HOOVER, Ala. — Mark Stoops has established that Kentucky can bring in highly-rated recruits.
Now the Wildcats’ second-year coach is trying to turn that added talent into a few more victories.
Stoops is still looking for his first victory in the Southeastern Conference following a 2-10 season in 2013, including an 0-8 mark in conference.
Stoops said on Thursday at the Southeastern Conference’s media days that the Wildcats are “physically better” and that “hopefully that will translate to more wins.”
Kentucky returns 15 starters from last season, including seven on offense and eight on defense. But there is still some uncertainty at quarterback with Patrick Towles, Maxwell Smith, Reese Phillips and Drew Barker battling for the job.
“I know everybody’s asked a lot about our quarterback situation,” Stoops said. “We’re still unsettled on who the starter is going to be. But I’m very confident that we’re going to improve at that position. It starts with the players around him.”
Smith threw for 1,276 yards last season, but missed all of spring workouts because of a shoulder injury.
The 6-foot-3, 216-pound Barker is one of the many highly-rated recruits that Stoops has coaxed to Kentucky with his first two recruiting classes. Both Rivals and Scout ranked the Wildcats’ most recent class in the nation’s top 20.
Kentucky does have some returning talent, especially along the defensive line. Seniors Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith return after productive season. The 6-foot-4, 264-pound Dupree had 91/2 tackles for a loss, including seven sacks, last season.
“Bud is extremely versatile,” Stoops said. “He’s very good with his hand in the dirt playing defensive end, but you can also stand him up and move him around a little bit in the 3-4 and play some linebacker. Very versatile player. Very instinctive.”
But it’s undoubtedly the young players on the roster that will eventually decide whether this Kentucky program can become competitive in the SEC’s Eastern Division. The Wildcats have a 16-game losing streak in conference games.
“The recruiting, you know, it’s awfully important to us,” Stoops said. “That’s where it starts. You’ve got to have great players.”
Stoops’ ability to recruit and a boost in home attendance have already helped him earn a contract extension that runs through 2018.