Usually, recruiting at the University of Kentucky is centered on John Calipari's annual haul of top-notch basketball players.
Not this year.
New head coach Mark Stoops hit the ground in Lexington running, delivering an above-average class for Kentucky in 2013. And now he is bringing in likely the best Wildcats recruiting classes in the history of the recruiting-rankings era for 2014. The haul currently ranks No. 20 in the 247Sports Composite, good for No. 9 in the SEC.
Kentucky has already received commitments from 29 players, including six consensus four-star prospects and a parade of three-star talent. Stoops intends to overhaul the entire roster, and his class shows it: Kentucky is bringing in players at almost every position as it tries to upgrade its talent to compete in the nation's top football conference.
Update, Feb. 5: The Wildcats added former Penn State commit Lloyd Tubman to their class.
The Wildcats already have seven players on campus, including four-star pro-style quarterback Drew Barker. The 6'4, 210-pounder is the consensus top player in the state of Kentucky and earned a four-star rating. Top-rated wideouts Thaddeus Snodgrass and T.V. Williams, running back Mikel Horton, and JuCo defensive tackle Cory Johnson are also among the early enrolees in Kentucky's 2014 class.
Less than a week before Signing Day, Kentucky picked up another huge commitment, in more ways than one. Matt Elam, the 6'5, 372-pound four-star defensive tackle recruit out of Elizabethtown, Ky. picked the Wildcats over Alabama. E;am has been neck-and-neck with Barker for the title of the state's top prep player, and is ranked as the No. 13 defensive tackle prospect in the country. Notre Dame, Ohio State, Tennessee, Louisville, and a handful of other programs were also in pursuit.
Safety Darius West, a 6', 195-pound product of Central Catholic High in Lima, Ohio, is one of the other crown jewels of Stoops' class. West was pursued by Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Iowa, Miami, N.C. State, and a handful of other programs. He is ranked as the No. 10 player in the state of Ohio and No. 17 safety nationally, and is a consensus Top 250 prospect.
Four-star defensive end Denzel Ware will come north from Crestview, Fla. to play for the Wildcats. Despite coming in at just 6'3 and 220 pounds, Ware could contribute as a pass rusher in his freshman season. He was widely considered one of the best pass rushing prospects available in 2014. As Bud Elliott writes, his quickness and motor could overcome any size issues.
Ware's greatest asset is his quickness at the snap. He shoots gaps inside and is also able to speed around tackles. When he uses his hands, they are pretty effective. And he makes a lot of hustle plays simply by remaining active and not quitting.
Ware is capable of being a multi-year starter for a major conference defense, but he could benefit from a freshman year dedicated to adding bulk.
Running back Stanley Williams is the final four-star prospect expected to sign with Kentucky on Signing Day. Williams comes to Lexington from George Walton Academy in Monroe, Ga. The 5'8, 189-pound all-purpose back chose Kentucky from a set of offers that included Florida State, Georgia, Clemson, Auburn, LSU, Oregon, South Carolina, and a number of other top programs. Williams is the consensus No. 6-rated all-purpose back in the country.
The Wildcats' three-star selections focus on the defensive secondary, where Kentucky is set to add at least four freshmen, and offensive line, with Ohio natives Nick Richardson and Josh Krok. Kentucky also added two defensive tackles, a trio of three-star receivers, and help at outside linebacker.
A Sea of Blue reports that, even with so many recruits in the fold, Kentucky might not be done.
Some of these SEC schools can only sign 25 with a couple of exceptions such as Tennessee and some will over-sign and worry about who can and who won't be able to enroll. Those team members and recruits who enrolled for January will limit every squad to 85 on scholarships (the NCAA limit). August enrollment is where the 85 limit applies for the upcoming season. Larry Vaught believes that Matt Elam is now an Alabama Lean. Stoops is making an effort to persuade T. J. Harrell away from leaning toward Louisville. UK may have a couple of advantages. Chad Scott and Harrell are cousins and UK doesn't have the sleaze that Louisville has. He's taking official visits to both schools, so we may have an indication of his feelings after the visits.
Stoops says he's signing 28 for 2014, but it could be more.
As it stands on the week of Signing Day, Kentucky is bringing in a cumulative class with a significant upgrade in talent over past groups. Whether that can get the long-dormant Wildcats over the top is another story.