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Ranking Kentucky’s 2019 Football Opponents

We are just 20 days from football time in the bluegrass, and in the upcoming weeks, there will be plenty of coverage here at KSR. Just like you, I am ready to get past practice reports and eager to start the football season. So, to break up the string of practice reports, here is a ranking of Kentucky’s toughest opponents this season.

12. UT-Martin

Every year in the SEC, your week 11 opponent is usually the worst team you’ll play on your schedule. Hence the infamous “cupcake week” in the SEC, serving as the last tune-up for your season finale against your biggest rival.

That is no different for UT-Martin. Last year the Skyhawks finished eighth in the OVC with a record of 2-10. With UT-Martin picked to finish sixth in the OVC this year, this will serve as nothing more than an FCS tune-up as the Cats prepare for Louisville on Senior Day at Kroger Field.

11. Louisville

Speaking of Louisville, they fall as the next to weakest team Kentucky will play this season. If I would’ve told you this three years ago – hell even two years ago – you would call me insane.

However, this is not a slight to Louisville, the rivalry is better when both teams are good, but the Cardinals football program is a dumpster fire right now. From the 2-10 disaster season last year, and Scott Satterfield even saying he has some of the worst talents in the power five, things don’t look good for the Cards. Kentucky scored at will in Cardinal Stadium last year with a ground and pound team, and with the growing expectation that this year’s offense will be much more explosive, this one could get out of hand quick.

10. Eastern Michigan

Eastern Michigan is just an out of conference tune-up before the Cats hit the meat of their schedule. While they did go to a bowl game last year, the Eagles relied on a spread out rushing attack with six players getting over 45 carries last season. A team that doesn’t have a reliable passing game is the perfect matchup for the Cats.

I expect Kentucky to comfortably take this game in week two.

9. Arkansas

To be quite frank, Arkansas is by far the worst team in the SEC West. It is huge that Kentucky can get the Hogs at home this season for their 2019 western conference matchup. The Razorbacks went 2-10 last season with a terrible defense, allowing opponents to average 413 yards per game. If Kentucky’s plan to have a prolific offense comes to fruition, they could very easily run it up on the Hogs in Kroger Field.

8. at Vanderbilt

Andy Lyons | Getty Images

Playing at Vanderbilt is always a huge plus for Kentucky’s schedule. It’s never quite a road game because as we all know, blue gets in.

Vanderbilt hasn’t been good for quite some time, either.

However, one star to keep an eye on for the Commodores is Kesahwn Vaughn, who has a case for best running back in the conference. Fortunately, Vandy’s offensive strength plays right into the strength of Kentucky’s front seven. Last year Kentucky’s defense didn’t face Vaughn, so that will be a fun matchup to watch in Nashville this season.

At the end of the day, Vandy is still Vandy and I expect Kentucky to walk out of Nashville with a victory.

7. Toledo

Toldeo is a bit of a tough one, as both sides have huge matchup problems across the board. Earlier this week, Toledo lost starting center Bryce Harris – who was second-team all-Mac last season – which spells bad news for the Rockets. Kentucky’s front seven will be absolutely nasty this season, then you pile on an injury to Toledo’s starting center I fully expect it to be a rough day for the Rockets rushing attack and for Kentucky’s line to disrupt most passing plays.

However, they do run a spread offense which could set up as perfect reps for Kentucky’s young secondary or it could be exposed as an Achilles heel and be disastrous for week one.

This game will be too close for comfort, but I feel like the Cats will handle their business week one.

6. at South Carolina

Kentucky has owned South Carolina in the Mark Stoops era. I repeat, Kentucky has O W N E D South Carolina.

This game means everything to South Carolina. More or less, Kentucky will be their super bowl this season if they want to stay relevant like they so desperately think they are.

With easily the most ridiculous schedule in the nation, South Carolina will have to beat Kentucky to even sniff six wins and for Will Muschamp to keep his job.

But South Carolina just isn’t that good. For the 10th straight season, we will hear about how good Jake Bentley is, but I haven’t seen him doing anything against the Cats that say otherwise. Maybe that changes this year with an inexperienced secondary, but I still expect the secondary to get theirs against Bentley. After all, Bentley has thrown five picks compared to three touchdowns in his two meetings against Kentucky.

In my opinion, this game will be the best performance for the secondary this season, and that will be crucial for a road victory against the Gamecocks.

5. Tennessee

© Randy Sartin | USATSI

Tennessee is without a doubt the most unpredictable team on Kentucky’s schedule this season. The Vols went 5-7 last season with the 110th ranked offense in America, but they still embarrassed Kentucky in Knoxville.

Jarrett Gaurantano torched the Cats last season, and when he returns to Lexington for the first time in two years he will be much more improved than the first go around. Gaurantano isn’t in any conversation for the Heisman or best quarterback in the SEC, but the guy can air it out – if that wasn’t already proven last year against the Cats. Kentucky must emphasize the importance of slowing down Tennessee’s passing game, and there’s plenty of time for the secondary to improve before facing the Vols on November 9th.

