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Game day: Kentucky vs. Tennessee
Click below for more of Kentucky.com’s coverage of Saturday’s Kentucky-Tennessee football game at Kroger Field in Lexington.
Kentucky with its 17-13 loss to Tennessee fell to to 4-5 overall and 2-5 in Southeastern Conference play.
Here’s a look at what else Saturday’s loss means, beyond the scoreboard.
The Wildcats’ bid to finish .500 in the SEC for the fourth straight season ended on Saturday. A period of time from 1953 to 1956 will remain the only time that feat has occurred in UK’s history.
A .500 finish would have put Kentucky in the running for a third-place finish in the SEC East Division. Multiple tiebreaker scenarios could have occurred, and all would have ultimately favored the Cats. Alas, they’ll likely have to settle for no better than a fifth-place position.
Since the league began using divisional standings in 1992, Kentucky has finished third or better only four times: 1993, 2006 and each of the last two seasons. UK has finished last in the East Division just once under Mark Stoops, during his first season in 2013. Before this year it improved its final position in the standings each season.
It’s possible that as many as five SEC teams could be off the bowl board before the “Pool of Six” bowls with SEC affiliations even get a whiff. That would be the case if two SEC teams make the College Football Playoff and if the Orange Bowl takes an SEC squad (that slot could also go to a Big Ten team or Notre Dame). The Sugar Bowl and Citrus Bowl are guaranteed to take SEC squads.
If it were to play out that way, Kentucky could be the biggest beneficiary. The Wildcats, even with Saturday’s loss, could by December still have a case as the league’s sixth-best team and could be a contender to play in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1. How’s back-to-back New Year’s Day bowl games sound?
The lowest bowls with which the SEC is affiliated — the Birmingham Bowl and Independence Bowls — are effectively out of the question because the league could have a tough time filling its other obligations before even getting to them.
Christian Academy of Louisville lineman John Young, who committed to Kentucky in April, told the Herald-Leader after his team’s playoff win Friday night that all of the Cats’ 2020 commits were expected to be in attendance for Kentucky’s final night game of the season against Tennessee on Saturday. They might have enjoyed their visit, but they certainly didn’t like the outcome.
Saturday’s outcome probably won’t have a long-term impact on recruiting, but it wasn’t an encouraging sign that, after laying an egg a year ago, UK didn’t demonstrate growth from that sour moment against an opponent that’s equal to or lesser than it. Kentucky has made some great strides as a program this decade but has not fully taken advantage of a Tennessee slide over the same period; the Wildcats fell to 2-8 against the Volunteers in their last 10 meetings.
The more fickle fans among the Big Blue Nation might not pay much mind to the Cats until their regular-season finale against Louisville, now. Kentucky’s season wasn’t ruined by any stretch on Saturday — bowl eligibility did not hinge on a victory — but a win over the Volunteers was probably essential to keeping general fans heavily invested with two probable wins (at Vanderbilt and home against UT-Martin) on the horizon.