UK Football

Halfway through 2019, UK has met preseason expectations. Can it start exceeding them?

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Game day: Kentucky vs. Arkansas

Click below for more of Kentucky.com’s coverage of Saturday’s Kentucky-Arkansas football game at Kroger Field in Lexington.

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Kentucky with its 24-20 victory Saturday over Arkansas ended a three-game losing streak and earned its first win against a Southeastern Conference program in 2019.

Let’s take a look at what else UK’s win means, beyond the scoreboard.

Expectations met

There’s something to be said for meeting expectations, especially after losing a starting quarterback that won 80 percent of his games. One can certainly make the case that Kentucky has achieved exactly that.

The oh-so-close nature of the loss at Florida made the subsequent defeat at Mississippi State sting so much more. The egg laid at South Carolina two weekends ago did nothing to help. But, six games into the season, Kentucky’s record sits precisely where many outside the program believed it would be before the year began.

UK in the preseason was picked by media members to finish only in front of Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division, but voters had more confidence in the Cats than Arkansas in terms of points earned in voting. ESPN’s Football Power Index favored UK in only five games before the year started; it’s played in and won three of them, and is now a projected favorite over two more teams (Tennessee, Vanderbilt) than it was in the preseason. What many projected as a five- or six-win team with Terry Wilson still has a solid shot at seven victories in the regular season without his services.

There are plenty of “what ifs” to go-around that can be frustrating on which to dwell — “What if they’d beaten Florida? What if Sawyer Smith’s arm was 100 percent? What if UK had scored at all prior to the final two minutes at South Carolina?” — but as far as where it was “supposed” to be, UK has done its job.

Halfway home

Having done its job also means that, at the halfway point, Kentucky is also halfway to bowl eligibility. A win wasn’t essential Saturday, but it extends the little wiggle room the Cats have left on their schedule.

Georgia’s loss to South Carolina earlier in the day likely will make Kentucky even more of a long shot next weekend than it was already going to be. UK could also be a home dog when Missouri visits on Oct. 26. Another open week greets the Cats before a four-game slate that includes a date with perennial thorn-in-the-side Tennessee. Even if they can’t conquer the Volunteers, they’ll be favored in games against Vanderbilt, Tennessee-Martin and Louisville.

The Wildcats have qualified for a bowl in each of the last three seasons, their second-longest stretch of postseason attainment. UK needs to reach a bowl this season and in 2020 to match its longest streak (2006-2010).

Kentucky was projected to qualify for a bowl by CBS Sports, ESPN and Sports Illustrated prior to Saturday’s victory, but all three outlets have the Wildcats headed to different locations. CBS picked UK to the Liberty Bowl (against TCU) on Dec. 31 in Memphis. ESPN had the Cats playing either Miami (Fla.) or North Carolina in the Belk Bowl, also on Dec. 31 in Charlotte. Sports Illustrated thought it would be Kentucky versus Virginia Tech on Dec. 26 in the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La.

SEC marks

Arkansas is one of three SEC programs against which UK has a winning record, all-time, on the football field.

It was the first time under Stoops that the Cats played the Razorbacks, whom they last battled in 2012 (a 49-7 defeat in Fayetteville). They improved to 5-3 against Arkansas, which became a full member of the SEC in 1992. All of the meetings between the two schools have come since it joined the conference.

Kentucky boasts winning records against Missouri (6-3), and Vanderbilt (45-42-4). Under Stoops the Cats are 4-2 against both of those programs, each of whom they’ll play later this year.

Mizzou joined the SEC in 2012. The Tigers played UK twice before joining the league, losing both times, in 1965 and 1968. They’ve played annually since becoming a member of the SEC East; Mizzou won the first three league meetings but Kentucky has taken four straight.

Under Stoops the Cats also have a winning record against South Carolina (5-2). The Gamecocks are 18-12 overall.

Josh Moore is in his first year covering the University of Kentucky football team and in his fifth year reporting for the Lexington Herald-Leader, where he’s been employed since 2009. Moore, a Martin County native, graduated from UK with a B.A. in Integrated Strategic Communication and English in 2013. He’s a huge fan of the NBA, Power Rangers and country music.
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