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Is It Time To Sound The Alarms On The Future Of Kentucky Football?

A 4-0 start to the 2022 season had expectations in Lexington at an all-time high. While three of the four wins came against inferior opponents, a win over No. 12 Florida on the road had Big Blue Nation and the national media thinking Kentucky could be in contention for the SEC east in late November. Fast forward to today, the Wildcats (5-3) are fourth in the SEC standings, following a 1-3 October. In what many considered to be "the year" for Mark Stoops to break through and take this program to the next level, that effort has fallen flat on its face. With Georgia still on the horizon, this team finishes at 8-4 at best. Is that record bad historically? No, but it is not the standard the fans, players and coaches had set for this season. Given the disappointment of the 2022 campaign, is it time to be concerned about the future of the program? The short answer is not yet, but let's talk about some concerns.

The Rise of Tennessee and Others

For as much as we like to poke at the Vols, we all know that the program is very capable of being a college football powerhouse. In his second year, Josh Heupel has Tennessee ranked as the number one team in the country with wins over LSU, Alabama and Kentucky. On November 5th, they will take on Georgia for a trip to Atlanta on the line. The success on the field is paying off in the recruiting game, as Tennessee currently has the 12th ranked class in the country. With plenty of time to improve on that, the Vols could very well end up in the top 10. With Tennessee back on the map, and Georgia continuing its dominance, Kentucky slides down the SEC east rankings.

Not only are the Volunteers getting better, it looks like South Carolina and Missouri are on the rise as well. The Gamecocks re-entered the top 25 for the first time since the Will Muschamp era and Eliah Drinkwitz is building a stingy, completive group, on the heels of a very talented recruiting class. While both programs are still in a rebuild, people are seeing the improvements season by season.

The wild card in this conversation is Florida. Their week one upset over Utah had everyone convinced that Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer were back on the sideline. Since then, the Gators have been 3-4 with competitive losses against Kentucky, Tennessee, LSU and Georgia. Dan Mullen did not leave Billy Napier with much, other than Anthony Richardson, but Napier has proven he can coach without a haul of talent. Once he gets Florida-level talent, do not be surprised to see them back in the mix again.

2023 Recruiting Class

On the heels of what many consider the best class of the Mark Stoops era, the coaching staff could be following it up with one of the worst. There is still time for a few big splashes, but the trend has not been in the Wildcats' favor. Stoops and company have had some close losses in the recruiting game. At this moment Kentucky has the 43rd ranked class in the country and the 11th ranked class in the SEC, per 247 Sports. It is worth noting that Kentucky has 14 commits, which is low compared to other schools and does explain some of the Wildcats' low ranking. With that, it's looking like this class will end up in the bottom half of the conference.

Key Departures

Will Levis, Chris Rodriguez, Deandre Square and Jacquez Jones are all in their final season in the blue and white. There is obviously a much longer list of players who will be on their way out, but these are the ones that are bound to hurt Kentucky the most. Is Kaiya Sheron the answer after Levis is gone? Unfortunately, the answer is most likely no. It is a poorly kept secret that Kentucky will likely look to the transfer portal for their starting quarterback of the future. What are the chances that quarterback is a potential top-10 NFL draft pick? If I was a betting man, I'd say less than 5%. Then there is Chris Rodriguez, who would have likely become Kentucky's all-time leading rusher, if it wasn't for a four game suspension to begin the season. The rushing attack was essentially nonexistent before his return. It will take a lot for the offense line to improve enough to make up for the loss of the star senior. Ramon Jefforson and JuTahn McClain are very capable backs, but it is unfair to think they can move the pile the way Rodriguez has since 2018. Meanwhile, Deandre Square and Jacquez Jones have been the two-headed monster for Kentucky's inside linebacker group for the past two seasons. The super-seniors have been the leaders on Brad White's defense and losing them will be big for the Wildcats.

What Are The Positives?

Not everything is doom and gloom. If Kentucky wins on Saturday, they will be 6-3 on the season, the same record through nine games as last year. The transfer portal now allows programs to revamp their roster in just one offseason. Look at Ole Miss and LSU. Those programs led the nation in transfers, and they are ranked 10th and 11th in the first college football playoff rankings. Stoops and his staff have proven they can find gems in the portal. If they can do so once again, the staff may be able to plug in some holes in the roster after the current roster makes their decisions on the future. Also, Kentucky has a damn good coach.

This is not a "Stoops is on the hot seat" article. Anyone saying that is oblivious to the history of the program and what Stoops has during his decade in the bluegrass. With that, Stoops is not immune to criticism. This team has not lived up to the hype of the preseason and there are reasonable concerns of what the future holds. Will Kentucky bounce back in the coming years? Only time will tell.



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