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Is Barker the centerpiece for UK revival?

5/10/2013

Drew Barker's commitment to Kentucky is further proof that first-year head coach Mark Stoops will be a recruiting force to be reckoned with.

The first signal that Stoops would be a recruiting presence in the SEC came when he landed defensive end Jason Hatcher from Louisville (Tenn.) Trinity in February.

Hatcher's signing was startling. He was a longtime Southern California commitment who had shown strong interest in Tennessee and Louisville, his hometown school. Beating that trio was no small feat.

Compiling the Wildcats' 2013 class was impressive even without Hatcher. Of Kentucky's 22 commits, six were four-star prospects and 14 were rated as three-star prospects. This was not a bottom-feeder class that Kentucky fans had grown accustomed to.

Yet Barker is even a bigger pick-up than any of the 2013 signees.

He's a highly rated, highly sought-after quarterback to build a class around. The last time Kentucky secured this type of in-state talent was in 1996 when the Cats signed Tim Couch. That worked out pretty well.

No one knows if Barker can be Couch. That's a tall order. What is known is that under Stoops, Kentucky is far ahead of where they were a year ago in recruiting.

Kentucky already has six commitments, including Barker. The class is also headlined by receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass from Springfield (Ohio) High. Note the home state; it's a recurring theme. Other than Barker, all of Kentucky's commitments are from Ohio.

Kentucky can afford Midwest prospects a unique opportunity -- a chance to play in the SEC close to home. Tennessee plans to recruit in Ohio. So do other schools. Yet they aren't quite as close as Lexington.

Kentucky has also proven to several prospects that it is intent on being successful in football. Currently, the school is undergoing a massive upgrade to its football facilities, which were largely considered toward the bottom of the SEC.

Kentucky has also proven it can win at a championship level. Its basketball program is proof of that. Therein lies the contradiction, however. Is Kentucky doomed to be a basketball school?

There's reason to think that SEC teams can do both thanks to generous boosters and robust television contracts. Think Florida first, then LSU and Tennessee. All are considered football schools that have had at least sporadic success on the hardwood.

Kentucky can also use basketball to its advantage. Prospects will surely be impressed by 20-plus thousand fans in attendance for a mid-week Cats' basketball game. Ashley Judd in the stands won't hurt either.

Commonwealth Stadium should be considered a positive to football recruiting. It may not be as grand as some other SEC stadiums, but the 67,000-seat stadium shouldn't be a hindrance to recruiting.

In fact, it's hard to find significant hindrances to Kentucky recruiting -- other than one. The state of Kentucky is likely the worst in the SEC for producing top high school football talent. That means Kentucky will have to recruit regionally. Ohio is a start, but Kentucky will have to be more resourceful. Stoops and Co. will have to evaluate better than their competition.

Former Kentucky star Randall Cobb is a great example. The former athlete prospect from Alcoa (Tenn.) High was overlooked and slow-played by nearby Tennessee. Kentucky jumped on him, and he became a star in Lexington. Eventually, he was selected in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft.

Can Stoops do the same? Barker is laying his future on it.