It’s hard to tell exactly what will happen for Jeremy Pruitt in year two with Vols, but they’ve caught a lot of hype heading into 2019 (go figure). As it stands, this game is a tossup because if we learned anything after last year, the Tennessee game is never a gimmie.

4. at Mississippi State

Last year everyone RAVED about Mississippi State’s defense (even though they couldn’t stop Benny Snell). The Bulldog defense only allowed 15 touchdowns in 13 games last season. Now all of that is gone for the Bulldogs. Mississippi State loses four guys out of their front seven, including three backups.

Mississippi State has predicated themselves on having one of the top defenses in the conference the last few seasons, so there is a standard to reload on the defensive side for the ball. While that may be easier said than done, the Bulldogs do have some redeeming pieces coming back especially in their secondary.

The bulldog secondary might be one of the best in the conference with upperclassmen Cam Danlzer and Maurice Smitherman patrolling the air attack for the Bulldogs, but as a team that relied upon run defense last year, it will be interesting to see what this defense looks like going into to their October matchup with the Cats.

While it’s not for certain what their defense will look like this season, one thing is for certain, and that is their offense is atrocious. As of right now, they have no QB1 and even with Nick Fitzgerald at the helm last season the Bulldogs could barely muster 200 yards in their first two conference games last season.

With Kylin Hill being the big name returning for the Bulldogs, I can’t foresee Mississippi State getting any sort of explosive plays against Kentucky’s front seven, despite the Bulldogs having one of the best O-lines in the SEC.

This game is on the road, which doesn’t help, even though Mark Stoops has somewhat eradicated the fear of losing every game played on the road in conference. However, he has never won in Starkville. This season would be a good time to do it.

3. Missouri

© Denny Medley | USATSI

Missouri will be an interesting team to keep an eye on in 2019.  Even though they are serving a bowl ban, this team still has some talent all through their roster and let’s not forget the Tigers finished inside the top 20 last season. Missouri’s schedule is backloaded, so there is a real chance the Tigers can waltz into Kroger Field at 6-1 in late October.

The Tigers did lose Drew Lock, but they brought in highly-touted Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant, who is the second-best quarterback Kentucky will face this season. However, Bryant’s play makes him a glorified game manager more or less, and with Missouri returning 1,000-yard rusher Larry Roundtree, it could be the case that Missouri is very run-heavy which only plays into the strength of Kentucky’s defense.

On defense, Missouri returns a lot of their production. Most notably linebacker and leading tackler Cale Garrett, along with two studs in the secondary; Demarcus Acy and Christian Holmes. While this defense allowed 388 yards a game, this was a defense that had Kentucky’s number in that wild finish in Columbia last season. Kentucky’s supposedly more prolific offense going against the defense that shut them down last year will be an interesting watch at Kroger Field. You have to know Lynn Bowden will at the top of every scouting report for the Tigers.

2. Florida

© Kim Klement | USATSI

Believe it or not, the second-toughest game on Kentucky’s schedule is VERY winnable. The weight for Kentucky to beat Florida is finally off their shoulders. Kentucky should come into a packed Kroger Field feeling loose and ready to start their own streak against the Gators.

However, Dan Mullen offenses tend to rely on the play of his quarterback, so the young secondary will have a big test early. Personally, I have never been huge on Franks, but he improved a lot towards the end of last season as he led the Gators to their first New Years six bowl since its inception. Throwing for 24 touchdowns and six interceptions last season, Franks will be much scarier this time around in Lexington.

If Kentucky wants to beat the Gators for the second straight year, the defensive backs will REALLY need to step up for this game.

On defense, the Gators will be much improved in year two with Todd Grantham. The Gators return two studs in the secondary with CJ Henderson and Marco Wilson and have some beasts on the front seven like David Reese, Jabari Zuniga, and Adam Schuler. However, Stoops has had Grantham’s number over the last few seasons, just point to Louisville in 2016 and Florida last year. There’s a big question mark at linebacker for the Gators this season which can make the middle of the field susceptible for opposing offenses.

If Kentucky involves the tight ends as they have in fall camp, they could have a field day against the Gators over the middle. Incorporate some more RPOs and Kentucky will be in a slobber knocker with the Gators in week three.

1. at Georgia

This one should come as no surprise. Since Kirby Smart took over in 2016, Georgia has quickly become the Alabama of the SEC East. This year will be no different. The Dawgs return Heisman darkhorse Jake Fromm – who is arguably the best quarterback in the East – and a slew of running backs including junior D’andre Swift who led the Bulldogs in rushing with 1,049 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Fortunately for Kentucky’s young secondary, they return virtually nothing at wide receiver, but as it was proven last year, Georgia’s rushing game can dismantle any team. Surely a Bulldog will emerge on the outside for Fromm this season, presumably senior Tyler Simmons, but if Kentucky wants to have a chance to beat Georgia between the hedges, their defense must play to their strength and shut down the run. It’s no easy feat though.

