Mark Stoops is currently in just his second season as football coach at Kentucky but there is no doubt that things have changed dramatically for the Wildcats.
Led by Stoops, Kentucky is off to a 5-1 start for just the eighth time in program history and earlier this season snapped a 17-game SEC losing skid.
Kentucky is known as a basketball school and about as well-known as a football doormat. It’s a program that won four games combined in the 2012 and 2013 seasons and has not had a winning record in league play since 1977 but Stoops is well on his way toward changing all that.
The Wildcats have beaten South Carolina and should have won at Florida if not for a sleepy back-judge who missed a delay of game call against the Gators on 4th-and-7 from the 9 in the first overtime. Florida eventual won in three overtimes to hand Kentucky what is to date its only loss of the season. Kentucky rebounded from that heartbreaking setback to beat Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Louisiana Monroe.
We’re making progress. And I think you know, there’s still a lot more in our tank
“We’re making progress. And I think you know, there’s still a lot more in our tank,” Stoops said. “There’s a lot more we could do better.”
If Stoops is right and the Wildcats can get better it’s going to mean that there is another really good team in college football’s deepest and toughest conference led by an up-and-coming head coach.
Stoops is only the third coach in the modern era of UK football (1945-present) to start a season 5-1 or better in his first two years on the job. The others to accomplish that feat are Paul “Bear” Bryant in 1974 and Jerry Claiborne in 1983. Stoops has the Wildcats at 5-1 for the first time since 2007 and just the seventh time since 1950. Kentucky has also won three consecutive games for the first time since the 2010 season.
A big reason for the turnaround is that Stoops has stepped up Kentucky’s recruiting game. He has started his tenure in Lexington with the two highest ranked recruiting classes in program history. Another key variable is the improved defense. After having just three interceptions last season, Kentucky has 11 in its first six games in 2014, which ranks fourth nationally and second in the SEC. The 11 picks are the most by UK since 2010.
The Wildcats defense ranks highly in several categories, including 20th in the nation in passing yards allowed, 15th in scoring defense, 12th in team passing efficiency defense and eighth in turnovers gained. The UK defense returned two interceptions for touchdowns over Louisiana-Monroe, the first time UK has accomplished that since 1986.
After five home games in their first six games, Kentucky plays four of its final six on the road and it will face some of the league heavyweights in that span. After suffering a loss at LSU. Kentucky will take on Georgia and then have games at Tennessee and Louisville to end the schedule.
We will know a lot more about Stoops’ team in about a month, but for now Stoops and the Wildcats are focused on the next game and continuing their hot start.