Mark Story

Predictions for every game of the 2018 Kentucky Wildcats football season

Star running back Benny Snell (26) is one of 17 starters returning for Kentucky from a team that won seven games and played in the Music City Bowl in 2017.
Star running back Benny Snell (26) is one of 17 starters returning for Kentucky from a team that won seven games and played in the Music City Bowl in 2017. aslitz@herald-leader.com

Kentucky has not won nine games overall or eight games in a regular season since Jerry Claiborne’s Hall of Fame Bowl champions went 9-3 in 1984.

Among all Power Five conference schools, only Indiana (1967) has gone longer without a nine-win season.

In 2018, Mark Stoops has 17 starters back from a team that compiled UK’s second straight 7-6 season a year ago.

Is this the season the Cats finally break through the eight-win barrier? Below are my game-by-game predictions:

Central Michigan

Sept. 1 at Kroger Field

The hope: Kentucky has won its last nine games against Mid-American Conference teams by an average margin of 25.2 points. The Cats have never lost to Central Michigan in six prior meetings.

The nope: Central Michigan has beaten a Power Five conference foe in each of the past two seasons, winning 45-27 at Kansas last season and upsetting No. 22 Oklahoma State 30-27 in 2016.

The scope: Kentucky 38, Central Michigan 13.

ukfansflorida
Kentucky fans were in agony after UK blew a 27-14 lead in the fourth quarter and lost to Florida 28-27, the Wildcats’ 31st straight loss to the Gators. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Florida

Sept. 8 at Gainesville, Fla.

The hope: Kentucky does not give up any touchdowns, let alone two, to Florida wide receivers uncovered at the line of scrimmage. That allows the Cats to atone for last season’s crushing 28-27 defeat against the Gators in which UK gave Florida two free TDs.

The nope: When one team has lost 31 in a row to another — as UK now has to UF — there is no reason to ever pick against the streak.

The scope: Florida 24, Kentucky 19.

Murray State

Sept. 15 at Kroger Field

The hope: UK has never lost to an FCS foe.

The nope: In its last three meetings with OVC teams, Kentucky has trailed by double digits in all three. UK had to rally from 14 down to beat Eastern Kentucky 34-27 in overtime in 2015; from 13 down to beat Austin Peay 49-13 in 2016; and from 10 down to beat EKU 27-16 last year.

The scope: Kentucky 45, Murray State 13.

Mississippi State

Sept. 22 at Kroger Field

The hope: Dan Mullen and his 8-1 record against Kentucky as MSU head man have moved to Gainesville. Surely, UK will play far better against new coach Joe Moorhead’s Bulldogs than it did in being whacked 45-7 last year by Mullen and crew.

The nope: Mississippi State has 17 starters, including dual-threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, back from the team that humiliated the Cats last season in Starkville.

The scope: Kentucky 30, Mississippi State 28.

UK-South Carolina FB06
Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops, right, has beaten South Carolina four seasons in a row, the last two of those victories coming against Gamecocks teams coached by Will Muschamp, left. Ken Weaver

South Carolina

Sept. 29 at Kroger Field

The hope: Mark Stoops just flat has South Carolina’s number. Kentucky has beaten the Gamecocks four years in a row.

The nope: Other than Vanderbilt, Kentucky has never beaten an SEC foe in five straight seasons — and Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks will be supremely motivated not to be the next team to lose five in a row to the Cats.

The scope: Kentucky 23, South Carolina 21.

Texas A&M

Oct. 6 at College Station, Texas

The hope: Jimbo Fisher’s first Aggies team will have already faced mega-powers Clemson and Alabama by the time UK travels to College Station and could be “beaten up.”

The nope: Under Mark Stoops, Kentucky is 0-5 in road games against SEC West teams and has lost by an average of 27.2 points. Texas A&M has won six straight against SEC East foes.

The scope: Texas A&M 34, Kentucky 21.

Vanderbilt

Oct. 20 at Kroger Field

The hope: Since James Franklin exited Music City, Kentucky is 3-1 vs. Vandy. The Cats shellacked the Commodores 44-21 in Nashville last season.

The nope: In senior Kyle Shurmur, Vandy has one critical thing UK lacks — a proven SEC quarterback.

The scope: Kentucky 28, Vanderbilt 24.

snellmissouri
Kentucky running back Benny Snell leaped over Missouri defensive back Adam Sparks (14) as he ran the ball for a 71-yard touchdown during UK’s 40-34 victory at Kroger Field last season. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Missouri

Oct. 27 at Columbia, Mo.

The hope: Of all foes that he has faced more than once, UK running back star Benny Snell has been statistically most effective against Missouri, averaging 154.5 rushing yards per game.

The nope: With prolific-passing senior quarterback Drew Lock back for a final season, Missouri will be burning to end its three-game losing streak vs. Kentucky.

The scope: Missouri 38, Kentucky 28.

Georgia

Nov. 3 at Kroger Field

The hope: Georgia finds itself in a “trap game.” The Bulldogs will come to Lexington off their emotional, annual Armageddon with Florida the week before. Georgia will face a similar game with Auburn the week after playing Kentucky.

The nope: Kirby Smart’s Dawgs are so talented, UK can’t spring the trap.

The scope: Georgia 28, Kentucky 20.

Tennessee

Nov. 10 at Knoxville

The hope: By the time Kentucky travels to Knoxville, a Tennessee team with only 12 starters back from last year’s 4-8 slog could be decimated by the brutal five-game stretch that opens its SEC season — Florida, at Georgia, at Auburn, Alabama and at South Carolina.

The nope: At the time Kentucky travels to Knoxville, first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt’s Vols will have “gotten well” off a game with Charlotte, while UK will enter the contest off a meeting with physically rugged Georgia.

The scope: Kentucky 17, Tennessee 12.

TonyFranklin2
It was announced last month that Tony Franklin had left his position as California’s offensive coordinator to take the same job at Middle Tennessee State. CalBears.com

Middle Tennessee State

Nov. 17 at Kroger Field

The hope: Kentucky has enough players left on its roster from its 44-35 upset loss to Southern Mississippi in the 2016 season opener that it will not let another Conference USA team sneak up on it.

The nope: MTSU offensive play-caller Tony Franklin, the Kentucky native and former UK assistant, has eight offensive starters back including star quarterback Brent Stockstill. Franklin, presumably, would like nothing better than to remind Kentuckians what an authentic Air Raid looks like.

The scope: Kentucky 38, Middle Tennessee State 33.

Louisville

Nov. 24 at Cardinal Stadium

The hope: In the modern Governor’s Cup rivalry, Kentucky has played far better against the Cardinals in Louisville (5-5) than Lexington (4-10).

The nope: Bobby Petrino is 8-2 against Kentucky, 7-1 as Louisville head coach, and usually finds a way to come out on top of the Cats.

The scope: Kentucky 33, Louisville 31.

Final Kentucky record: 8-4 (4-4 SEC).

Mark Story: 859-231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory

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