Mark Story

Kentucky’s football schedule seems favorable. But can UK overcome some hidden traps?

Mark Stoops uncomfortable basking in success

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops was asked Monday, March 4, 2019, if he had time to sit back and enjoy the success of last season. The Wildcats went 10-3 in 2018 with a win over Penn State in the Citrus Bowl.
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Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops was asked Monday, March 4, 2019, if he had time to sit back and enjoy the success of last season. The Wildcats went 10-3 in 2018 with a win over Penn State in the Citrus Bowl.

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.

The worst team in the SEC East a season ago, Tennessee, will travel north to Lexington this year. So will another SEC foe, Missouri, that Kentucky has beaten four seasons straight.

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”:

Toledo

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.

Advantage: Kentucky

koback
Former Kentucky running back Bryant Koback ran for 917 yards and 14 touchdowns last season for Toledo. Pablo Alcala palcala@herald-leader.com

Eastern Michigan

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.

Advantage: Kentucky

Eastern Michigan
When Eddie Daugherty, left, and Eastern Michigan played Kentucky at Kroger Field in 2017, they gave the Wildcats a tussle before falling 24-20.. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Florida

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.

Advantage: Florida

Kentucky defeated Florida 27-16 Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to end a 31-game losing streak to the Gators.

Mississippi State

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

moorheadkstateap.jpg
Mississippi State Coach Joe Moorhead will seek to lead the Bulldogs to their fifth straight win over Kentucky in Starkville. The Wildcats have not won at Davis Wade Stadium since 2008, when true freshman quarterback Randall Cobb directed UK to a 14-13 victory. Charlie Riedel Associated Press

South Carolina

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

Muschamp and Stoops.JPG
Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops, right, spoke with South Carolina head man Will Muschamp before a Wildcats-Gamecocks game. Stoops is 5-1 as UK head coach vs. South Carolina. Dwayne McLemore dmclemore@thestate.com

Arkansas

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.

Advantage: Kentucky

Michael Smith
Kentucky wide receivers coach Michael Smith held the same position for five years at Arkansas. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

Georgia

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.

Advantage: Georgia

Kirby Smart.JPG
Georgia Coach Kirby Smart led the Bulldogs to a 34-17 win over Kentucky last season at Kroger Field in a game that decided the champion of the SEC East Division. Cory A. Cole Macon Telegraph

Missouri

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.

Advantage: Missouri

stoops.jpg
Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops celebrated after the Wildcats beat Missouri 15-14 last season, UK's fourth straight victory over Mizzou. UK Athletics

Tennessee

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.

Advantage: Kentucky

Stephen Johnson game-winner vs UT
Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson dove into the end zone to score the game-winning touchdown in UK’s 29-26 win over Tennessee in 2017. Ken Weaver

Vanderbilt

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.

Advantage: Kentucky

Quinton Bohanna
Kentucky sophomore nose guard Quinton Bohanna, shown working during spring practice, made the pivotal defensive play in Kentucky’s 14-7 win over Vanderbilt last season. On a fourth-and-1 play at the UK 16 with the score tied at 7, Bohanna forced a fumble by Vandy running back Jamauri Wakefield, then recovered it at the Cats’ 20-yard line. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

Tennessee-Martin

When and where: Nov. 23 at Kroger Field

The setup: “Setup” shouldn’t matter for a game between SEC and FCS teams.

Advantage: Kentucky

UK quarterback Terry Wilson talks about the opening days of spring practice with the Wildcats football teams. Wilson is returning to Kentucky for his second season as the starter.

Louisville

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.

Advantage: Kentucky

The Governor's Cup
Kentucky football players celebrated around the Governor’s Cup trophy after the Wildcats blasted Louisville 56-10 last season. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a H-L sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.

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