If you want to have a successful season, it’s very important to win the first game. If you start your year off with a win you immediately establish positive momentum and make bowl eligibility only five more wins away.
Lose and you are immediately in a hole, even if you lost on the road against a top-10 team. UK has gone 6-3 in openers under Stoops with only one real embarrassment in 2016, and for the most part has done a good job of scheduling teams that are not total cream puffs but aren’t going to trip them up either.
Of course, the outlier is the 2020 Auburn road game, but fortunately, they haven’t been thrown any other scheduling curveballs like that and shouldn’t have to open against an SEC foe for the foreseeable future. Let’s see what happened in each of their past nine seasons with Stoops in Week 1:
2013: Western Kentucky (Nashville, TN): Lost 26-35
Not a great opening game for the beginning of Stoops’s tenure, playing on a neutral field against a bad team against a Hilltoppers squad that would finish 8-4. Since then the ‘Cats have only opened their season away from Kroger Field twice.
2014: Tennessee-Martin (Home): Won 59-14
The most points in a UK opener with Stoops and most in any opener since a 68-34 win at Louisville in 1998 (that must’ve been fun!). They’ve only eclipsed that 59-point mark in any game since one time—a 62-42 win over New Mexico State two years later.
2015: Louisiana-Lafayette (Home): Won 40-33
A bit of a close one but a win to start a season where they began 5-0 and then lost the final seven games in an epic flop.
2016: Southern Mississippi (Home): Lost 35-44
Definitely the most disappointing opener. Fortunately this loss did not derail the season as they still clinched bowl eligibility before their finale at #11 Louisville and were able to play that one without worrying about whether they’d go bowling or not.
2017: Southern Mississippi (Road): Won 24-17
A nice bounce-back from the loss in 2016 and their only road opener win. Kind of odd they scheduled this roadie with Southern Miss but at least they got a win out of it.
2018: Central Michigan (Home): Won 35-20
Started off a bit shaky but took care of business to set up the 10-win season.
2019: Toledo (Home): Won 38-24
Another one with a bit of a shaky start but a good second half to keep the win from being in doubt.
2020: Auburn (Road): Lost 13-29
Not quite who the ‘Cats thought they’d be opening the season against at the end of 2019 but nothing was what people thought it’d be in 2020. While they played pretty well in the first half, it was ultimately too sloppy.
2021: UL-Monroe (Home): Won 45-7
I’d say this and the big UT-Martin win were their best showings on opening day. This game was never in doubt, and they did whatever they wanted on offense and defense for a big win in a special season.
2014 and 2021 are probably their best Week 1 showings with the Southern Miss road win also getting a mention, though just winning has been the most important thing—in 2018 they won ten games even though the Central Michigan win was a struggle. Getting handed Auburn first in the all-SEC covid slate was tough luck and the Nashville game against Western Kentucky wasn’t the easiest draw but losing at home to Southern Miss in 2016 was embarrassing. Here’s hoping they have a dominant performance like last year against Miami-Ohio next week—perhaps they echo 2014 and put up 60 points?