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Ranking UK’s Schedule Game By Game From Least Important To Most

Mark Stoops and company have a tough schedule ahead with big games versus defending national champion Georgia, Tennessee, and the Alabama Crimson Tide. After taking a look at the schedule as a whole, here is how I ranked each game by importance. Pay attention.

12. Ball State

Ball State is coming into the season projected towards the bottom of the MAC. They added Kent State running back Marquez Cooper who rushed for 2500 yards and 25 touchdowns in his time with the Golden Flashes. Ball State's defensive front 7 will be good but overall, this team is lacking depth and a good enough offense. Kentucky should handle this one by multiple touchdowns and is not very significant in the grand scheme


11. Eastern Kentucky

EKU has given Kentucky fits before and is poised to make some noise in their conference this year for the FCS ranks. This high-flying offense averaged 36 points per game last season and is ranked 21st in the FCS preseason rankings for the 2023 season. The downfall for this team is their defense. The defense gave up 35 points per game which caused them to hit the portal hard for a defensive overhaul to bring in this offseason. While the Colonels added a few good players, it's still not enough. I expect EKU to be good, but UK should cruise in this one too. It'll be good to see some familiar faces on the EKU sideline (CJ Conrad, Maxwell Smith) when they visit Lexington.

10. Akron

Akron was bad last year. Plain and simple. After hiring Joe Morehead, Akron had some palpable buzz about the future of the football program. While the future looks better, the present presents a whole lot of challenges for the two-year head coach. Lack of talent all over the field and losing all-conference linebacker Bubba Arslanian to the professional route will be hard for Akron to overcome. The only reason I ranked this one higher than Ball State and EKU was because it's an Ohio college. It's always good to perform well where you recruit.

9. At Mississippi State

Kentucky has struggled in Starkville to say the least. The away team has to stay an hour away, travel to the stadium and usually has to kick off extremely early, and I haven't even mentioned those damn cowbells yet. Mark Stoops has yet to win an SEC West road game in his tenure at UK but this is may be his chance. Mississippi State is shifting from the heavy air raid after the passing of former head coach Mike Leach. New head coach Zach Arnett is a defensive guru and will lean on first year offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay. They return Will Rogers but have lost a lot of receiving threats to the portal. MSU will have a stingy defense as always. This game is only important because UK needs to get that first SEC West road win. Kentucky has conquered all the other obstacles, just need to get this one.

8. At Vanderbilt

If any of you have listened to our podcast Caturday Checkdown, you will know that Jordan Mathus and I are big fans of Clark Lea. I think it's because I see a lot of Stoops in him. He's very focused on his mission to get them to a bowl game and the university is investing into its program by renovating the stadium and facilities. It's hard to not see the similarities. Kentucky will head to Nashville in late September likely 3-0 and looking to start conference play 1-0. Vanderbilt caught UK at a very bad time last year and had a program-defining win vs. UK and Florida. The commadores lose quarterback Mike Wright to Mississippi State but start former 4-star QB AJ Swann who looked really solid last season. Kentucky is starting to see Vanderbilt more and more in head-to-head recruiting battles recently and a win here would help settle down the recent Vanderbilt buzz. I think UK should be able to win this one by 10-20 on the road.

7. At Georgia

Kentucky has played Georgia about as tough as any program over the past couple of years. Georgia players are always very clear about UK being one of the toughest opponents they play all season long. Kentucky will have its hands full with a new but loaded Bulldog roster. Carson Beck takes the reigns at QB and will have the best tight end in college football in Brock Bowers to utilize a stable of elite running backs and wide receivers. I do not expect UK to win this game, but I think performing well to keep it close goes a long way into solidifying the physical reputation that they have built. I think that's extremely important and something you can take away from a loss in Athens.

