Kentucky’s Mark Stoops is one of four new head coaches in the SEC this season.
All four take over programs that suffered through losing seasons a year ago. But long term, Stoops has the most daunting challenge of all. Getting the Wildcats back to where they’re regularly going to bowl games is one thing, but winning regularly against SEC foes is a whole different story.
Our number today: 36.
There’s a reason that everybody says Kentucky is such a tough job, and it goes much deeper than merely playing in the shadow of the Big Blue hoops monster. The Wildcats simply haven’t been able to match up against their SEC counterparts. It’s been 36 years since they last finished with a winning SEC record. They were 6-0 in 1977. Kentucky, Mississippi State and Tennessee are the only three teams in the SEC (not counting Missouri and Texas A&M) who haven’t finished above .500 in league play at least once over the past five years. The Wildcats are the only team in the league over the past 15 years to have not posted a winning record against SEC competition at least once. They've suffered through six straight losing seasons in league play, and 29 of their past 35 seasons have ended with sub-.500 records in the SEC. So, yes, Stoops has his work cut out if he’s going to change the course of Kentucky football. The quickest way to do that is to upgrade recruiting, and he’s certainly off to a rousing start on that front. The Wildcats are 14th nationally in ESPN’s latest recruiting rankings for the 2014 class, and this is shaping up to be their highest-ranked class ever. Kentucky already has commitments from five ESPN 300 members, and Stoops’ ties to Ohio are paying big dividends in that talent-rich state.