Mark Stoops is recruiting at a historic pace for the University of Kentucky Wildcats football program, having already assembled what will likely go down as one of, if not, the best class in the history of the program.
After Saturday's commitment of Florida receiver Garrett Johnson, the Cats now have the fourth-best recruiting class in 2014, according to Rivals.com. While it will be hard to overtake the likes of Nick Saban's historic dynasty at Alabama, if Stoops is able to keep recruiting at that pace, he'll have Kentucky among the SEC's upper-echelon in no time.
After taking over a Florida State program that ranked among the NCAA's worst in total defense, Stoops has helped FSU rise back into national prominence. In just for three seasons, FSU went from being ranked 108th in the NCAA in total defense, to the second-best defense in terms of total yardage allowed, trailing only the national champion Alabama Crimson Tide.
Stoops has what UK needs that they haven't had for awhile: southern recruiting ties, Ohio recruiting ties, coaching experience in a BCS conference, and a defensive mindset. UK has struggled to pull elite recruits out of Ohio and Florida, but already Stoops has secured eight pledges from Ohio recruits, as well as four more commitments from Floridians. That's two-thirds of UK's current commitment list in 2014.
The heart of all of this, as well as the key to winning in the SEC, is a great defensive line. You have to be able to stop the run while rushing the passer consistently to win big in the SEC, as college football's best league often features the nation's most balanced offenses.
That's the mentality Stoops operated with at FSU. In 2011, he orchestrated a defense that featured one of the deepest defensive line rotations highlighted by defensive ends Brandon Jenkins, Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine, who combined for 20.5 sacks, 31 tackles for loss, 14 quarterback hurries and nine pass breakups. The middle of the line featured stout tackles Everett Dawkins, Anthony McCloud and Freshman All-American Timmy Jernigan who combined for 14 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and remarkable 80 tackles.
In 2012, the d-line was once again among the nation's best. Between Werner and Carradine, the two All-American DEs racked up 31 tackles-for-loss and 24 sacks. The 2013 NFL Draft was unsurprisingly full of former Stoops disciples:
The Indianapolis Colts used the No. 24 pick on Werner.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes was selected by Minnesota Vikings with the 25th pick.
The San Francisco 49ers drafted Carradine with pick No. 40.
Despite suffering a season-ending injury in the first game of 2012, defensive end Brandon Jenkins was taken with the 162nd pick by the Washington Redskins.
Linebacker Nick Moody was taken with the 180th pick by the San Francisco 49ers.
The Pittsburgh Steelers selected linebacker Vince Williams with the 206th pick.
And in case you didn't already know, Mark is embedded in a family tradition of football coaching. He is the younger brother of Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops, former Arizona head coach Mike Stoops, and Ron Jr., who is an assistant coach at Youngstown State.
Success at an elite BCS program
Getting players to the NFL....check.
Turning UK Football into an SEC powerhouse....TBD....but don't bet against him.