It feels like confidence is quite high for this UK football team heading into the opening game against Auburn. And I think many fans have talked themselves into why Kentucky can and will win that game and become a serious news story right out of the gates. I am probably one of those fans who thinks they have a real shot. But facing a difficult opponent like Auburn in the 1st game might not be all it’s cracked up to be. Because UK, under Mark Stoops, is not known for their fast starts to the season. In fact, Kentucky is just 2-5 against the spread despite being 5-2 straight up in 1st games. A quick recap in case you forgot.
2013: Western Kentucky 35, Kentucky 26
Spread: Kentucky -5.5
Obviously the opener truly exposed just how bare the cupboard was for Mark Stoops. That game wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated as a Bobby Petrino led WKU dominated all aspects of the game. It was clear the Cats were likely headed for a 2 win season after Week 1.
2014: Kentucky 59, UT-Martin 14
Spread: Kentucky -21.5
Cats did show some promise in this one, albeit against an FCS program. The spread of this game clearly showed the bettors didn’t have a lot of respect for the Cats in Year 2 but UK showed renewed energy on their way to a 5-7 season. Progress.
2015: Kentucky 40, UL-Lafayette 33
Spread: Kentucky -17
UK nearly blew this game completely, needing a late score and hold to survive. The defense gave up nearly 500 yards but Boom Williams was a star Juice Johnson arrived as the top receiver threat. But in a season with bowl aspirations, many were discouraged about the performance.
2016: Southern Miss 44, Kentucky 35
Spread: Kentucky -3.5
A low point in the Mark Stoops tenure. What made this game especially difficult was the way the Cats came out fast and appeared more than in control headed into halftime. But a late touchdown pass and a complete no-show in the 2nd half led to a terribly embarrassing loss. It also started the gears moving towards the Stephen Johnson era, which would start 2 games later.
2017: Kentucky 24, Southern Miss 17
Spread: Kentucky -9.5
While the Cats got a must needed win to start this season, as some form of payback, they didn’t cover the spread and didn’t play particularly well. But they gutted out a good win to start the year, which would lead to a second straight bowl game.
2018: Kentucky 35, Central Michigan 20
Spread: Kentucky -17.5
While the win was fairly comfortable, I think many were hoping of a more dominating performance but the Cats showed plenty of areas that needed improvement during a sluggish win over the Chippewas. What’s amazing is this would turn into one of the best teams in UK history but after Game 1 many had their doubts.
2019: Kentucky 38, Toledo 24
Spread: Kentucky -9.5
Many thought this spread was an insult when it came out but when the game was tied at halftime, many understood what a challenge this would be and worried about another Game 1 struggle. But UK sharpened up in the 2nd half, taking a 21-point lead at one point and coasting to victory, although barely covering the spread. Nonetheless, one of the better opening game performances.
Taking out the UT-Martin game, which was a glorified practice, the only really good performance by the Cats was probably last year. And even that was a tied game against a MAC school at halftime. Kentucky hasn’t faced a ranked opponent in any of these games and still struggled. Now, they also might have their best or second best team of the Stoops era. They have many returning pieces. They have motivation of not being ranked. They have a QB looking to prove doubters wrong. I think my feelings on the game, as they stand today, are this. I think UK has a real shot at winning. And I would be highly disappointed, in Year 8 of the Stoops tenure, if the Cats throw a dud out there. But we have to face the real possibility that it could happen. That UK could lose 35-10. For whatever reason, UK is not sharp in 1st games of the season. And while it only burned them against Southern Miss, it would burn them BIG TIME if they are not sharp against Auburn on the road. So I will likely go into the game hopeful but also cautious.