HOOVER, Ala. (AP) — Former Arizona defensive coordinator Mark Stoops ('04-'09) 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," Stoops said Wednesday at Southeastern Conference 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 last three years.
The former Florida State defensive coordinator said current players and recruits alike "feel the positive energy" and the fans getting behind them.
Running back Raymond Sanders is ambitious about his hopes for Kentucky football.
"We're working on being successful," Sanders said. "We love the energy from our fans and from recruiting. We want the football culture to come to Kentucky."
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 brother and Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops' comments in May questioning 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."
The first message Sanders & Co. want to send is statewide not to the SEC. The Wildcats are eagerly pointing to the opener against Bobby Petrino's Western Kentucky, which upset the better-known team from the Blue Grass State 32-31 in overtime last season.
"We want to beat those guys," Sanders said. "We're really looking forward to Aug. 31, I can tell you that.
"Those guys were pretty disrespectful on our field and disrespectful with some Tweets and some Facebook posts."
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.