition.

Not only is the 55-year old the second-longest tenured coach in the conference, but he has also compiled a 59-53 record with the Wildcats, including 33 of those victories over the past four seasons. Stoops was the SEC Coach of the Year in 2018 too.

One of Stoops amazing feats with Kentucky is the fact that the program has had a jaw-dropping, 21 players selected in the NFL Draft under his watch. That speaks volumes, considering the Wildcats don’t recruit at an elite level like other SEC teams. Which is a clear sign that Stoops knows how to identify and develop talent.

The Wildcats were victorious in their first six contests of 2021, and ended that campaign on a four-game winning streak. Now Stoops squad is projected to be one of the best teams in the East this fall. The SEC media even picked Kentucky to finish second in the division last month. It shouldn’t come as a surprise either. Having quarterback Will Levis back, who’s expected to be a high NFL Draft pick in 2023, will do wonders for the offense.

He’s a signal-caller that makes others around him better. Levis will also be the centerpiece to what the Wildcats can accomplish this season. Although there’s still some uncertainty surrounding All-SEC running back Christopher Rodriguez after a DUI arrest in May, signs are pointing towards him being back on the gridiron at some point this fall. After all, the Georgia native is the SEC’s leading returning rusher. Rodriguez will need 1,134 yards on the ground this fall to break Benny Snell’s record for that top spot.

Kentucky always play solid defense, thanks to Stoops’ background with the Hayden Fry coaching tree. He’s blue-collar to the core.

Bottom line, Kentucky’s 2022 campaign has been the most anticipated since he’s been patrolling the sidelines in Lexington. Fans are expecting Stoops’ boys to make a run in the East. And a second-straight victory over Florida could potentially springboard Kentucky’s entire season.

It just so happens that Stoops is 29-45 against SEC foes, and in order for the Wildcats to take that next step, they’ll have to start beating some of the elite teams around the league.

Regardless of the matter, Kentucky ended last season ranked in the AP top-20 and will start this one in it also. And it’s pure motivation for those who have followed Stoops’ journey up to this point. The Ohio native persevered through the obstacles and has made Kentucky more than just a basketball powerhouse. And that’s saying a lot for the fans across the Bluegrass state.