HOOVER, Ala. - Mark Stoops thinks Kentucky fans are "starving" for the chance to celebrate and support a good football team at a school primarily known for basketball. The key word being good.
"If we put a good product on the field, something the whole state's proud of, they'll show up in droves," the former Florida State defensive coordinator said Wednesday at SEC Media Days. "I'm not even worried about that. It's been evident thus far with how the fans support football. I think in Kentucky there's a rabid fan base."
Kentucky just hasn't generated enough success lately to feed that interest. Stoops' hiring has stirred up the fans, though.
The Blue-White spring scrimmage drew a school-record 50,831 fans, beating the old mark by 30,000-plus. Stoops also cited rising season-ticket sales for a program that didn't win an SEC game last season under Joker Phillips and has four league wins in the past three years.
Stoops said current players and recruits "feel the positive energy" and the fans getting behind them.
Stoops concedes that's no easy task and said the talent and depth are definitely in need of an upgrade.
Evidence of the pecking order in the SEC - and in Stoops' own family: The first question he got at the podium was about comments made by his brother, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, that questioned the SEC's top-to-bottom strength.
"That's got to be my first question?" Mark Stoops said, smiling. "I certainly understand Bob defending his conference. I just left the ACC. I think everybody's going to defend what they're doing in their conference. With that being said, I don't think any of us need to defend what's going on here in the SEC. The success we've had in the SEC speaks for itself."
Bielema makes early impression
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema brought some fire to Wednesday's session, saying his deliberate style of play is "normal American football" and that the new trend of hurry-up offenses makes players tired and can lead to more injuries.
The first-year coach, who was hired away from Wisconsin during the offseason, responded to first-year Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, who said he first thought criticisms of hurry-up offenses were "a joke."
Bielema countered that he wasn't a comedian and defended his position, saying college football has changed rules when trying to improve safety.
"All I know is this: There are times when an offensive player and a defensive player are on the field for an extended amount of time without a break," Bielema said.
"You cannot tell me that a player after play five is the same player that he is after play 15."
Bielema is trying to revive a program still reeling from the Bobby Petrino debacle in 2012. The Razorbacks had a 4-8 record last season and likely won't be expected to do much this season, either.
"I do excel in situations where people think very, very little of us," Bielema said. "For those of you that want to, vote us lower. I mean that with all my heart. Then just sit back and watch."
The Associated Press