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.
UK’s SEC East finishes under Mark Stoops
— Adam Luckett (@AdamLuckettBOS) July 23, 2019
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.