6. Missouri

Missouri has gotten quite a bit of off-season hype and it's easy to see why. They return just about everyone on defense including star defensive back Ennis Rakestraw Jr. who will be an all-SEC DB. The key for Mizzou will be the offense. They return Brady Cook at quarterback but have a battle between Cook, Miami transfer Jake Garcia, and former 5-star Sam Horn for the keys to the offense. If the Tigers roll with Cook, I think UK has a very good chance to win this game convincingly at home. The Tigers have Luther Burden who is an elite WR and he will be shifted into the slot this season. Missouri has struggled in Lexington and UK is usually amped up and ready to play this game. Should be a fun, high-energy game in Lexington and I expect UK to hand Drinkwitz another loss and solidify UK over Mizzou in the SEC East for the time being.

5. Florida

Florida will travel to Lexington to try and snap a 2-game win streak that Kentucky has over the Gators. In what will likely be the first sell out of the season, Kentucky is looking to confirm their position over the Gators in the SEC East. In the offseason, the team down south added Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz to lead the offense but lost quite a few key pieces on defense and the offensive line. Overall, Florida has been on the decline for a few years and it's on Kentucky to keep taking advantage like they have been. That last Saturday in September will be a great opportunity to get a big-time win over a storied program at home to keep Florida below the Cats in the East.

4. At Louisville

Jeff Brohm has finally come home. Louisville fans are already chirping about the differences in the program and how Kentucky should be counting their days. I'm not going to lie, it does feel good to have Louisville as a "rival" again after 4-straight blowouts. The Wildcats will travel to L&N Stadium to face the revamped Cardinals to end the regular season. Louisville will be led by California quarterback transfer Jack Plummer and have a plethora of transfer weapons to utilize. The Cardinal defense got a major overhaul form the portal and the secondary looks to be a top unit in the ACC. This game is important because of the time it sets. If Louisville wins, the Brohm train will get rolling and could have some consequences for Kentucky in recruiting. If Kentucky wins, it sets the tone for the rivalry. A "No matter who you hire, you aren't going to beat us anymore" type of tone. Should be a fantastic game to cap off the regular season.

3. Alabama

I think the Wildcats have a major opportunity to pull off an upset in this game. Yes, Nick Saban is the greatest coach of all-time. Yes, Alabama still has a recruiting blue-chip ratio that UK could only dream of. Yes, Alabama will be good, BUT the Cats have a chance. Alabama will be coming off its two biggest games of the year in Tennessee and LSU. Kentucky plays Mississippi State the week prior. When has Alabama ever had this many question marks heading into a season? It's been a very long time. Questions at quarterback and the offensive line, all while breaking in two new coordinators. That's a lot for any program to handle. If Kentucky can stay healthy, they present a very dangerous trap game for the Crimson Tide and the optics of a win would be monumental.

2. At South Carolina

Simply put, it's time to prove culture > climate. The Gamecocks got the last laugh last season as they faced a QB1-less team and walked out of Lexington with a 24-14 bogus win. After the game, Shane Beamer put on his sunglasses and danced in response to Mark Stoops' previous comments about building a culture over a climate. To put it simply, this game is personal for UK. South Carolina hasn't beaten a fully healthy UK team yet since Stoops arrived. South Carolina has also generated a ton of hype on social media for this upcoming season so it's extremely important that they go down there 100% prepared and lay it on them in front of their home crowd. I'm talking running up the score and laying it on them. Perfect opportunity to send a message to the wannabes.

1. Tennessee

Kentucky has to find a way to start beating Tennessee consistently. Kentucky has won only twice vs. Tennessee is the Stoops era, but it feels like the Cats had the better team in way more games than just two. Tennessee comes in with quarterback Joe Milton and the air-raid, a high octane offense, and still a very questionable defense. The significance of this game is massive. If Kentucky wins, you are riding some serious momentum into the back half of the season and the recruiting optics go a long way. If you lose, Tennessee solidifies itself as the second-best team in the Border Battle. One major thing to watch is the potential for a trap game. Tennessee faces Alabama the week prior whereas UK gets a bye-week. Can UK get rested enough while keeping the momentum after a bye-week and beat Tennessee? We shall see.


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