It’s okay to be pessimistic for this one.

All in all, Kentucky has a chance to 11 games on their schedule. Will they win all 11, surely not, but knowing there is an opportunity for another seven-win season on the table is huge for a team going in the right direction.

Enough guessing games, can we just kickoff already?

Article written by Brent Wainscott

Twitter: @BrentWainscott_

14 Comments for Ranking Kentucky’s 2019 Football Opponents

  1. bbn606
    8:38 pm August 11, 2019 Permalink

    I think Muschamp has a pass on this season because of strength of schedule but I would be surprised to see him finish the next season even though he is a 6-1 favorite to get the Bama job after Saban.

    • Brent Wainscott
      8:56 pm August 11, 2019 Permalink

      …wait is this a fact??

    • WKY Cat
      9:22 pm August 11, 2019 Permalink

      No way Bama even considers Muschamp.

    • JASUN74
      3:44 am August 12, 2019 Permalink

      They wouldn’t even let him clean the jock straps let alone Coach the Tide. That would be almost the exact same thing as Ky Basketball hiring Billy Gillespie or something. Lmao. Would never happen in a million years!! Hehe.

      For real though, bbn606, these words have never been said or heard by anyone who has anything to do with hiring coaches. I mean not even his wife, mother, father or himself believe that. Lol That is all

  2. mashburnfan1
    9:41 pm August 11, 2019 Permalink

    I think it was 3 years ago UGA had to kick a FG at the horn to beat us. The next year at UGA we hung tough, depth hurt us Last year we were not ready for that spotlight and did not play as well as we could have. I don’t expect a win at UGA but would not be a huge shock, slight shock.

  3. jakew60
    10:35 pm August 11, 2019 Permalink

    I believe something crazy happens and we don’t beat uga but beat Florida and Missouri and uga gets beat by 1 and we end up the highest team in the east

  4. UKinIN
    11:09 pm August 11, 2019 Permalink

    I don’t understand all of the optimism about the FL game. I know it’s at home but FL will always, most likely, have more overall talent than UK. Ending The Streak was an incredible but I still think FL comes in as the favorite and UK will have to play really, really well to win.

    • mashburnfan1
      11:33 pm August 11, 2019 Permalink

      The last couple times we played them we were the better team, so you saying they have more talent can be debated. I will put our Oline, Dline, LB’s, RB’s up against theirs any day and say we are better and deeper at all those positions. WR we may even be better {I honestly have no idea who their wr’s are}, and TE we are better. Does not mean we will win as anything can, and has, happened in games vs UF. I don’t remember seeing a bunch of UF players getting drafted either.

    • UKinIN
      11:47 pm August 11, 2019 Permalink

      I just know I’ve watched a lot of FL and TN games where UK was expected to competitive and they were overmatched. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t care if UK wins my 35 or one. A win is all that matters. But with all that UK has lost, I think there’s a lot to prove before we can be confident about beating FL.

  5. UKinIN
    11:47 pm August 11, 2019 Permalink

    But 11 Personnel did say that UK “could” have better lines than FL and UT.

  6. Big Sexy
    11:49 pm August 11, 2019 Permalink

    I just don’t know what o expect out of this defense or Wilson(I’m not a fan so far). I think they can win anywhere from 6-9 games. I think Georgia and Floruda are two sure losses.

    Everyone was up in arms over Florida being ranked ahead of us at the end of the year. If we played them then they would’ve beat us. Look at how everyone figured our offense out halfway through the year(except UL who had given up and little ol’ MTSU). We scored 14, 14, 15, 17, and 7. That worries me.

    • AreJ
      7:52 am August 12, 2019 Permalink

      While I can appreciate your point I truly only see UGA as a for sure lose. I agree by the end of the season even with a head to head win UF looked to be the better team however the fact remains we beat them on the road last year in TW first true road game at this level. Our offensive lows all came with Drake Jackson banged up and on our 3rd string LT, don’t forget we put up 27 on Penn State as well. We also WILL look different offensively, doesn’t mean we won’t do as our HC likes and ground and pound when we 1. Have the lead late 2. When that’s the better match up again the opposing defense. We are going to move the ball more and be more explosive, I think if we average 20-23 a game we win 6-7 but if we can get to that 26-28 we can win 9 anything less then 20 and we could have issues. I still think our Oline and front 7 is SEC level with depth and experience which will keep us competitive all year long. I like my team, let’s go 8/31!

    • bailey000
      7:57 am August 12, 2019 Permalink

      I’m with you on the offense last year. I do feel that if our secondary can be average this year then our team will improve over all. We lost some real talent last year but there are always break out years on both sides of the ball. Which Terry Wilson we get is a really important question this year.

    • Big Sexy
      9:06 am August 12, 2019 Permalink

      They did put up 27 against PSU but 1 FG came after a dumb fake punt in their own territory and 7 points off of a punt return.