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Why the South Carolina game is the most important of Kentucky’s season

Last season, Kentucky made some noise with an upset over No. 11 Louisville and its first bowl game since 2010. This season, a favorable schedule gives the Cats a chance to take the next step; however, that all hinges on the September 16 showdown with South Carolina in Columbia.

The Cats have beaten the Gamecocks three years in a row, but with one of the most promising quarterbacks in the league in Jake Bentley, Will Muschamp has started to turn things around in his second season. Every game on the schedule is important, but here’s why Kentucky’s trip to Columbia could make or break a breakthrough season for Mark Stoops.

A win would further establish Kentucky’s position in the East

Not only has Kentucky beaten South Carolina three years straight, they’ve finished ahead of them in the SEC East standings two years in a row. The end of the Steve Spurrier era and start of the Will Muschamp era made for rocky times in Columbia, which Kentucky was able to capitalize on to get its first taste of SEC success. The Cats’ win over the Gamecocks in 2014 was the first defining victory of the Mark Stoops era, and the win in Columbia in 2015 was Stoops’ first on the road. Last year’s seven-point win in Commonwealth Stadium had some scary moments, but the Cats survived thanks to a crucial tackle by Denzil Ware on 4th down of the Gamecocks’ last drive. After a disastrous season-opening loss to Southern Miss, the win over South Carolina helped Kentucky steady the ship.

Conditions won’t be as favorable this go around. Not only will the game take place under the lights at a blacked-out Williams-Brice Stadium, the Gamecocks have sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley, considered one of the best young quarterbacks in the conference. Bentley didn’t play vs. Kentucky last year, but after winning the starting job midseason, he helped the Gamecocks finish strong and go to a bowl. Did I mention the part about South Carolina fans losing their minds to “Sandstorm”?

The last time UK beat an SEC opponent four years in a row other than Vandy? Florida back in 1948, 49, 50, and 51. For the Cats to continue to push forward in the SEC East, they need to continue their dominance of the Gamecocks.

A win could mean a 3-0 record heading into the Florida game

Say Kentucky wins its first two games over Southern Miss and Eastern Kentucky. A win over South Carolina would not only get them halfway to bowl eligibility, it would give them a serious boost of momentum heading into a home game vs. Florida. I don’t need to remind you that the Gators’ winning streak over the Cats now sits at 30. Kentucky has come close to knocking off Florida in recent years (damn you, 2014 play clock!), but last year’s blowout in Gainesville proves that the streak is definitely in Kentucky’s head. Beat South Carolina and you roll into the game on a freight train of momentum; lose to South Carolina, and any fear or doubts are that much easier to reach for.

A win could be the secret to 8-4

When looking at the schedule, I break it down into “Should win,” “Should lose,” and “Toss Up” games:

September 2 at Southern Miss Should win
September 9 EASTERN KENTUCKY Should win
September 16 at South Carolina Toss Up
September 23 FLORIDA Should lose
September 30 EASTERN MICHIGAN Should win
October 7 MISSOURI Should win
October 21 at Mississippi State Should lose
October 28 TENNESSEE Toss Up
November 4 MISSISSIPPI Should win
November 11 at Vanderbilt Should win
November 18 at Georgia Should lose
November 25 LOUISVILLE Toss Up

Per that line of thinking, Kentucky has three “Toss Up” games this season: at South Carolina, vs. Tennessee, and vs. Louisville. (Louisville’s probably more of a “Should Lose” game, but after last season, I couldn’t help but put it into the “Toss Up” category, especially since it’s at home.) Win at South Carolina and you allow yourself a slip up in the other Toss Up games to get to 8-4. Lose and you have to beat both Tennessee and Louisville (or one of the two and Florida), which seems like a daunting task.

It can be a scary thought as a Kentucky fan, but the Cats have a chance to do something really special this season. In order for that to happen, they have to beat South Carolina in Columbia on September 16.

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

15 Comments for Why the South Carolina game is the most important of Kentucky’s season

  1. az1006
    4:26 pm August 23, 2017 Permalink

    I am always cautious of looking at the schedule and labeling any particular game as “must-win” or “should-win” and so on. Hunting for wins, or predicting records (especially as a Kentucky fan) based upon the schedule, almost always comes back to bite us.

    Take last year’s loss to Southern Miss as an example…I don’t think anyone really expected us to lose that game, or even considered it much of a possibility, and yet we did. Many thought a bowl game was far-fetched at best after that, and most probably didn’t see a way for us after that loss. And that was the first game.

    In year’s past, when we’ve had an opportunity like this to do something historic, we’ve tended to trip up somewhere, and then overachieve somewhere else. In 2007 we beat UofL and #1 LSU (two wins no one saw coming), only to lose to a mediocre Mississippi State squad during homecoming and then blow the game against Tennessee later in the year. What could have been a 9 or 10-win season ended up being a good year, but still far from special.

