In the annals of Kentucky football history, UK’s 35-27 loss at Mississippi State on Sept. 6, 1997, is significant for three reasons.
1.) After an opening victory over Louisville, it was Hal Mumme’s first defeat as head coach.
2.) As the closest loss suffered by a team that finished 5-6, it was the game most responsible for keeping Kentucky from a bowl game in star quarterback Tim Couch’s sophomore season.
3.) The Wildcats have not lost the second game of a season since.
When Kentucky (0-1) visits Florida (1-0) on Saturday, everyone knows the Wildcats will be seeking to end an embarrassing 29-game losing streak against the Gators. It was during the Reagan era (1986) when the Cats last bested the Gators on a football field.
However, from the start of the 1998 season, Kentucky is 18-0 in second games — and 70-130 in all other contests.
Mumme bounced back from the defeat at Mississippi State to go 3-0 during Week 2 contests. Through the coaching regimes of Guy Morriss (2-0), Rich Brooks (7-0), Joker Phillips (3-0) and Mark Stoops (3-0), UK has yet to taste defeat in a game two.
The fact that Kentucky has produced Alabama-level results during second games is mostly — mostly — due to feather pillow-soft scheduling.
Of UK’s 18 straight game-two victories, seven have come against teams from the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA). Six have come against Mid-American Conference foes. One came against Western Kentucky as it was transitioning from the FCS to the FBS, and another was over an outclassed University of Texas-El Paso.
Then again, since 1998, Kentucky has lost games to teams from the MAC (Ohio, in 2004’s fourth game), the Sun Belt (WKU in 2012’s third game and 2013’s opener) and Conference USA (Southern Mississippi this year’s first game).
So UK victories over teams from perceived lower levels cannot be taken for granted.
Still, that the Wildcats’ game-two winning streak received so little notice for so long is likely due to the fact that the teams Kentucky has been vanquishing have (mostly) been from the lower tiers of NCAA Division I football.
Until I saw ESPN’s Brett McMurphy tweet about UK’s game-two success before the Wildcats’ second contest last season, I was not conscious of the winning streak (because I pride myself on being on top of all state of Kentucky sports minutiae, I consider that a personal failing).
When the Cats enter the newly named Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday, there will not be a Norfolk State or an Idaho State on the opposite sideline, of course.
Still, there is at least some evidence that what UK has going in the second week of seasons does carry a certain magic.
In 2004, a probation-ravaged Kentucky program fielded an epically bad offense. The ’04 Cats scored only 173 points all season (15.7 a game) and averaged only 275.5 yards a contest.
Yet, in that year’s second game, UK hung 51 points and 560 yards on Indiana in a 51-32 win.
In 2009’s second game, Kentucky found itself trailing Louisville in the fourth quarter not once, but twice. Led by the determined play of Randall Cobb, the Wildcats fought back to win 31-27.
A season ago, Kentucky took a 22-game road losing streak to South Carolina.
Boosted by a rare defensive two-point conversion, the Cats hung an unexpected 26-22 defeat on the Gamecocks — and a discouraged Head Ball Coach quit on his team four games later.
If the mojo from the Wildcats’ win streak was powerful enough to overcome a 22-game road losing skid, could it prove stronger than the 29 straight losses against UF?
The Kentucky battle cry Saturday: End the bad streak by extending the good streak.
Kentucky’s ‘good streak’
UK’s 18-game winning streak in the second contest on its schedule:
Year: Opponent, Score
1998: Eastern Kentucky, 52-7
1999: Connecticut, 45-14
2000: South Florida, 27-9
2001: Ball State, 28-20
2002: UTEP, 77-17
2003: Murray State, 37-6
2004: Indiana, 51-32
2005: Idaho State, 41-29
2006: Texas State, 41-7
2007: Kent State, 56-20
2008: Norfolk State, 38-3
2009: Louisville, 31-27
2010: Western Kentucky, 63-28
2011: Central Michigan, 27-13
2012: Kent State, 47-14
2013: Miami (Ohio), 41-7
2014: Ohio, 20-3
2015: at South Carolina, 26-22