Since the hiring of Eddie Gran and placing Stephen Johnson behind center, the Kentucky football program has been on a remarkable run. The Wildcats have won 24 games in this time, have been to three consecutive bowl games, and have four top 25 victories. All of a sudden the results are starting to show up for Mark Stoops and we’re starting to see the national media take notice.
Regular-season conference records for SEC football teams last three years:
Texas A&M 13-11
South Carolina 12-12
Miss. State 11-13
Ole Miss 6-18
— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) May 15, 2019
Fresh off their first double-digit win season in over four decades, the Wildcats now appear to be in a great position moving forward. UK has solid roster balance with proven depth at most spots. The coaching staff has a wave of momentum on the recruiting trail with eight home games looming for this upcoming season. It would be hard for things to be in much better shape for the program, but getting to this point has taken some consistent victories over division opponents.
It’s clear that UK still has a ton of ground to makeup to catch what Kirby Smart is cooking in Georgia. Even with the win in The Swamp to end the streak under their belts, the Wildcats are still behind Florida. Despite their struggles this decade, UK has only been able to claim two victories against Tennessee with zero coming away from Lexington. Where the Wildcats have made their hay is against the rest of the division.
Since 2016, Kentucky is an impressive 9-0 against Missouri, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt. However, this process has not come easy. Kentucky has won six of these nine football games by one possession and seven of these nine squads have been bowl teams at the end of the season. This is an incredible run that has been filled with some very dramatic moments.
One last drive. @UKFootball came through in the clutch with the season on the line.
Terry Wilson and C.J. Conrad take us through their game-winning touchdown against Missouri. pic.twitter.com/x1QVR82L3Q
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) November 2, 2018
Kentucky is 13-11 in league play in the last three seasons with nine victories (69.2%) coming against their division foes they have so much in common with. For the Wildcats to get to bowl eligibility, the recipe has always been the same. Take care of business in the non-conference, pick up an upset or two, and beat your common conference opponents. The Wildcats have done this and more during this recent run.
Entering the 2019 season, however, the task will be tall to continue this dominance. Missouri is fresh off a top 15 S&P+ finish with Clemson grad transfer Kelly Bryant in CoMo ready to take over for second round pick Drew Lock. The Tigers will be on nearly every preseason top 25 poll and could very well be undefeated when they roll into The Kroge on October 26th. South Carolina returns fourth-year starter Jake Bentley at quarterback with a defense that should be the best of the Will Muschamp era in Columbia. Vanderbilt loses four-year starting quarterback Kyle Shurmur, but has three NFL talents in running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, receiver Kalija Lipscomb, and tight end Jared Pinkney. Sooner or later that close game success could start to go the other way.
This run has been impressive, but Kentucky has to start winning consistently against the big three in the SEC East. After going winless against the trio of Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee in his first four years, Mark Stoops finally got on the board and recorded a win in each of the last two seasons. However, he’s currently 2-16 against the trio in his coaching career.
Kentucky’s program is in a very good place. The Wildcats are fresh off three a top 15 finish highlighted by a win in The Swamp and a Citrus Bowl trophy due to the New Year’s Day victory over Penn State. Kentucky just had the best NFL Draft in program history and it’s starting to feel like Mark Stoops and Vince Marrow are putting together a top 2o class for the 2020 recruiting hall. Now the next step is to start consistently collecting victories against the historic divisional blue bloods.
Kentucky has emerged as the best middle tier program in the SEC East by their ability to consistently win close football games against common foes. This has given them a chance to compete for a divisional crown into November and reach two bowl games in the Sunshine State. But for the program to take the next step, the Wildcats have to start consistently collecting wins versus the big three. The streaks against Florida and Tennessee have been snapped, but now the Wildcats must start collecting wins more consistently. Ending the nine-game losing streak against Georgia would help the cause. So would beating Missouri, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt every season.