When you think about the recruiting hotbeds that SEC programs plunder for their best players, you think of places like Florida, Texas, Louisiana, and Georgia.
Kentucky is not super close to any of those as the conference's northernmost outpost, so it's not terribly easy for the Wildcats to go down to pull out big time players. Plus, let's face it: it's Kentucky. The basketball school. The one that's awful at football more often then not. The team that managed to go 0-8 in league play in the weaker division last year.
When UK hired Mark Stoops, it was a signal that the school was finally going to try something different. The Bluegrass State may not share a border with Florida, but it does share a border with Ohio. Ohio is one of the best recruiting grounds of the north half of the country, and it's one that most SEC schools don't frequent. The Stoops name is gold in the Buckeye State, as the brothers are all from Youngstown, and so Mark has friends and relationships all over. With him at the helm, Kentucky could go into Ohio and sell the SEC to players who don't hear that pitch much (if at all).
Let's just say the strategy worked.
On Wednesday, UK finalized a class that contains 11 recruits from the state of Ohio. Since 2002, the school's previous high was four in 2004. Those 11 guys have a Rivals.com average of 3.45 stars apiece, a figure that by itself would be the best star average of any Kentucky recruiting class since Rivals began rating them in 2002. Five of the Ohio recruits are 4-star guys; the school had signed only two 4-star Ohio recruits since '02, one of those coming last year in Stoops's first class. The five 4-star players from Ohio are more 4-star guys than any single Kentucky class had anywhere from 2002-13. The Ohio guys are 45% 4-stars; the rest of this year's class is 28% 4-stars.
So yeah, Mark Stoops cleaned up in Ohio. That state had 17 players rated 4-stars by Rivals, and UK signed the second-most with five. Only Ohio State (of course) signed more with seven.
According to Rivals's reporting, none of the 11 Ohio players that Kentucky secured had offers from more than two other SEC schools. Three of them didn't have any SEC offers other than Kentucky's. All of them had offers from at least two other major conference schools not counting UK or the SEC, and four of them—Mike Edwards, Jarrett LaRubbio, Thaddeus Snodgrass, and Darius West—had eight or more offers from non-SEC major conference schools. This wasn't a case of Kentucky simply outbidding MAC schools for guys the Big Ten didn't want.
As for 2015, well, it's still really early yet. Kentucky only has two commitments so far, but with the way time goes in recruiting, we're basically decades away from next year's signing day. I fully expect to see Stoops and Kentucky go hard after Ohio players again, and if it keeps working, the Wildcats won't be operating at such a huge talent gap from the rest of the league for long.