Wildcats' Stoops has passed first test

April, 11, 2013
4/11/13
9:00
AM ET
It wasn’t the best of weeks (or hoops seasons) in the Big Blue Empire. Bitter rival Louisville won the national championship with that purported traitor Rick Pitino leading the way.

At least, there’s football to look forward to.

Hey, don’t snicker. Some 42,000 tickets had been distributed late last week for Kentucky’s spring football game this Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. The game will kick off at 7 p.m. ET and can be seen Sunday on a tape-delay basis at 9 p.m. on Fox Sports South.

Mark Stoops has yet to lose a game as the Wildcats’ coach, but he’s already accomplished a major goal: He has Kentucky fans excited about football.

Even if the Wildcats approach a crowd in the 30,000 range on Saturday, that’s a fantastic start to the Stoops era. Kentucky’s spring game attendance a year ago was listed at 4,500, and there were actual games last season where there weren’t 25,000 people in Commonwealth Stadium.

There’s always a renewed sense of hope when a new coach comes in, but Stoops came in and made an immediate splash on the recruiting trail.

Nothing spurs hope like signing marquee players.

The Wildcats were ranked 36th nationally by ESPN in recruiting this past February and beat more established programs for the likes of athlete/receiver Ryan Timmons, defensive end Jason Hatcher, running back JoJo Kemp, cornerback Jaleel Hytchye and safety Marcus McWilson.

It’s one of the highest-rated classes in school history, and several of those players could make big impacts this first season.

Ultimately, it all comes down to winning on the field, and there’s a reason that Kentucky hasn’t had a winning season in SEC play since 1977. It's one hellacious job; one of the toughest in college football.

But the mere fact that so many people are planning to show up this weekend for a spring football game -- without a hoops scrimmage taking place at halftime -- tells you that Stoops is off to a promising start.

Obviously, Stoops has a defensive pedigree, and it’s worth noting that the Wildcats have a chance to be pretty good up front defensively this coming season. That's always a good place to start in this league.

Junior college newcomer Za’Darius Smith will be a key at end. Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot recruited Smith when they were at Florida State, and he’s been impressive this spring. Alvin “Bud” Dupree has settled in at the other end spot and was one of the more underrated players in the league last season with 12.5 tackles for loss.

Seniors Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph return at tackle, although Rumph had his spring cut short after injuring his shoulder and undergoing surgery.

Chris Low | email

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