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2023 Kentucky Football Foes: Florida Gators

When rubber meets the road.

Florida Gators Mascot Drew Brown - A Sea Of Blue

Greetings, BBN!

For most Kentucky Wildcats football fans, the season begins in September’s picturesque autumn afternoons with a Group of Five home game or two to start the season in the win column, then with luck, a not-impossible SEC game or two to get the team to the end of September 3-0 or 4-0, or at worst 3-1.

But very seldom can UK escape the first month without passing a very crucial test: the Florida Gators game.

Florida at Kentucky

  • Time/Date: TBD time on September 30th
  • Location: Kroger Field
  • TV Channel: TBD
  • Early Odds: ESPN FPI gives the Cats a 51.3% chance of winning, so essentially a toss-up.

In every September of the Stoops Era I can remember except 2020, the Cats played the Gators in the first month, and the outcome of that game went on to influence the rest of the season, for better or for worse.

In 2018 and 2021, the Cats had historic 10-win seasons, but how could they have hit those marks without the crucial September victories over Florida? And think of what could’ve been in 2017 and 2019’s 7-5 seasons had they eked out the painstakingly close home losses to the Gators early in the year that both times could’ve extended how long they stayed unbeaten.

This year, the Cats should start out 4-0 with such a soft start to their schedule, but until they’ve had a chance to prove themselves, I don’t think the pollsters and the media will give them much thought. Plus, the next week, they play at Georgia. If they lose this home game to the Gators and then get manhandled in Athens to drop to 4-2, who’ll remember their unbeaten start then?

Not to mention any preseason SEC East title hopes go bye-bye...

Florida has drastically underperformed the past two seasons, limping to 6-7 finishes both years but coming inches away both times from potentially great seasons. In 2021, they came a two-point conversion away from taking Alabama to overtime in The Swamp, only to drop that game, fall at Kentucky the next week in an absolutely epic game, beat Vanderbilt, and then lose five of seven in a completely unexpected collapse that saw Dan Mullen get fired one year after almost winning an SEC championship.

Last year, they got national attention after starting the year with a win over top-10 Utah, but then lost at home to Kentucky and then never really did much after that outside of painfully-narrow losses at Tennessee and at Florida State, who both finished in the top 15 of the final AP Top 25 Poll.

So I guess when UK beats the Gators, it takes a lot of wind out of their sails. This year, they’ll enter the UK game having already played Utah and Tennessee, so maybe this time we’ll actually know how big or little of a deal the Gators are before they play UK this time.

Prediction: Honestly, this really, really seems like the kind of scenario where UK, having played only easy games up to this point, catches a Florida team really ready and determined to get the better of the Cats and win one of those all-too-familiar fourth-quarter one-point heartbreakers. But I’m an optimist, and Florida’s back-to-back 6-7 seasons aren’t inspiring a whole lot of Gator hype. Cats make it three in a row with another crazy one like in 2021.

Kentucky 25, Florida 21