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brent and jesse.jpg Sports broadcasting legend Brent Musburger will be joined by college football analyst Jesse Palmer in the booth every Saturday on the SEC Network when it launches next fall. The Hall of Fame sportscaster and the former Florida quarterback have each reached an agreement with ESPN to be the lead college football game commentators on the new network. The pair will kick off the season with Texas A&M at South Carolina on the SEC Network Thursday, Aug. 28.

"Brent Musburger is a cultural icon who has been guiding fans through many of sport's most spectacular moments for decades," said John Wildhack, ESPN Executive Vice President, Programming and Production. "His big-game performance and unmistakable style will elevate our football coverage on the SEC Network. Serving as the definitive play-by-play voice for this major network launch represents an exciting new chapter in his legendary career and reinforces our commitment and investment in the SEC Network."

Wildhack continued, "Jesse Palmer has quickly established himself as one of college football's most insightful, entertaining and dedicated analysts. As a former SEC quarterback, he brings the perfect combination of playing experience and deep conference knowledge to the SEC Network. Partnering him with Brent on this new national platform will create a memorable booth for college football fans everywhere."

Musburger is one of the most recognized voices in the history of sports television and he will continue to be a staple of ESPN's sports coverage with a multi-year contract extension. In addition to lending his voice to one of the three football games slated for the network each Saturday, Brent will remain a play-by-play announcer for Big 12 college basketball games across ESPN networks. He and Palmer will call multiple college football bowl games on ESPN as well.

Musburger will make appearances on behalf of SEC Network and, after more than 20 years at ESPN and ABC, his role will continue to include sharing his expertise and experiences as a mentor.

"I'm delighted to be staying with ESPN, thrilled to be able to call the best football conference in the nation every week and am really looking forward to working with Jesse, who I covered while he was at Florida," said Musburger. "Jesse has tremendous football knowledge, knows this league very well and does his homework. He has a tremendous future in this business."

Musburger's new booth partner, Palmer, has also reached a new agreement with ESPN that includes the role. In addition to calling Saturday games for the conference with the most BCS Champions, he will continue as an analyst on ESPN's Thursday Night College Football package.  Palmer's expertise will also be featured in ESPN's extensive post-season coverage.

"I am honored and humbled at the rare opportunity to help launch a national network of this magnitude and to do so alongside, Brent, a legend within the sport and the industry" said Palmer. ""Playing in the SEC represented four of the greatest years of my life and I feel incredibly fortunate to now have the opportunity to cover this great conference.  Year after year, their on-field success continues the conference's standard of excellence and their passionate fan base is second to none."

Musburger and Palmer join a growing roster of nationally recognized on-air commentators for the SEC Network that include Joe Tessitore, Tim Tebow and Paul Finebaum. Additional ESPN and SEC Network college football announcements will be made at a later date.  

"The pairing of Brent and Jesse as our lead team speaks to the caliber of talent we will have on the network and the commitment to quality that we are making," said Stephanie Druley, ESPN Vice President, Production, College Networks. "We are establishing an incredible roster that SEC fans and followers expect and deserve."     

About SEC Network

The Southeastern Conference and ESPN have signed a 20-year agreement through 2034 to create and operate a multiplatform network which will launch in August 2014. The new network and its accompanying digital platform will air SEC content 24/7 including more than 1,000 events in its first year. The network will televise approximately 45 SEC football games, more than 100 men's basketball games, 60 women's basketball games, 75 baseball games, and events from across the SEC's 21 sports annually. Programming will also include studio shows, original content such as SEC Storied, spring football games, signing day and pro days coverage. Hundreds of additional live events from various sports will be offered exclusively on the digital platform. AT&T U-Verse, DISH and National Rural Telecommunications cooperative (NRTC) have agreed to carry the SEC Network.

Press release via ESPN

Video: Coach Cal previews SEC Tournament

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Video: Football spring workouts continue

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It's been more than 48 hours since the last member of Kentucky's 2014 signing class became official, but people are still talking about Mark Stoops' record group.

