Behind a backbreaking pick-six, myriad mental errors, excellence by yet another reserve quarterback, and a frustrating string of missed field goals, Kentucky left Starkville with more scrapes and bruises than fan encouragement.
But there’s no time to sulk, especially with what’s still a very favorable schedule left that starts vs. a 1-3 South Carolina team whose only win is over an 0-4 Charleston Southern team out of the FCS.
Losses suck. But the season is long, Tennessee is a train wreck, Arkansas only lost by seven to San Jose State, Vandy’s defense is demonically atrocious (allowed 66 points to LSU), and UT-Martin is on the schedule!
I’m going to go through the rest of the schedule here in a minute, ranking each remaining game based on how winnable it is for the ‘Cats. Not to spoil what will be a terrific article but I’m VERY OPTIMISTIC about Kentucky football going forward. My overall case in a few words:
This has been the season from hell so far. After winning double-digit games for the first time in four decades and losing five starters in the secondary, the greatest running back in the history of the program, and THE National Defensive Player of the Year, Kentucky wasn’t going to improve—barring a Lynn Bowden leap on par with ‘87 Jordan. Building an elite football program takes time—with rising peaks and fewer valleys.
It’s a game of chess, not Connect 4. Kentucky’s roster is young, absurdly young. And they’re hurt. Their most important defensive player, safety Davonte Robinson, went down before the year began (the Florida outcome is different with Robinson on the field), and their 13-3 starting QB is done for 2019.
Non-injury-wise, targeting calls have accounted for eleven missed quarters by three of our top defensive starters (Chris Oats, Yusuf Corker, T.J. Carter). It’s bad luck. Let’s get it out of the way while the roster is still young and developing and their best years are in front of us. This roster can hang with the 8th-ranked team in the country, and there’s reason to believe they can beat any team left on the schedule sans Georgia.
Now, here is a ranking of every game left on the schedule from easiest to hardest:
1. UT-Martin Skyhawks
Are we sure UT-Martin isn’t the best team Kentucky will play from Tennessee this year?
Joking aside, UT-Martin is the surest win. I kinda wish we played a return game in Martin, TN, home to 11,000 people and the Tennessee Soybean Festival—an event which hosts a beauty pageant where you can win the title of “Miss Tennessee Soybean Festival” and even advance to the Miss Tennessee finals. Celebrating legumes and beautiful women. Martin, Tennessee does it right.
Here’s Arkansas’ first four weeks, where they’ve tied Kentucky’s record of 2-2:
Week 1: Just barely outlasted Portland State, prevailing by a touchdown in a firework 20-13 affair.
Week 2: Fell on the road against Ole Miss, 31-17. Arguably their best performance of the year
Week 3: Some called it “The Shootout of the Century.” Colorado State 35, Arkansas 55.
Week 4: Razorback QB Nick Starkel orchestrated an incredible tanking job vs. San Jose State: 28/50 for 356 yards, 3 touchdowns and 5 (!!!) interceptions. No shame in a 31-24 loss to one of lower California’s, eh, best 20 teams?
An SEC East bottom-feeder with losses to Georgia State and BYU coming off a 31-point beatdown at the hands of Florida, who is no better than Kentucky. Plus, no soy beans or beautiful women. Sure, Kentucky has historically struggled against Tennessee, but this is arguably the worst Vols team since...the 1906 team that went 1-6-2?
It’s that bad for the Vols this year.
Since Georgia Tech abandoned the triple option over the summer, Scott’s Tots are running a ghost version of it. For starters, their quarterback, Malik Cunningham, doesn’t appear to know how to pass. But, Louisville’s running backs are dynamic and used by committee in a run-heavy offense. Speed kills, and Louisville is capitalizing on their quicker tots (these dudes are little) with a roster that lacks teeth or size on either end. Kentucky has an enormous advantage on both lines (crucial) and simply has the better talent lot. A peaking program and a rebuilding project. Kentucky ‘should’ win comfortably at home.
5. at Vanderbilt Commodores
Gets the lose-ability nod over Louisville because it’s on the road—although Vandy’s “home field advantage” is a five-thousand person nihilist cult and gold and black garnish in a sea of whatever the visiting team’s colors are. BBN owns Nashville. It’s our fan outpost in confederate territory. SEC tournaments and UK/Vandy football games—Nashville generally treats Kentucky fans quite well. I expect no different this time around.
6. at South Carolina Gamecocks
Right before the first fight Rocky III, during the pre-fight instructions and glove bump ritual, Clubber Lang looked the champ in the face and hissed “deeeeadddd meat” while Rocky avoided eye contact and the challenger wore the Patrick Swayze “I’m gonna beat your ass” face from Road House.
Rocky lost his edge, the hunger. The champ was a tired curmudgeon who didn’t even wanna be there, so he got pummeled. South Carolina is Rocky. Sitting at 1-3 and coming off a crushing 20-point thumping to Mizzou, and with Clemson, Texas A&M, Florida and Georgia left on the schedule, bowl qualification is out of the question, and they may be ready to be knocked out for the year. Last week was demoralizing, and I doubt the Gamecocks fans will show out in 60,000-person support. Will Muschamp is out of his element, Donnie.
Missouri followed up a season-opening loss to Wyoming with a 38-7 win over West Virginia, a 50-nothing shellacking of Southeast Missouri, and the aforementioned South Carolina beatdown. This could be a 2016 Kentucky situation where they lost to a non-Power 5 Conference opponent in strange circumstances Week 1 (it was a road game WAYYY up in the mountains) and proceed to flip the script and save the season through a series of statement victories the rest of the way. Missouri always loses a few they shouldn't earlier in the season, but they usually find their stride offensively in the second half of the year. With Kelly Bryant, innovative offensive coaches and several playmakers, Mizzou is dangerous. Kentucky gets them at home, which helps, but I’m a little scared.
8. at Georgia Bulldogs
Yeah...not happening, but hopefully the Cats can be more competitive than their last three matchups in Athens, which saw Georgia outscore Kentucky by a 108-33 margin.