John Clay: Ranking the importance of Kentucky's football games 1-12

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJune 26, 2012 

Coach Joker Phillips and UK need to set the tone for the season with a win against Kent State in the Sept. 8 home opener.

HERALD-LEADER

Being there are few original ideas these days, I'm stealing one. The Macon Telegraph has been ranking Georgia's 12 regular-season football games for 2012 in order of importance.

Let's do the same for Kentucky football, ordering from bottom to top, from least to most important with regard to the possible success of the upcoming campaign.

12. At Florida (Sept. 22): The Cats haven't won in Gainesville since 1979 and they won't this year. The Southeastern Conference opener comes after the Louisville, Kent State, Western Kentucky trio of non-conference foes, so the hope here is that any early momentum is not negated by a drubbing. A defeat is more expected than disastrous.

11. Samford (Nov. 17): This won't be a cakewalk, but it falls so late on the calendar (Game 11) that if the Cats lose it will be because the season is not salvageable anyway.

10. Georgia (Oct. 20): Beating the SEC East co-favorite, even at Commonwealth Stadium, would be a coup, but I can't see it happening. Georgia returns quarterback Aaron Murray and tailback Isaiah Crowell, among other talented Dawgs. The date is sandwiched between road trips to Arkansas and Missouri. Another expected conference loss.

9. South Carolina (Sept. 29): It would be nice if the Cats could avenge last year's Columbia catastrophe, the 54-3 gorging by the Gamecocks. Nice, yes, probable, no. Steve Spurrier remembers his last Lexington visit. That was a loss. This one won't be.

8. At Arkansas (Oct. 13): Off-season developments render this game interesting. Bike-riding Bobby Petrino has been replaced by parachute-jumping John L. Smith. Both are former Louisville coaches. The Razorbacks should be good, but how they react remains unknown. Either way, Kentucky won't be picked to win, so an upset is gravy.

7. Kent State (Sept. 8): This home opener is the Saturday after the season opener at Louisville. Kent State was 5-7 last year and the Mid-American Conference school did beat UK twice in the NCAA Baseball Tournament. If Joker Phillips and company can't win this one, however, the season promises to be long and dark.

6. At Tennessee (Nov. 24): Tough to rank. UK snapped its quarter-century losing streak to the Vols last season, but it has not won in Knoxville since 1984. Back-to-back wins over UT could (a) propel Kentucky to bowl-eligibility, or (b) put salve on a second straight disappointing year. Chances are, however, the season's tone will have long been established before the finale rolls around.

5. At Missouri (Oct. 27): Kentucky's first trip to the (other) Columbia. New opponent, new venue, so you don't know what to expect. Missouri figures to be a strong foe, but perhaps the Cats will enjoy playing west of the Mississippi. A win here, with home games against Vanderbilt and Samford up next, would be huge.

4. Vanderbilt (Nov. 3): Last season's 38-8 loss at Vanderbilt was embarrassing, even if Coach James "I want my assistants to have attractive wives" Franklin has injected the 'Dores with definite momentum. UK needs to make up for the mauling in Music City.

3. Western Kentucky (Sept. 15): WKU believes it can win this game. No, it believes it should win this game. The Hilltoppers were jobbed out of a bowl appearance last season, so beating a vulnerable Kentucky in Lexington the third week would be just the ticket to grab Willie Taggart's club some attention.

2. Mississippi State (Oct. 6): The Mississippi State game is often a make-or-break tilt on the UK calendar and this year should be no different. If seedings hold, Joker Phillips' team could be 3-2 or 2-3 on the eve of the game that marks the season's midpoint. That makes MSU a definite tipping point.

1. Louisville (Sept. 2): I normally argue against the chronic notion that the U of L game is the must-win of every Kentucky football season. Much can happen post-Louisville, good or bad. This year, I join the chorus. A UK loss, especially a lopsided one, and a pessimistic fan base could toss in the towel. A UK win at Papa John's, however, and the outlook on the entire campaign changes — for the better.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv.

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