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With So Many SEC Teams Struggling, Does Kentucky Football Have a New Ceiling This Season?

Last weekend Kentucky football won its season opener against Toledo. But if you paid attention to the rest of college football, you know that Kentucky was a big winner in more ways than one.

First off, they won in the traditional sense, playing a good Toledo team, and largely controlling the game after the first drive. More importantly however, it’s what happened everywhere else once Toledo-UK went final at Kroger Field.

You don’t need me to tell you, buuuuuut, Tennessee lost to Georgia State. And Missouri lost at Wyoming. And South Carolina blew a late lead against North Carolina. And Arkansas didn’t look all that good in a win over Portland State. And Mississippi State looked decent but not great against Louisiana-Lafayette.

And from Kentucky’s perspective, a season which already started with plenty of optimism was heightened. Combine the solid foundation that Mark Stoops has built at UK with the fact that quite a few teams seem to be crumbling around Kentucky and all of a sudden, a solid season looks like it could be another special one for UK.

Now, as I said on Monday, I’m not going to come out and predict any certain number of wins after last year’s historic season. That’s not fair to Kentucky or its opponents after just one week. A lot can change. Some teams that looked good might not quite live up to that hype, and some who didn’t look good could better. It happens.

But again, based on what we’ve seen, there is reason for optimism.

Here are thoughts on how Kentucky matches up with all its opponents this season after seeing one week of college football.

Eastern Michigan (Saturday, September 7)

I’ll leave the heavy lifting on the analysis here to Nick Roush and the KSR football guys. But, this was a game that looked like a win on paper all summer and it’s hard to imagine that changing. After all, Eastern Michigan was just 7-6 a season ago and lost a bunch of keys pieces off that team, including virtually their whole defense.

It’s not impossible for EMU to pull the upset, but I’ll let someone else predict it.

But hey, even if the Eagles can’t get the win, at least their coaches wear gear at practice, right?

Chances Kentucky can will this game: 90 percent

Florida (Saturday, September 14)

Even after the win last year in Gainesville, this was a game that – had you asked me a month ago – I would have said would be hard for Kentucky to win. Keep in mind that after the Gators lost to the Wildcats last year they slowly evolved into one of the best teams in college football the final few months of the season, finishing with 10 wins and a Peach Bowl win over Michigan.

The Gators looked really good on paper coming into the year, and – if I’m being honest – were my pick to win the SEC East.

But then Week 0 happened, and woof, do the Gators have a long way to go. Specifically, the o-line is a mess, and Feleipe Franks doesn’t look any better than he did a year ago.

Therefore, this one is – at least in my opinion – actually one of the tougher games to call on Kentucky’s schedule.

There’s no doubt the Gators have talent, but also massive holes.

This week will show a lot about the Gators. Coming off a bye, will that o-line be improved? Or was Week 0 a sign of things to come?

Chances Kentucky will win this game: 50 percent

At Mississippi State (Saturday, September 21)

Full-disclosure: I simply don’t believe in Joe Moorhead (which pains me, since he was once a really successful offensive coordinator at my alma mater, UConn). This was a guy that took over a well-established, preseason Top 15 team last year and proceeded to run it into the ground. Mississippi State finished last season 8-5 overall, and his supposedly “vaunted” offense, ended up scoring a touchdown or less in four SEC games last year.

And in 2019 well, umm, things didn’t really start much better. The Bulldogs opened with a sloppy win over Louisiana-Lafayette, where they won by 10, but also gave up 430 yards of offense and turned the ball over twice. It doesn’t help that Mississippi State also has a bunch of guys suspended after it was revealed a few weeks ago that a tutor was writing papers for them.

So yeah, I’m not a big fan, but my one concern is this: How does a young Kentucky team handle its first road trip of the season? It’s tough enough to play on the road, but even tougher in an environment as wild as Mississippi State. Especially when there are so many guys who will be getting their first meaningful experience on the road here.

On paper, the talent feels pretty even and I give the coaching advantage to UK. But being the first road game of the season, should make UK fans somewhat cautious.

Chances Kentucky will win this game: 45 percent

At South Carolina (Saturday, September 28)

If you listen to my podcast (and if you’re not, you need to be – download here) you know that I made a vow on Monday’s episode: I am done talking about South Carolina. They’re the same boring team, year-in and year-out, are never a real threat in the SEC, always beat up on the bad teams in this league and never beat the good ones.