    I’m going to just take it one game at a time with this group and let them prove my admitted hesitancy wrong. I am refusing to let my hopes get high, only to be let down again like so many other seasons. Go Cats.

  2. bailey000
    4:26 pm August 23, 2017 Permalink

    I want to take a huge swig of the Kool-Aid and say undefeated when we go between the hedges.

    • ClutchCargo
      4:56 pm August 23, 2017 Permalink

      There might be something a lot stronger than Kool-Aid in that jug! But if we are sitting there with 1 or 2 losses at that point, that means we have at least 5 conference wins and that would make me giddy with excitement..

  3. ukkatzfan
    4:38 pm August 23, 2017 Permalink

    Move florida and tenn to where they actually are. From “should lose” to “will win” and sc win will just be the cake that the icing goes on.

  4. Sentient Third Eye
    4:54 pm August 23, 2017 Permalink

    That’s a pretty good case to make about why the South Carolina game is important, but the fact remains that if we do lose it and then beat Florida a week later, no one will mind.

    • runningunnin.454
      9:16 am August 24, 2017 Permalink

      Good point. If we beat Florida, I’ll be happy as a dog with two peters.

  5. ClutchCargo
    5:03 pm August 23, 2017 Permalink

    I get what you’re saying about the effect on our overall record, but it would be so UK Football to have that particular loss come back to haunt us if we’re still in contention for the East later on. I guess what I’m saying is it’s possible to be happy with one game and frustrated with another.

    • az1006
      5:10 pm August 23, 2017 Permalink

      Basically exactly what I was saying, just far more succinctly. I won’t go so far as to say the UofL game made us forget about the USM and Florida debacle last year, but it certainly made it go down a bit smoother. We as Kentucky fans are often left playing the “What Might Have Been” game when it comes to football.

  6. maximumscott
    5:36 pm August 23, 2017 Permalink

    We are more talented than SCAR and have out recruited them for some years now. The only unknown is playing in their Stadium at night. That will be insane. Hopefully, our guys show up. I dont think it will be to big of a problem consider the Media has given the team enough material to want to destroy SCAR.

    Also, if Bentley doesnt perform as expect then SCAR is not really that good. If we can get a decent pass rush on them our 2ndary will make his life hell.

    A few turnovers by SC early in the that we capitalize on could take the wind out of the Stadium.

    The Key to winning SC is to not let the game go into the 4th qtr. we need to be decisively in front by at least 14-17 points going into 4th qtr. if that ceowd gets into it then that could be the difference in close game. Lets hope that this game is a game we dont TO the ball.

  7. AirRaid98
    12:10 am August 24, 2017 Permalink

    How about the game to end a 30 game losing streak?

  8. BigTimeOwen
    12:28 am August 24, 2017 Permalink

    I know it’s on the road, but Mississippi State should be a toss-up as far as talent goes. They’ve done a great job over there and have a better QB but beyond that I like our chances. Cowbells only go so far.

  9. notFromhere
    12:59 am August 24, 2017 Permalink

    It’s the SEC. There are no “should win” games on their SEC schedule. Just who in the SEC did they blow out for the last two seasons?

    How in the world is USM a “should win” since they beat UK at Commonwealth last year? Comeback win for UK last year, and UL in the top 15 with a returning Heisman winner is a “toss up?” Tennessee is a “toss up after the last 2 seasons?

    If you want to make a prediction, make one and own it. Say you’ll think they will win or lose, rather than try to absolve yourself before the season has begun. No one is actually going to blame you if they lose a game you thought they would win.

    They have a shot at winning ANY of these games. Likely that they would finish as high as 11 wins or as low as 8 in the regular season, if they avoid any more major injuries.

    None of these games is more important than the others and UK football fans need to start thinking in those terms.

    Everyone thought last year that the first and then the next game was the most important. Turns out neither the first nor the ones in between were most important. Turns out that each game during the season was actually 1/ 12th of the season after all, and the first game didn’t define them.

    • KayutsBy90
      3:42 pm August 24, 2017 Permalink

      If you honestly think that all the games have equal importance you’re an idiot. Conference games have much more importance. We could lose all 4 non conference games and still win the east and make a bowl. Not saying it would happen but you saying all games are of equal importance is just foolish.

    • notFromhere
      2:49 am August 26, 2017 Permalink

      Thanks for proving my point for me. Lol. Who’s the idiot?

      If you think a team could lose all of UK’s 4 non-conf games and still be good enough to win the SEC East, you’re functionally illiterate at best.

      They all count towards a bowl game. If you didn’t understand that that was the point, (and you didn’t based on your comment), you won’t understand anything. Have someone read it to you next time. Maybe you’ll understand it