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Kentucky must turn the Tennessee series to continue their SEC climb

© Randy Sartin | USATSI

© Randy Sartin | USATSI

The 2019 football season is just a few weeks away and everywhere that covers the sport is overanalyzing just about everything to get us to the end of August. The dog days are almost over and soon our Saturdays will be filled with college football. We’ve almost made it.

In recent history, we’ve seen Kentucky play a schedule that has been backloaded with a lot of potential wins on the beginning of the schedule. Due to that, we’ve seen the Wildcats get off to some fast starts. Under Mark Stoops, UK has consistently collected five wins in the first six or seven games and that has given the program some room for error when November rolls around. They’ve needed it more times than not.

Under Mark Stoops, Kentucky is just 1-15 in SEC games played in November. That’s a pretty ugly stat and one that must change very quickly. In 2019, the Wildcats have four very winnable games on the schedule and will have a great shot at running the table in the final month of the season for the first time in forever. To do that they must get past the Big Orange.

Since the beginning of the 2013 season, both Kentucky and Tennessee have been on a very even playing field. That season both programs were going through some intense rebuilds, but it was clear that UT was just a little bit ahead of UK. Therefore, they had a shot at a breakthrough moment earlier. They were unable pounce.

In 2016, in year four under Butch Jones, the Vols were fresh off a nine-win season and an impressive showing in the Outback Bowl. They were the SEC East favorites, had a starting-22 littered with pros, and had the schedule to make a run at a College Football Playoff bid. That is not what happened.

After a 5-0 star highlighted by the home win over Florida and the miraculous road win over Georgia, Butch Jones positioned the Vols back into the top-10. They were the talk of college football.

It didn’t last long. The wheels came off in a crazy loss at Texas A&M. The next week UT was crushed by Alabama on Rocky Top and then lost to an inferior South Carolina team on Halloween weekend in Columbia. It was the beginning of the end to the Jones era.

Tennessee would finish that season at 9-4 with a double-digit loss to Vanderbilt capping off the regular season. The next year the Vols went winless in SEC play, Butch Jones was fired, and the school went through an embarrassing coaching search before hiring Jeremy Pruitt. Even with all of this turmoil going on, Kentucky has yet to take advantage despite the linear climb Mark Stoops has the program on.

Since beating Tennessee and snapping the streak in 2011, the Vols have had four losing campaigns and have never won more than eight games in a regular season. Even with all that, UT has still been dominant in the series owning a 6-1 advantage in that run. Kentucky has made lots of strides in recent years, but they must consistently start to beat the Big Orange.

Following the biggest home game in program history last season, UK went to Knoxville with a 7-2 record and laid an egg. They were thrashed by a 5-7 team and essentially lost their chance to break into the New Year’s Six. Mark Stoops is 5-1 against South Carolina, 4-2 versus both Mizzou and South Carolina, but has just one win against Tennessee. That has to change.

The ultimate goal for this Kentucky program is to win the SEC East and play for the league title in Atlanta. They are certainly trending that way.

To get there, however, they’re going to have to get through Tennessee. If Kentucky is to continue their climb up the SEC ladder and earn more respect throughout the league, turning this series around will have a lot to do with it.


Article written by Adam Luckett

Twitter: @AdamLuckettKSR

11 Comments for Kentucky must turn the Tennessee series to continue their SEC climb

  1. RAGE
    8:56 pm July 24, 2019 Permalink

    I know this is off topic on this page but I think Kentucky should beef up the out of conference schedule def if we win 9 or 10 games again this year.. Not saying that we will I hope but I still think that after all of our Defense turnover.. I think Kentucky is ready for a team like dUKe every year… they are a rival as much as Indiana was so I think it could be a fun game for us every year.. At least do a home and home for a couple years but you know they would both draw good home crowds.. I just think we are ready and could def handle them both home and away… Putting them specifically give us 2 out of conference wins vs power 5 teams with Louisville also

    • RAGE
      9:02 pm July 24, 2019 Permalink

      Or if not then at least put Indiana back on the schedule if not every year but maybe every other.. I am just saying that if we have a good year again this year I think we can handle any bottom dwelling team in any of the Power 5 conferences… I worry about this season though… Without Benny we will be fine I think Rose and Smoke will pick right up and we won’t really miss Benny.. Our Oline was strong the last couple of seasons in the run game and should be maybe even better this season… But our Defense took some major losses and if we don’t get Xavier Peters eligible I don’t think we have the kind of players that can replace Josh Allen hole we have on this years team… Without a pass rush I fear that our young secondary will be exposed in a bad way… we lost way to many players in our secondary

    • ukkatzfan
      9:09 pm July 24, 2019 Permalink

      Are you talking football or basketball ? It looks like you are talking both. Article is football and no reason to beef up out of conference when you are SEC. In football, duke sucks….indiana sucks too. And there surely is no use doing a home and away series with duke. -shaking my head tryin not to laugh-

    • dcforuk
      9:35 pm July 24, 2019 Permalink

      There is a balance that must be maintained. Turning around a NCAA football program does seem more difficult than basketball. Just two 5-star players in basketball has the potential to be dramatically impactful. Football seems to be more challenging. Then, doing it in arguably the best football conference makes it that more difficult. Do the top level recruits like to see you play in exciting non-conference games? Yes. But, first you need to be able to compete. Uk does compete now. However, is a competitive non-conference loss better than a non-conference bunny win? At some point, maybe yes because you will win some of those. However, 3-4 non-conf wins is a must trying to turn around a historical losing football program in the nation’s best conference.

    • Ridge Runner
      9:51 pm July 24, 2019 Permalink

      Rage & dc.. enjoyed reading your thoughts. Both good points of view.

    • mashburnfan1
      10:16 pm July 24, 2019 Permalink

      If we do a home and home needs to be vs a team in FL or TX for recruiting resons. We are trying to recruit more in Florida so maybe a home and home vs USF or UCF or if we stay pretty good go South and do Miami. We do play UF but that is more in North Florida. Get into Texas and play Texas or Baylor. I also would not mind a Notre Dame series for a couple years. Still think we need to wait a few years for any of that though, SEC football is just so demanding.

  2. Ridge Runner
    9:40 pm July 24, 2019 Permalink

    Great point Adam pinpointing one team to handle -that would continue success. I agree.

  3. wadmalawcat
    9:43 pm July 24, 2019 Permalink

    5-1 against South Carolina, 4-2 versus both Mizzou and South Carolina….. proofreading a lost art

  4. ThankfulCat
    10:13 pm July 24, 2019 Permalink

    UGA beat UK twice last year. The most physical team in the SEC. it happens to teams that play Bama and now UGA. UT was not better than UK.

  5. bbn606
    12:40 pm July 25, 2019 Permalink

    It took all we could do to win against an 0-8 conference record UT team at home so I’m not looking for a big turn around any time soon.

  6. largoky
    12:55 pm July 26, 2019 Permalink

    That TN game was a real clunker. Looked like we were going to run Snell every play come hell or high water. TN outcoached and outplayed us no doubt about it. It was maddening to see the offense run a busted screen then turn around on next play and run a draw. Allen being held the whole first half didn’t help either. We must beat the dirty vols every year!