Oh, and they always lose to Kentucky. Five years and counting.

So yeah, I know this game is on the road, and there are plenty of reasons that South Carolina can win. But in the case of the Gamecocks, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Chances Kentucky will win this game: 65 percent

Arkansas (Saturday, October 12)

So I do my radio show every Saturday at 11 p.m. ET, and basically watch games from noon ET right up until I go on-air at 11, and then continue watching games from there. I bring this up to say that after watching football for over 12 hours last Saturday, Arkansas had one of the worst efforts of any team I saw, and no one is talking about it.

Basically, because they were playing at the same time as Tennessee (which had its own meltdown) no one was paying attention to Arkansas. But their offense was abysmal, specifically the passing game.

Maybe something will change between now and early October. But with Kentucky at home, off a bye, and as bad as Arkansas looked, this just isn’t a game I see the Wildcats losing.

Chances Kentucky will win this game: 75 percent

At Georgia (Saturday, October 19)

Personally, I’m not as high on Georgia as most people (again, I’m the guy who picked Florida to win the East). But, between the size and power of the Georgia offensive line and run game, the skill of their defense and a veteran, future NFL quarterback in Jake Fromm, I’m no fool either.

If there’s one game that feels like a definite loss on the Wildcats schedule, this is it.

Chances Kentucky will win this game: 15 percent

Missouri (Saturday, October 26)

I’m not making excuses for Missouri, but unlike South Carolina and Tennessee I can actually understand why Missouri struggled last week against Wyoming. Wyoming plays at the highest elevation in college football, something that is impossible to prepare for until you get there. More importantly, after that one road trip to open the season, Missouri now plays FIVE straight home games.


So you can understand why they may have been looking a little past Wyoming. Let’s also not forget that outside one bad six-minute stretch (where they gave up a defensive touchdown and two 60+ yard touchdown runs) Missouri actually outplayed the Cowboys.

Point being, I just don’t believe the Tigers are as bad as they looked Saturday.

Playing at home will certainly help Kentucky. But if there’s one game I would tell fans could be trickier than it looks on paper, this is the one.

Tennessee (Saturday, November 9)

Honestly, I’m not here to make fun of Tennessee. That’s seriously not my lane. And I know it won’t make some of you reading happy, but I actually feel bad for the Vols. They are just so, so, SO pathetic right now. It’s honestly beyond just bad coaching or bad players or bad fan support, it’s institutional. Tennessee goes into games believing they will lose, and it manifests itself on the field.

Therefore, while a lot of things could change between now and when this game is played (like every game) this is one that Kentucky can and probably should win at this point. That’s especially true when you consider that its at Kroger Field, the Wildcats will be coming off their second bye of the season (everyone has two this year) and that Kentucky should have extra motivation after losing on Rocky Top last year.

Chances Kentucky will win this game: 65 percent

At Vanderbilt (Saturday, November 16)

Yes, this is a road game, and anything can happen in road games in the SEC.

But let’s also be honest here: I keep hearing that Vandy is improved, that Vandy has real difference-makers at certain positions, that they’re not as bad as everyone thinks. Yet this is now Year 6 of the Derek Mason era and Vandy has never won more than six games since he’s taken over as a coach.

Sorry, but coaches don’t just magically turn the corner in Year 6, after being completely and totally average during the first five.

Because it’s on the road I give Vandy a puncher’s chance (even though 80 percent of the stadium will probably be wearing Kentucky blue). But just barely.

Chances Kentucky will win this game: 75 percent

Tennessee-Martin (Saturday, November 23)

I’m going to skip the heavy analysis here and just say this: If Kentucky has enough issues to lose this game, we’ll know about them way before the middle of November, and the article you’re reading right now will read like something straight out of “The Onion.”

Chances Kentucky will win this game: 95 percent

Louisville (Saturday, November 30)

On a positive note, Louisville looked significantly improved in Game 1 of the Scott Satterfield era on Monday. On a negative note, once Notre Dame made adjustments at halftime, the Cardinals basically couldn’t do anything.

