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Kentucky Football: Road to a Bowl Game-by-Game Breakdown

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Six wins is very much in reach for these Kentucky Wildcats.

Jason Marcum

Three Dog Night says one is the loneliest number, but NCAA football coaches would likely tell you five.

Why five?

Five wins means your team is headed home after their final regular season game. No bowl. No extra weeks of practice. Seniors are done with their careers and underclassmen clean out their lockers only to suit again next spring.

Last year, a handful of five-win teams did get into a bowl, but that was only because there weren't enough seven-win teams to fill the 80 allotted slots in 40 bowls. The NCAA nipped that problem after they put a moratorium on new bowls for the next three years.

So, what will it take for the UK football team to go bowling for the first time since Joker Phillips roamed the sidelines?

Below is a breakdown of UK's schedule and what it will take for the Wildcats to reach its first bowl since the 2010-11 season.

9/3- Southern Mississippi Golden Eagle (Home)

The Wildcats will kick off their season with a home opener against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. This squad out of Hattiesburg is no slouch. They finished last season 9-5, but 7-1 in Conference USA. That was all with head coach Todd Monken at the helm, but he took a job with the Tampa Bucs.

Now, former Alcorn State Coach Jay Hopson will take over. He doesn't exactly take over a bare cupboard. Returning quarterback Nick Mullens passed for 4,476 yards, 38 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions. With all that being said, this game will be closer than most fans will like, but I think Drew Barker wins his debut as UK's full-time starting quarterback.

1-0

9/10- Florida Gators (Away)

Eleven...eleven stinking points. That's the total amount the Wildcats have lost to the Florida Gators by the last two years combine. You had 2014's marathon triple overtime game and you had last year's 14-9 battle. This year the Wildcats travel to take on the Gators in the Swamp.

The Gators went 10-4 last year, but got absolutely dog walked by Michigan 41-7 in the Citrus Bowl. Jim McElwain will be entering his second year as the Gators' head coach. Quarterback Will Grier is gone to WVU after being suspended for most of last season after being popped for PED use. What does that mean? They have no QB

As it lately is with the Gators, it's not their offense you need to worry about. Despite a pedestrian offense, their defense was ranked 8th in total defense last year. The only kicker is they lost several of their top guys to the NFL.

This is a hard one folks. While I expect to see much of the same from the Gator offense, I can see Drew Barker struggling against a tough defense on the road at arguably one of the top two toughest places to play in the NCAA in only his second start.

This one is hard to call, but I'm giving the edge to Florida at home.

1-1

9/7- New Mexico State Aggies (Home)

Thank goodness. After two hard fought games, an easier opponent will be coming to Commonwealth when the Aggies come to town. Not the Aggies you're thinking of, these are from New Mexico. They do tout Larry Rose III who ranked seventh nationally last year in rushing yards per game, but I don't think that will be enough. UK should win this one easily.

2-1

9/24- South Carolina Gamecocks (Home)

Let's all take a second and truly reminisce on the life and times of the Ole Ball Coach. The interviews, the shirtless practice photos and of course the yoga ball workout video...it'll all be missed. Now it's Will Muschamp's turn to see what he can do at South Carolina. USC lost Pharoh Cooper to the NFL and is still looking for a quarterback.

The defense needs some serious help as well. Muschamp may eventually turn around the Gamecocks, but it's going to take awhile. Wildcats should win this one at home.

3-1

10/1-Alabama Crimson Tide (Away)

When I was about 10 years old, I really wanted a four-wheeler. Mind you, I was a middle-class black kid living in the rolling suburbs of Owensboro, KY. You know what I was never getting? A four-wheeler. Not only did I not know how to drive one, I wouldn't have known what to do if I had gotten one.

Why am I saying this?

Ten-year-old me may have had a better chance of getting a four-wheeler than UK winning at Alabama. I'm more than manly enough to eat these words if UK somehow shocks the world. Bama is looking to break in a new quarterback and running back, but that defense is still there and so is Nick Saban. Bama wins.

3-2

10/8- Vanderbilt Commodores (Home)

This used to be a game you could automatically mark in the win column, until last year. Yes, I'm sure that one still hurts. This year should be different, though. Head coach Derek Mason did wonders with the defense last year, but their offense was and is likely abysmal at best. UK wins this one at home.

