Mark Stoops first 3 years of scheduling has gone much like the previous 15 years of scheduling. UK held the mentality that the SEC was so strong that they were willing to play Louisville and that’s about it in the non-conference. Understandable and likely got them to some bowls under Rich Brooks. But in the end, has it made UK football a better program? I don’t know. What I do know is UK now has a 2-year series with Southern Miss on the books, the first game this year at Commonwealth Stadium. This series is a dangerous one for Kentucky because Southern Miss is good enough to beat UK but the Cats will be expected to win both years (I would assume). I personally like a more aggressive schedule but it does provide a rare occurrence for the Cats.
The game next year in Hattiesburg will be the first non-conference true road game against somebody not named Louisville or Indiana in 21 years. In fact, in the last 30 years, UK has played just 7 true road games in the non-conference against non UL or IU opponents:
1996: Cincinnati 24, Kentucky 3
1992: Cincinnati 17, Kentucky 13
1990: North Carolina 16, Kentucky 13
1990: Rutgers 24, Kentucky 8
1987: Rutgers 19, Kentucky 18
1986: Virginia Tech 17, Kentucky 15
1986: Kentucky 37, Cincinnati 20
Mark Stoops has a couple things on the line over the next 2 years that will likely decide his fate. First up is beating a decent D-1 bowl team at home to begin the 2016 season. Don’t do that and 2016 is going to be bad. Stoops likely has 2017 as well. Whether or not this season goes well, the game at Southern Miss to open 2017 will be HUGE. If the Cats are coming off a bowl season, a loss in Hattiesburg will basically knock them right back. If 2016 goes poorly, then that game could literally determine Stoops’ fate. And judging by UK’s results in the past 30 years, Stoops will have to do something different to get a win there.
Either way, I will like seeing UK playing in a new place and challenging the program a little more in the non-conference. If we can’t win the Southern Miss game in either of the 2 years, then really we don’t deserve to act like a serious football program.