From everything I’ve heard about Satterfield he is a good coach and will get things fixed at Louisville. He won’t get them fixed by November though.

Chances Kentucky will win this game: 70 percent


Again, it’s amazing how much difference a week can make. Had you asked me a week ago, I would have said 8-4 would be a really good season for UK, with 7-5 possible. But – and I know this sounds crazy – but I really do think that 10-2 is in play.

Now, to once again be abundantly clear, I’m not predicting that.

But I do think it’s in play.

The swing games to me appear to be Florida, at Mississippi State and Missouri, and the key will of course be to beat the teams that Kentucky is supposed to (Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisville).

But after a historic season last year, can Kentucky do it again? Right now, the answer just might be “yes.”

Article written by Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres is covering football and basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook or e-mail at [email protected] He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”

11 Comments for With So Many SEC Teams Struggling, Does Kentucky Football Have a New Ceiling This Season?

  1. makeitstop
    9:54 pm September 5, 2019 Permalink

    I may regret saying this, but if we stay healthy, and IF Terry continues to get better, that’s exactly what I thought. UGa is a L. Apart from that, they should win every game but UF, at MSU, Mizzou and at USC. The rest are a crap shoot. USC will start a true Freshman. MSU is underwhelming in every aspect but the bells are loud. Mizzou MAY look better but may not AND they’re in Lex. UF is the toss up for me. Win that one and 10-2 is possible. 9-3 is safer. New Years Day Bowl very attainable.

    • bailey000
      7:32 am September 6, 2019 Permalink

      I love that after finally beating these teams it’s still a predetermined conclusion that we we lose to them. I get it last year was special “for us.” Our coach is recruiting at a higher level every year. Talent is developed every year. We need to get to a point as a fan base where a team has to beat us before we mark an “L.”

  2. TreyTingle
    10:17 pm September 5, 2019 Permalink

    I have faith in this team to perform at a high level but I think we need to take it one game at a time. Let’s get to 2-0 to start.

  3. BluKudzu
    11:35 pm September 5, 2019 Permalink

    1 – 0 means only one thing: there is only one game we can’t possibly lose.

    One game at a time. Focus on your opponent. Win that game then worry about the next.

  4. maximumscott
    12:02 am September 6, 2019 Permalink

    Yes, we do have a new ceiling. 10-2 at most, with 9-3 being the likely record.

  5. itsfootballtimeinthebluegrass
    12:41 am September 6, 2019 Permalink

    You left off your percentage chance for the Mizzou game

  6. Cole28
    7:34 am September 6, 2019 Permalink

    While I don’t disagree that Vandy has yet to turn the corner, your reasoning doesn’t make sense. Derrek Mason won 24 games in his first 5 seasons – only 2 less than Mark Stoops (26). We all know what happened for Stoops in year 6…

    That said, the biggest difference between those two has been Stoops ability to recruit at a higher level. The fact that Vandy competes as well as they do is a testimony to their coaching and player development. But, again, I don’t think they’ll be a 10-win type team, not in 2019 anyway.

    • makeitstop
      7:56 am September 6, 2019 Permalink

      Mason doesn’t have the same level staff Stoops does, and nowhere near the facilities or the fan base. I went to law school there and half the stadium was regularly filled with the other team’s fans and the other half filled by disinterested students and alumnae. Pretty hard to recruit unless ur pitching the quality of the degree and the chance to play SEC teams to prove yourself. They’re not a free W and they usually play someone surprisingly tough but it’s as close to a built in win as the SEC gives you.

    • zoupman
      8:18 am September 6, 2019 Permalink

      I think Mason is a tremendous coach. Vandy is not built to compete in the SEC.
      As far as UK record, at this point I’m just hoping to go 2-0.

    • Craig
      9:49 am September 6, 2019 Permalink

      Mason has also never finished with a winning record at Vandy and they’ve been stagnant for three years. Stoops had us on a constant upward trajectory and had had two straight winning seasons prior the the breakout 6th year.

  7. KYCat4EVER
    12:55 pm September 6, 2019 Permalink

    It is the very good football teams who stop relying on the play of other programs in their division, conference, or league and look only at their own progress.

    Hopefully Our CATS are conducting themselves in this manner and the KSR staff will start following suit!

    GO BIG BLUE! (It’s all about YOU)