ESPN's SEC Blog ranked the league's 14 classes in terms of how each school performed against expectations. UK fared well, coming in second behind only Alabama. Here's what Alex Scarborough had to say about the class:

No. 2: Kentucky
Rundown: This ain't your grandfather's Kentucky. It's not your father's or your older brother's, either. Mark Stoops didn't have the highest ranked recruiting class in the country or even the SEC, but the top-20 class far outpaced even the highest expectations . The signees speaks for themselves -- an infusion of young talent desperately needed for the road ahead -- but the overall statement Stoops and his staff made going out and landing the best of the best was huge. Nabbing four-star defensive lineman Matt Elam from Alabama sent shockwaves through college football. It not only said that Kentucky was here to play; it's here to play and win.

Instant impact signee: There's opportunity abound in Lexington. At one point, a walk-on was starting at receiver against Alabama. With that, four-star Thaddeus Snodgrass has the athleticism (4.5 second 40-yard dash) to provide a quick spark to the Wildcats' offense.

Link: Most impressive classes in the SEC

Another interesting read, Ohio State outlet Eleven Warriors took a look at Kentucky's success in recruiting Ohio and how Stoops' class would have ranked third among Big Ten schools.

However, it is more interesting how Kentucky built its recruiting class. Kentucky football finally discovered how close it is to Ohio. Eschewing past recruiting approaches that sought fringe players from Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, Mark Stoops and Vince Marrow used their Ohio roots to pull the best of the second-tier from the Buckeye State.

J.C. Shurburtt, national recruiting analyst from 247Sports, mentioned this was learning from a wrong approach employed by Joker Phillips. "If you're Kentucky, where do you go recruit? Joker Phillips made a serious tactical mistake trying to get fifth-tier guys out of Georgia and South Carolina and compete." Shurburtt continued, "now, they're getting the second-tier guys out of Ohio, the first-tier guys out of Kentucky and dropping down and getting some guys out of Florida. I think that roster's going to get much, much better in the near future."

Ten of Kentucky's 29 recruits in its 2014 class came from the Buckeye State and not all were from Southwest Ohio. Players like Dorian Baker of Cleveland Heights had offers from Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota. Mikel Horton, a promising tailback prospect from West Chester, had offers from those three schools as well. Basically, all of those recruits had offers from Illinois, Indiana, and most had offers on the table from Minnesota and Purdue as well.

Link: The Big Ten's Kentucky problem

Video: Signing Day 2014 live special

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Video: Signing Day sights and sounds

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Signing Day wrap-up links

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Signing Day 2014 is in the books and with it UK's highest-rated class ever according to Rivals.com.

Mark Stoops and his coaching staff filled needs, adding much-needed depth along the offensive and defensive lines and wide receiver. They protected their home turf, securing pledges from four of the top five prospects in the Bluegrass. They brought in top-level talent, with 16 of their 28 signees rated as four-star prospects according to at least one major outlet.

Clearly, there's a lot to be said about the newest crop of Wildcats. With that in mind, here are links to some of the best stories on a historic Signing Day for Kentucky football.

My story on Stoops delivering a record class in a "critical" year

At last check, the Kentucky class ranks 15th nationally according to Rivals.com, 20th according to both ESPN.com and Scout.com and 22nd according to 247sports.com.

"I knew we'd recruit good players," Stoops said. "Where it was rated and all that and the publicity, I like it, and it helps our program and all that, but, again, that's not what I'm out for. I'm out to get great players to help build this program day in and day out."

On extremely short notice, Stoops and his staff did that with their first class. With just two months to work, they brought in a group that contributed immediately, which was vital to UK's future in both the short and long term.

This class, however, was even more important.

Sports Illustrated on UK's improved recruiting efforts

Kentucky's recruiting surge has coincided with the school's effort to upgrade its football facilities. The university board of trustees voted last Friday to approve a plan to construct a privately funded $45 million training facility. In November, the school unveiled the design for a $110 million renovation to Commonwealth Stadium. "It helps when prospects come on campus and see our athletic director making the commitment to upgrade the stadium and then put in a brand new football facility," Stoops said.

