Out of the 59 games UK has won since Mark Stoops came in 2013, we all have our favorites and one that we’ll remember for many years. But some of UK’s most memorable and most awesome wins weren’t necessarily over super great teams.
For example, this year’s home win over Florida was my favorite UK win of the year and super awesome, but we later discovered that Florida wasn’t all that good, stumbling to 6-7 and almost losing to FCS Samford.
At the time, Florida was playing much better, but all in all, it’s quite obvious now that UK beat a better football team in beating Iowa than when they beat the Gators back in October.
So here they are—the five best teams UK has beaten in the Stoops Era. Whether it was at home, away, or in a bowl doesn’t affect the rankings.
5. Mississippi State: September 22nd, 2018
When they played UK: 3-0, Ranked 14th
Finished: 8-5, just outside Top 25
The 2018 Bulldogs came into Kroger Field as the 14th ranked team in the nation but was outplayed by a stout Wildcat defense and run game that saw Benny Snell score every touchdown in the 28-7 win. This wasn’t a get-lucky yippee storm the field upset—it was a “we just proved we are actually way better” win—and let’s storm the field anyway!
The Bulldogs finished 8-5 and while they entered the Outback Bowl ranked #18 did not finish the season ranked after losing to Iowa. Playing in the SEC West will do that to you, but they still beat a top-10 Auburn squad and a #16 Texas A&M team.
4. Iowa: January 1st, 2022
When they played UK: 10-3, Ranked 15th
Finished: 10-4, Ranking TBD
Big Ten West champion Iowa had a spectacular season, but losses to Wisconsin and Purdue (both of which turned out to be quite good teams) shut them out of the top ten. Still, they won a division title and got to play for a conference championship. They were a super great team, but just barely not quite as good as the teams ahead of them. What was great about UK’s win was that they found a way to edge the Hawkeyes without all of the usual Wildcats defensive starters—a mark of a really good team.
3. Penn State: January 1st, 2019
When they played UK: 9-3, Ranked 12th
Finished: 9-4, Ranked 17th
It was really hard to decide whether 2018 Penn State or 2021 Iowa was better, but in the end, I felt that the Nittany Lions were a slightly better team four years ago. They came a smudge away from beating Ohio State in the regular season, were led by quarterback Trace McSorley, and I think gave their opponents (including UK) a slightly harder time than Iowa. But it’s hard to say—both games were 3-point wins over Big Ten powerhouses giving the ‘Cats all they could handle.
2. Louisville: November 26th, 2016
When they played UK: 9-2, Ranked 11th
Finished 9-4, Ranked 21st
On November 17th, 2016, the 9-1 Louisville Cardinals were the #3 team in the country going into a road game against unranked Houston. On their way to 9-1 they had knocked off #2 Florida State (back when the ‘Noles were great—they finished 10-3) and run rampant through the entire ACC. Only a close loss at Clemson kept them from the ACC title game. Houston changed all of that with a surprising 26-point blowout victory promptly followed up with UK’s amazing 41-38 triumph in Cardinal Stadium. They also lost their bowl game against #19 LSU, but the sheer amount of talent and skill on this team led them to be a monster football team before the three-game losing streak. Lamar Jackson almost took Louisville—Louisville!—to the College Football Playoff! Thankfully that didn’t happen and UK earned a win for the ages in their season finale. There’s only one other opponent UK has beaten in the last decade that also tried to make a CFP run and showed a similar level of dominance:
1. Florida: September 8th, 2018
When they played UK: 1-0, Ranked 25th
Finished 10-3, Ranked 7th
On that amazing night in Gainesville when Terry Wilson, Benny Snell, Lynn Bowden, Josh Allen, and the rest of the historic 2018 team ended The Streak, the nation didn’t yet realize how great this Florida roster was. Bouncing back from the Kentucky loss the Gators would go on to beat #5 LSU and #8 Michigan on their way to a 10-3 season quite similar to Kentucky’s except for the top-10 wins. I still think they shouldn’t have been ranked ahead of them and given a New Year’s Six bowl I think though since UK beat them at home though. Regardless, Dan Mullen’s first-year Gators are the best football team I think Kentucky has beaten under Mark Stoops. All four of these top four teams were so similar and so good, though, that it’s hard to really separate them. The best part though is that when UK starts playing like a top-15 team they start beating top-15 teams—keep that up and you’ll be challenging Bama for the SEC.