Kentucky has struggled to compete at a high level for many reasons. Problems in recruiting paired with lack of commitment by the administration along with being in the toughest conference this side of the NFL have all been in factors the Wildcats' inability to play consistently as a competitive level.
Mark Stoops has helped the Wildcats recruiting reach an unseen level in just about 20 months on the job. His first season, in only a few weeks, he was able to bring Kentucky into Scout.com's 38th position in the 2013 recruiting rankings. Stoops was able to follow that up with the 21st rated class in 2014 and is currently sitting at 24 for 2015. That's an average ranking of 28 in three years and 22.5 in the last two cycles.
Rather than using rankings from the same season, I went back and pulled rankings from the three years prior. So the years used were 2008, 2009, and 2010. Obviously, on teams in 2011, there are players from the 2006 and 2007 classes who redshirted and had various reasons that they may have still been playing. But for the purposes of this and because there are only three recruiting classes to work with, I just used the classes from 08 to 10.
After looking at the top 25 schools in the final AP poll from 2011-2013, their average recruiting ranking in the previous three years was 32.1. The average ranking during that same period for power 5 top 25 teams is 29.5. For SEC schools, the ranking is 17.2.
To break it down further, top five teams' average rankings was 15.5. The overall top ten was 19.8. Teams who finished between 11 and 20 were at 40.2. And the teams who finished between 21 and 25 were 41.
In the SEC, it's a complete blood bath. A middle of the pack team recruited the 26.9 rated class during that time. That's a nominal margin from where UK stands with their 28th ranking.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Arkansas averaged only 6 wins with the 28th rated recruiting class. Ole Miss was rated 30th and won only 5.7 games. Tennessee won only an average of 5 games and had a 19.3 average.
The most likely scenario, at this time, is Mississippi State. The Bulldogs won 7.3 games with a recruiting average of 30.1. That is pretty amazing in itself considering that they have the lowest ranking in the SEC West.
Teams like Florida and Auburn both show how great rankings don't make or break a team. Auburn's average ranking was 12, but they only won 7.7 games. Florida won 7.3 games with an average ranking of 9.7.
Conversely, Vanderbilt won an average of 8 games with a recruiting class ranking of only 66.7. That's worst in the SEC, 24 spots behind the second worse team rankings (Kentucky was 42.3).
Even if Kentucky recruits in the top twenty percent of teams in the country, they would still only be around the middle of the pack in the SEC. Middle of the pack in the SEC would mean you're capable of competing with most any team in the country which is great. But ultimately the goal is to win the SEC. That can be difficult without reaching an even higher level of recruiting.
Missouri, Vanderbilt and South Carolina have all been able to win despite not having overwhelmingly great recruiting classes. Some of that can be attributed to Florida being subpar. But that can also be attributed to intangibles and coaching prowess. It's difficult to measure coaching ability on a scale, aside from wins versus losses.
Gary Pinkel, James Franklin, and Steve Spurrier are all well respected coaches who were able to scheme and motivate their players to higher heights. If Mark Stoops can motivate and scheme at a high level, then Kentucky is
Recruiting rankings aren't the end all of gauging what level a team will play at. Chemistry, coaching, and effort play a huge role in where a school will finish. Players have to develop. And there will be prospects who transfer in and transfer out. Injuries occur that can dramatically affect the outcome of a season.
Kentucky has a lot to be excited about because the projected talent level of the players has increased dramatically in the last three recruiting cycles. However, there is still a lot of work to be done. Competing in the SEC is a monumental task. Nobody else is the league is going to back down, so Kentucky will have to continue working to climb the ladder.
With Mark Stoops at the helm, it's unlikely that the Wildcats will see any drop off in recruiting effort. And that will be one of the catalysts to taking Kentucky to the next level.