A turnout of nearly 51,000 fans at the Wildcats' spring game last April helped put the newfound excitement surrounding the program into perspective. Experiencing the game first-hand moved Barker to make his commitment. "When I saw all those fans, and how bad they wanted to have a really good program again -- that really piqued my interest," he said. "It just showed me a lot as to people really wanting to turn the football program around, and that they're not playing around anymore."

CBSSports.com on UK becoming an SEC presence in recruiting

Even Nick Saban, the recruiting king for a fourth straight year, was the runner-up for Elam, a 6-foot-5, 372-pound behemoth.

"We're definitely not afraid to compete with anybody in the country," Stoops said Tuesday.

In a recruiting cycle that many coaches say featured rampant player poaching. Kentucky would have been a logical poaching victim. But the Wildcats locked up much of its class a year ago and didn't lose traction. About sixteen of its 28 players committed before the end of last summer, Stoops said.

John Clay of the Herald-Leader on how a group of "different thinkers" made the class happen


Mark Stoops could have returned to Florida State for another year as defensive coordinator, been a part of a BCS national championship, maybe had a chance at a so-called "better" job than UK.

Surely there were those who told the Ohio native that to win these days you have to be able to recruit, and at Kentucky you can't recruit the quality players you need in the Southeastern Conference.

Stoops obviously thought differently. And in the Class of 2014, he has obviously signed some players who think the same way.

Jen Smith of the Herald-Leader on the UK signees' unbreakable bond

The special recruiting stories were aplenty on Wednesday, from offensive coordinator Neal Brown and offensive line coach John Schlarman's treacherous, icy trek to land Jervontius Stallings to running backs coach Chad Scott sitting in a class all day with a recruit, to tight ends coach Vince Marrow playing Monopoly with a family on an official visit.

"We got to know their families," Stoops said. "With me going on the road -- and I don't even know exactly how many living rooms I was in, but we got a very high percentage of guys that we brought in here for an official visit."

Brett Dawson of CatsIllustrated.com on how UK kept the class together

What you see is what you get. That's what coaches and players will tell you about Stoops. And the straightforward approach helped Kentucky clear perhaps its biggest hurdle in keeping its class intact.

Stoops and his staff knew that the on-the-field product would be lacking in 2013. So the Kentucky coaches took a calculated risk to say so to the players they were recruiting.

"I don't think we tried to -- we didn't minimize where we were as a program," Brown said. "We knew we were in the foundation-building process, we knew it was going to take a little bit of work, or a lot of work really. So we didn't sell them on a bunch of things that we knew weren't going to be possible early."

Video: Signing Day press conference with Stoops, Brown, Eliot, Marrow


Mark Stoops signed the highest-rated class in school history on Signing Day. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Mark Stoops signed the highest-rated class in school history on Signing Day. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Mark Stoops has never been short on confidence.

From the moment he arrived in Lexington, Stoops has declared in no uncertain terms his belief in his vision, his belief in Kentucky football.

But to reel in the best class in school history barely a year into his tenure? To piece together a group that fits perfectly in terms of both personnel and character?

"If I'm honest, we maybe had a little bit better success than I thought this quick," Stoops said.

All 28 members of UK's 2014 signing class -- 16 of which are rated four-star prospects by at least one major outlet -- sent in valid National Letters of Intent before 11 a.m. ET, short-circuiting some of the drama typical of Signing Day. None of the coaches or support staff at the Nutter Training Facility for an unprecedented live webcast of the event seemed to mind.

At last check, the Kentucky class ranks 15th nationally according to Rivals.com, 20th according to both ESPN.com and Scout.com and 22nd according to 247sports.com.

"I knew we'd recruit good players," Stoops said. "Where it was rated and all that and the publicity, I like it, and it helps our program and all that, but, again, that's not what I'm out for. I'm out to get great players to help build this program day in and day out."

