Mark Stoops uncomfortable basking in success
On the surface, the 2019 Kentucky Wildcats football schedule looks wildly favorable.
The Cats will play eight home games. Three of those Kroger Field contests — Arkansas, Louisville and Tennessee-Martin — will be against teams that each won only two games in 2018.
UK will face two Mid-American Conference foes — Toledo, Eastern Michigan — at home this season.
Yet, if you dig deeper, there are some hidden traps Coach Mark Stoops and his troops will have to overcome to sustain the momentum from last season’s 10-3 breakthrough.
One of the biggest keys to who wins football games is how contests “set up” on the schedule of each team. In many cases, who teams have faced in the prior week(s) plays a decisive role in determining game outcomes (see Kentucky’s 24-7 loss at Tennessee in 2018).
In 2019, the “setup” Kentucky faces in several games — especially against SEC teams the Wildcats have enjoyed the upper hand over in recent seasons — does not seem especially favorable.
Keeping in mind that teams can overcome unfavorable circumstances to win, let’s examine each game of the 2019 UK football schedule and see which team would seem at an advantage in the game “setup”:
When and where: Aug. 31, noon, at Kroger Field
The setup: Season opener for both teams. Being at home should be obvious edge for UK.
When and where: Sept. 7, 7:30 p.m., at Kroger Field
The setup: EMU will be on the road for a second straight week after opening its season at Coastal Carolina.
When and where: Sept. 14, 7 p.m., at Kroger Field
The setup: The Gators open the season a week early (Aug. 24) vs. Miami, have a week off, then will travel to Lexington off a home game against FCS foe Tennessee-Martin.
When and where: Sept. 21 at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville
The setup: Kentucky will be traveling after playing an SEC game against a likely ranked Florida; MSU will face UK off a home game vs. Kansas State.
Advantage: Mississippi State
When and where: Sept. 28 at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia
The setup: Both UK and South Carolina will be playing a third SEC game in three weeks (the Gameocks face Alabama on Sept. 14) and both will have been on the road the prior week (at Missouri for South Carolina).
UK will be seeking to extend a five-game winning streak over USC, but South Carolina will be at home in front of what figures to be an aroused crowd.
Advantage: South Carolina
When and where: Oct. 12 at Kroger Field
The setup: Both teams will enter off an open date. Not counting Thursday night games and bowls, UK is 3-3 immediately after open dates under Stoops.
When and where: Oct. 19 at Sanford Stadium in Athens
The setup: Georgia will face Kentucky after playing South Carolina the prior week. UK has lost its last nine to the Bulldogs and is 0-6 vs. Georgia under Stoops.
When and where: Oct. 26 at Kroger Field
The setup: Missouri will be on its third SEC game in three weeks, and second straight road game, having played Mississippi (Oct. 12) and at Vanderbilt (Oct. 19).
Under Stoops, Kentucky is 0-6 in games played the week after UK faced Georgia.
When and where: Nov. 9 at Kroger Field
The setup: UK comes into the game off an open date, UT off a home game against UAB. Tennessee is 32-2 vs. Kentucky since 1984, but the series is 2-2 in Lexington since 2011.
When and where: Nov. 16 at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville
The setup: Vandy will be returning home after a road game at Florida. UK has won four of its last five vs. the Commodores and usually has the fan advantage in the stands in Nashville.
When and where: Nov. 23 at Kroger Field
The setup: “Setup” shouldn’t matter for a game between SEC and FCS teams.
When and where: Nov. 30 at Kroger Field
The setup: U of L will come east off an ACC game vs. Syracuse at Cardinal Stadium.
Kentucky has not beaten Louisville in Lexington since 2009, and home teams are 9-16 in the modern (since 1994) Governor’s Cup rivalry.