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Stoops Faces Large Media Crowd at SEC's Annual Circus in Hoover, Ala.


By Jamie H. Vaught

Football Coach Mark Stoops, who is beginning his second season at Kentucky, faced a record-breaking media crowd at the annual SEC media festival earlier today and discussed many topics with the reporters.

When he began his press conference, Stoops was in good humor and joked that the SEC was saving the best for last. The UK mentor was the last of the 14 SEC coaches invited to appear during the four-day affair, which was televised on ESPNU.

Stoops, whose Wildcats finished with a dismal 2-10 mark last season, is very optimistic with his program's future.

Stoops, who has 15 returning starters, said the young Wildcats will be an improved team this fall.

"I think offensively you're going to see a big improvement," said the Kentucky boss. "I know everybody's asked a lot about our quarterback situation. We're still unsettled on who the starter is going to be. But I'm very confident that we're going to improve at that position. It starts with the players around him.

"Our wide receivers will be better. Four of our top five pass catchers were first-year guys in our program a year ago -- three true freshmen and one junior college transfer. Our leading rusher was a true freshman. Those guys being a little older, a little stronger, more experienced is going to help the quarterbacks as well.

"Defensively, it starts with two of the guys that I have here, Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith, two extremely talented defensive ends, great leaders. Very proud of those two that are with us, along with Jordan Swindle, junior offensive lineman, who has been exceptional this offseason in taking leadership and pushing the offensive guys. So very proud of those three players that are here with us today (for the SEC Media Days)."

And Stoops knows the future success starts with recruiting and his two years of hard work in recruiting is beginning to pay off slowly. His UK's 2014 recruiting class, rated No. 20 nationally by ESPN, is the highest-ever in Kentucky football history and the Wildcats are heading for another recruiting success in 2015.

"The recruiting is awfully important to us. That's where it starts," he said. "You've got to have great players. Our staff has worked extremely hard. I think most of our prospects we were recruiting knew we were in for a rebuild, had a little bit of work to do. There was no mystery there.

"The contract extension (last May) meant a lot to me because I think it shows the administration believes in the plan that we have in place and the

work we've been doing and laying the foundation and good things are happening at Kentucky."

A reporter asked Stoops about the successful recruiting in his home state of Ohio, adding that ex-Kentucky coach Fran Curci of the 1970s once said that we've got Ohio to the north, Tennessee to the south, they love basketball in my state, so I have to go to New Jersey to get my kids.

Said Stoops, "It only makes sense for us to go to Ohio with my ties to Ohio, my roots to Ohio, but also the proximity. Southern Ohio, we're so close to. It only makes sense to go there. There's quality football players there. The SEC is strong everywhere right now. It does help us when we go recruit Ohio and represent the SEC and the University of Kentucky. It's been good. We're very excited about the way things are going in Kentucky and in Ohio. We need to stay close to home first, then of course branch out from there."

In the past, rivals UK and Louisville have squared off very early in the season, but the both clubs are meeting on November 29 in the last regular season game of 2014.

"It's my understanding that's a permanent switch. It will fall in line with some of the other rivalries with the SEC and the ACC on that weekend," said Stoops. "We're looking forward to it. I just left Florida State (as the defensive coordinator) where there was a great rivalry at the end of the year with Florida. We'll play Louisville there. I said it before, you know, it really doesn't much matter to me which place we play them. We're looking forward to the challenge."