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Monday, February 11, 2013
Take 2: Is Kentucky a threat to Louisville?

By Andrea Adelson and Edward Aschoff

Mark Stoops and Charlie Strong
Louisville's Charlie Strong, right, has had more competition for in-state recruits since Kentucky hired Mark Stoops.
Kentucky emerged with a top-40 class  from ESPN RecruitingNation on signing day, besting in-state rival Louisville by seven spots. Does this mean the Cardinals' hold on the state is in jeopardy? SEC blogger Edward Aschoff and Big East blogger Andrea Adelson discuss.

Adelson: So, Edward, Mark Stoops has done a bang-up job in his short time on the job and many believe he has what it takes to get the Wildcats back to respectability in short order. I, for one, was surprised he was able to pull in a better class than Louisville and Charlie Strong, who just earned a handsome payday for turning Louisville around himself in just three years. Strong is known as an unbelievable recruiter, doing a terrific job creating a pipeline into talent-rich Florida. He also got Kentucky's top prospect in the class of 2013, ESPN 150 wide receiver James Quick. So he's taking recruits from Florida and he's winning Kentucky and signed himself a pretty solid class of 17 -- even if the class rankings don't reflect the work they did this recruiting cycle. But seeing Kentucky up there in the ESPN rankings has to put a pit in the stomach of Louisville fans everywhere. Because as Louisville has risen, Kentucky has fallen miserably, a double dose of joy for Cards fans. Stoops, however, is no pushover. So now the big question: Does Louisville have to start worrying about Kentucky again?

Aschoff: I'm not ready to crown Stoops as the next great recruiter, but if I'm at Louisville, I'm a little worried about what Stoops could do in and around the state of Kentucky. Sure, Strong got the state's top player, but he was supposed to. What Stoops did was bring in three of the state's top 10 players. Louisville grabbed two. It's not like Stoops blew Strong away in recruiting, but for such a short turnaround, what Stoops did was very impressive. He got wide receiver Ryan Timmons, an ESPN 300 member, to sign with Kentucky over Florida and Ohio State. AND he got ESPN 150 defensive end Jason Hatcher to flip from USC to Kentucky. Yes, he got a top player to pick Lexington over Hollywood! What was also impressive was that he signed 11 players from the state of Florida, a state in which Strong has made a very, uh, strong recruiting priority. Stoops' Florida background will help him compete more head-to-head with Strong even away from the Bluegrass State. Stoops puts a lot of emphasis on defense, and I think he's going to eat into Strong's recruiting on that side of the ball. What say you, Andrea?

Adelson: Well, I think you bring up an excellent point, Edward -- both head coaches are defensive-minded coaches. That is a huge departure from the former head man at Kentucky, Joker Phillips, whose experience is on the offensive side of the ball. So, yes, I do agree that it is going to be interesting to see how they both try to wrangle defensive players into their respective programs and how they each recruit Florida. Louisville signed nine from the state last week -- in addition to the 32 already on the roster. But Louisville has major advantages right now. Its football facilities are better; its football stadium is better; its BCS history is better. Louisville has incredible staff stability right now, and given the $3.7 million Strong is set to make -- with a $5 million buyout to boot -- there is no reason to think he is going anywhere any time soon. Louisville is in way better position than Kentucky is for the long haul. But having said that, I don’t think this rivalry is going to be a gimme for Louisville in the years to come. The recent history indicates that. No team has won more than four straight in the series since the rivalry was renewed in 1994. In fact, I think their game this year in Lexington may end up being the most difficult on the schedule for Louisville. I know it’s looking way far ahead, but do you think there is a chance the Wildcats pull the upset?

Aschoff: With the current roster Kentucky has, it'll be tough, so if the Wildcats are going to pull the upset this fall, those freshmen have to make an immediate impact. That means guys like Hatcher, Smith and Timmons have to take full advantage of all the offseason reps they get. The one thing Stoops has going for him is that he has a solid, veteran quarterback in Maxwell Smith coming back, and if running back Josh Clemons can get healthy, I think he could be one of the pleasant surprises in the SEC because he showed so much potential before his devastating knee injury in 2011. But guys have to stay healthy on offense. The defense does lose some key players, including ends Collins Ukwu and Taylor Wyndham and do-everything defensive back Martavius Neloms, but linebackers Alvin Dupree and Miles Simpson are back and so are defensive tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph. So there's a base to build off of for Stoops, but, again, those freshmen have to develop quickly if the Cats are going to have a chance. If the offense can improve, I think the Wildcats will throw some surprises out there for everyone, not just Louisville in 2013.