4-2

10/22- Mississippi State Bulldogs (Home)

This year begins the post-Dak Prescott era at MSU. They're going to likely wish he had more years of eligibility. Redshirt sophomore Nick Fitzgerald was Prescott's main backup next year and signs point to him likely getting the starting nod. He will have weapons, which include Fred Ross.

Last year as a junior, the wide receiver pulled in 88 catches for 1,007 yards. Their defense has a few studs, including linebacker Richie Brown. I live not too far from Starkville and made the trip to the debacle that was last year's game. If I could switch, I'd much prefer to go to the one this year. UK should win this one.

5-2

10/29- Missouri Tigers (Away)

Mizzou football was a dumpster fire last year on and off the field. This year there's hope they will have a turnaround. Well-known Oklahoma Sooner Josh Heupel will be taking over offensive playcalling duties which should provide an automatic boost.

One place the Tigers don't need a boost is their defense. It's stout. Last year their defense was ranked in the top six of the SEC when it came to total points, passing yards and rushing yards allowed. They lost their top guy, but most of their returning guys make a return.

To make a long story short, they likely will struggle to score, but will likely stifle any offense they take on. UK gets a couple of big stops from their defense and score enough to win this one.

6-2

11/5- Georgia Bulldogs (Home)

The Cats will start November with the Bulldogs coming to town. The Richt Era is over, and so begins the era of defensive-minded Kirby Smart. While he's a defensive coach, it's his offense that will be beastly.

Nick Chubb flirted with a Heisman run before going down with an injury. He'll be back this year, and so will Greyson Lambert. Their defense lost a couple of key pieces, but that won't be enough to stop them from being a hard defense to score against.

They return pretty much the entire secondary from a team that was the nation's number one team against the pass. UK has homefield advantage, but that's not enough.

This one goes to the dogs.

6-3

11/12- Tennessee Volunteers

They low down, they dirty...you know how the rest goes. The Cats will head to Neyland Stadium for this heated rivalry game.

The problem?

Josh Dobbs will likely be there to welcome them in. The Volunteers are predicted to be one of the best teams in the SEC next year led by Dobbs under center. There's a buzz in Knoxville this year, and it's rightfully so.

There's talent everywhere on this roster. Jalen Hurd joins Dobbs in the backfield. He toted the rock for 1,288 yards last year. Talent is spread around at receiver.

Their defense boasts a strong linebacking corps in front of a great secondary. I don't see how UK can go into Knoxville and win this one.

Sorry, Rocky won't be stopped this year.

6-4

11/19- Austin Peay Governors (Home)

This is it. This is the moment we've been waiting for. No, not Austin Peay coming to town, but that ever distant seventh win. I respect Austin Peay, but I just don't see how they can not only come on the road to Lexington, but also beat UK. Austin Peay is easily overpowered and...boom goes the dynamite. UK wins its seventh game of the season. Six wins gets you bowl eligible, but seven cements it.

7-4

11/26- Louisville Cardinals (Away)

Not so fast my friend. The season isn't over quite yet. UK may be going bowling, but they still have to travel and play the Ville. I apologize, but I have to do it. I have to bring up last year. Up 21-0, it seemed like UK was headed toward beating U of L and then...well...you know what happened. As for this year, quarterback Lamar Jackson is primed for a big season and many outlets have him as a true breakout star this year. This is a rivalry game so just like last year, who knows what will happen. It's incredibly hard to predict rivalry games, especially ones late in the season. I'm predicting U of L wins a hard fought one at Papa Johns Stadium.

7-5

I'm predicting UK does go to a bowl and just like that wonderful Steve Young gif., will get the proverbial monkey off their back. Who is this biggest for in blue?

Obviously, it's Coach Mark Stoops. After encouraging fans to be "All In", he and the Cats deliver a season to be proud of. As we know with the Cats, they can be unpredictable. It's very possible they don't get to seven wins and Stoops' seat is absolutely on fire.

A big part of his season hinges on the arm of Drew Barker. I say they go bowling, and he gets several more years to improve on what he started.