On extremely short notice, Stoops and his staff did that with their first class. With just two months to work, they brought in a group that contributed immediately, which was vital to UK's future in both the short and long term.

This class, however, was even more important.

"I thought this was going to lay the foundation to turn this program, and it was a very critical year, and I felt like we really had to hit the pavement and recruit extremely hard," Stoops said. "Could not be more proud of this staff and the way they went about their business."

The staff made waves with the 2014 class immediately, scoring verbal commitments from a variety of prospects early in the process. UK shot up recruiting rankings accordingly, drawing national attention. Pundits were impressed, but wondered whether the class would remain intact.

A year and just one de-commitment later, the answer is an emphatic yes.

"This is one of the most unique recruiting experiences I've ever been a part of," Stoops said. "This group was so solid for so long."

Of course, there were nervous moments and the occasional rumbling about a recruit falling off the wagon. In those cases, there was no substitute for the hard work that has come to define Stoops and his staff.

"We don't take anything for granted," Stoops said. "We recruited every bit as hard last night and today as we did last year or the day after Signing Day or the whole year. We recruited from start to finish extremely hard, don't take anything for granted, and go about our business the right way."

In the end, not only did UK hold on to its verbal commitments on Signing Day, but a new one also came on board.

Lloyd Tubman, a Louisville, Ky., native rated a four-star prospect by 247sports.com, announced his UK pledge late Wednesday morning and sent in his NLI not long after.

"We liked Lloyd a lot," Stoops said. "Recruited him for a full year. Again, I think he's one of the top players in the state, a great football player. And he's a great student and a fine young man."

Originally a Vanderbilt commitment and later a Penn State pledge, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound defensive end was finally swayed by defensive coordinator and lead recruiter D.J. Eliot.

"I think it just took time for him to see what we had to offer and what was the best future for him," Eliot said. "When he sat down and looked at everything, I think it was the right thing for him to do and he made that leap."

Tubman is the third-ranked player in Kentucky according to Rivals.com, meaning UK signed four of the top five prospects in the state. Quarterback Drew Barker and defensive tackles Adrian Middleton and Matt Elam will join Tubman in staying home to play their college ball.

"Really feel good about what we did in Kentucky," Stoops said. "I said that a year ago. I said that in my opening press conference about how important it was to recruit this state."

When a quarterback like Barker is in your backyard, that becomes even more important.

Asked to pick out a turning point when UK's momentum on the trail went from encouraging to unstoppable, Stoops mentioned Barker's commitment last May. Though his new coaches never encouraged him to do it, Barker took on a reputation as Kentucky's unofficial recruiting coordinator. Stoops doesn't discount Barker's role making a big Signing Day a reality.

"He just has that ability to be a leader, and he wanted other great players around him," Stoops said. "You know, I said that a year ago as well. Players want to be around other great players."

Barker is only the most prominent example of a group of players who have already built a bond even though just seven are on campus. From the 10 Ohio signees to the two from Texas and four from Florida, UK's signees have developed a sort of collective personality.

"They've been very solid that way," Stoops said. "They've got to have a--this group is very confident in their ability, but you know what -- and I know they have some fun with the media, which is great. They have the personality, and it's good. It's good for everybody. I want them to be themselves.  But as a group, they're also very humble, and I think humility is very important."

Humility will be necessary as the recruits arrive on campus and compete for playing time. Because for both players and coaches, it's time to grind after a short celebration of a memorable day for Kentucky football.

"I've read a lot of quotes from these guys that caught my eye that they know and understand that this is just the beginning of a lot of work," Stoops said. "We've got some good players that's going to help this program, but we've got to go to work now and keep on building and put another great class together and do all the work, whether it be right now in winter if they're here, or the guys that are going to show up in the summer. I think they're very special that way."

Video: Stoops' Signing Day press conference

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Live blog: Signing Day 2014

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All the action -- from our live webcast to social media -- is going on at our Signing Day home page right here. But in case you only want to follow along with Cat Scratches' live blog, you can join below.
 

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