By LARRY VAUGHT
Before Kentucky hired Mark Stoops, ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit was perhaps the first to note that Stoops would be a solid hire for Kentucky.
He was on a conference call Wednesday to talk about the upcoming season.
Herbstreit said he thought Stoops was a talented defensive coordinator at Florida State.
“I think getting away from his brother, Mike, who is at Arizona and he was the defensive coordinator and kind of getting out on his own and he ended up at Florida State and having a great deal of success. I knew what kind of leader he was. I knew what kind of recruiter he could be. I just thought if he finally got an opportunity to be his own guy, he would have a chance to do pretty well,” Herbstreit said.
“As we know, trying to get Kentucky to compete and be a consistent winner in the SEC East is very challenging. They’ve made some strides. But I know that that fan base would love to get to a bowl game and love to be more competitive in the SEC.”
But can Kentucky do that? Recently one ESPN analyst picked UK to finish 3-9.
“If you look at the team, I think the change at quarterback with Drew Barker taking over I think will help them. I think they really turn the ball over too much and they just seem to be a little bit out of sorts offensively (last year),” Herbstreit said. “So you have a new scheme, a new quarterback with Barker. They’re loaded in the backfield with (JoJo Kemp and (Boom) Williams. So there’s a lot, I think, to be excited about offensively with, as I said, the new attack.”
What about the defense where UK is basically starting over in the line and at linebacker?
“This is a young defense. They’re not quite there as far as where they need to be on the defensive line, and they’re going to have to be kind of creative and aggressive,” Herbstreit said.
He believes Southern Mississippi, UK’s opening game, is the season’s key game for UK.
“If there’s a game that’s going to decide if they go to a bowl game or not, I hate to say it’s the opener, but I think it is. I mean, if they beat Southern Miss, I think that schedule all of a sudden looks a lot more attainable and a bowl becomes more attainable than if they were to lose that game and go to the Swamp in week two,” he said. “So I think they need to get off to a good start and hope for the best. But I think you’ll see improvement this year for sure.”