Stoops has program flying to surprising heights

New foodball head coach Mark Stoops signs footballs for fans during his press conference in Nutter Field House in Lexington, Ky., on Sunday, December 2, 2012. Photo by Genevieve Adams | Staff

By Alex Forkner | @AFork3

aforkner@kykernel.com

Considering the state of UK football when new head coach Mark Stoops took the pilot’s seat, his first month on the job can be likened to turning a nosedive into an aerial acrobatics show.

In a little over a month on the job, Stoops has brought a staggering program back from the brink, energized a fanbase starving for a competent football team and hauling in as many four-star recruits in a few weeks as UK had seen in the past few years.

Let’s be honest — Mark Stoops may be a miracle worker.

When UK was in the midst of a 40-0 pummeling on its home turf at Commonwealth, at the hands of one-time fellow football failure Vanderbilt, was it ever imaginable that the Cats would be on the tongues of this many talented recruits?

When UK had fallen 49-7 in a (mercifully) weather-shortened game to the discombobulated Arkansas Razorbacks, would it have seemed possible that fans could be excited about football again, especially this soon?

And when UK became the undisputed third-best team in the state after Western Kentucky’s trickeration, in your wildest dreams would this program be poised to contend for a spot in a bowl game next season?

Stoops, seated comfortably in the cockpit, has pulled up on the joystick, leveling the freefall and redirecting towards the clouds.

Also consider the staff Stoops has assembled, a cast of characters nearly as attractive (football-wise) as the stars of “Top Gun.” New offensive coordinator Neal Brown is an offensive guru, bringing the brand of football responsible for the “Air Raid” era of Hal Mumme.

DJ Eliot, Stoops’ right hand man on defense at Florida State, looks to be the crack recruiter UK fans have dreamed about for years.

Stoops, so far, is cruising along nicely, even writing encouraging messages in the sky— or billboards, if you happen to drive down New Circle Road — for fans to read. Fans, for the first time since the late years of the Rick Brooks era, believe in the football program.

However, hype doesn’t always translate to wins on the field. The Cats still face a murderer’s row of opponents next season, featuring all the familiar bullies.

When actual football rolls around, Stoops may have engine trouble, his propeller could fail, a wing may break off, he could run out of gas.

The war ship that is the Alabama Crimson Tide, which comes to Commonwealth Stadium on Oct. 12, may singlehandedly cripple Stoops’ fleet.

Or, he could take his rusty prop plane, add a fresh coat of paint and barrel roll his way to glory.

And if the latter scenario becomes reality, UK fans will be hoping Stoops doesn’t activate the ejector seat too soon.