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Kentucky’s 50 Best All-Time Football Wins
Mark Story, sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader and Kentucky.com, is counting down the 50 best wins in University of Kentucky football history. Click below to view previous installments of this five-part series.
Ranking the 50 best Kentucky football wins of all time: Nos. 50-41
Ranking the 50 best Kentucky football wins of all time: Nos. 40-31
Ranking the 50 best Kentucky football wins of all time: Nos. 30-21
Ranking the 50 best Kentucky football wins of all time: Nos. 20-11
Ranking the 50 best Kentucky football wins of all time: Nos. 10-1
Historically, following Kentucky football has not been for the faint of heart.
The pigskin Cats have an all-time losing record (616-621-44). A member of the Southeastern Conference since 1933, UK has endured 15 seasons in which it did not win a league game. Conversely, Kentucky has had only eight years with a winning mark in SEC contests.
Yet, even amid ample suffering, the football Wildcats have produced moments of exhilaration, too. This summer, for both the fun and challenge of it, I set out to rank the 50 best Kentucky Wildcats football wins of all time.
All-time, Kentucky has 44 victories over ranked foes, 13 over top-10 teams — and three over opponents who entered the game ranked No. 1 in the country.
UK has won nine bowl games, two of them major bowls. The Cats have beaten teams that went on to win an SEC Division championship three times and beaten the teams that won the overall SEC league title twice.
Twice, Kentucky has beaten the football team that went on to be recognized as the national champion.
Any list such as this is subjective, of course. My list of the 50 best Kentucky Wildcats football wins is filled with games that featured:
1.) major UK upsets; 2.) victories over teams that went on to have stellar seasons; 3.) victories that ended the decades-plus losing streaks vs. opponents that have been a frustrating part of “the Kentucky football experience;” 4.) bowl wins; 5.) victories in rivalry games; 6.) wins with memorable finishes.
On the countdown of Kentucky’s 50 Best All-Time Football Wins, this is the top 10:
The plot: With the scored tied at 14, a 38-yard Don Netoskie punt return gave UK the ball at the Ole Miss 26. The Wildcats cashed in, with Bob Hardy scoring the game-winning touchdown on a 1-yard quarterback sneak.
Why the game mattered: Kentucky pinned the only loss of the season on a Mississippi team (9-1) that went on to win the SEC championship and beat No. 6 TCU in the Cotton Bowl.
Lexington newspaper headline: UK’s determined Wildcats upset Rebs by 21-14 score
UK coach: Blanton Collier
The plot: Unheralded UK quarterback Stephen Johnson (338 yards and three touchdowns passing; 83 yards rushing) outdueled soon-to-be Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson (281 yards and two touchdowns passing; 171 yards and two touchdowns rushing; three interceptions and a critical lost fumble). Kentucky’s Austin MacGinnis booted a 47-yard field goal with 12 seconds left to win the game.
Why the game mattered: The biggest upset in the history of the Governor’s Cup rivalry gave UK fans bragging rights in the season in which Louisville’s marquee player claimed college football’s most prestigious individual award.
Lexington newspaper headline: Cats outpunch Cards in a slugfest
UK coach: Mark Stoops
The plot: Mike Hartline threw for 349 yards and four touchdowns and rallied Kentucky from 28-10 down at halftime. Randall Cobb caught a 24-yard TD pass from Hartline with 1:15 left for the game-winning score. After South Carolina drove to the UK 20, Wildcats defensive back Cartier Rice tipped a Stephen Garcia pass and Anthony Mosley intercepted it in the end zone with four seconds left.
Why the game mattered: Kentucky’s first win over a Steve Spurrier-coached team after 17 losses. UK claimed victory over the team that went on to win the 2010 SEC East Division title.
Lexington newspaper headline: Operation Wow! Cats overcome 28-10 deficit to knock off No. 10 South Carolina
UK coach: Joker Phillips
The plot: Benny Snell ran for 144 yards and two touchdowns; Lynn Bowden scored one TD on a 58-yard punt return and set up a second with a 54-yard reception; and Josh Allen sacked Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley three times and blocked a field goal as UK rolled to a 27-7 lead, then held on.
Why the game mattered: Clinched Kentucky’s first 10-win season (10-3) in 41 years and first New Year’s Day bowl victory in 67 years. Benny Snell (3,873 career yards) became Kentucky’s all-time leading rusher.
Lexington newspaper headline: New Year’s Day dream: A historic win for UK
UK coach: Mark Stoops
The plot: In his first career road start, UK quarterback Terry Wilson threw for two touchdowns and ran for one and Benny Snell rushed for 175 yards on 27 carries to help the Cats overcome a 10-7 halftime deficit.
Why the game mattered: Kentucky broke an embarrassing 31-game losing streak against Florida by recording its first win in Gainesville since 1979.
Lexington newspaper headline: The streak is over: Wildcats top Gators, end decades of frustration
UK coach: Mark Stoops
The game: No. 15 Kentucky 20, No. 11 TCU 7, 1951 season Cotton Bowl
The plot: Capping a legendary UK career, Babe Parilli threw two touchdown passes to Emery Clark; running back Ed Hamilton ran in a clinching TD late in the fourth quarter; and a Ray Correll-led Wildcats’defense turned away TCU drives at the Kentucky 4, 25, 5 and 2-yard lines.
Why the game mattered: Gave UK victories in major bowl games in back-to-back seasons (see below) for the only time in school history.
Lexington newspaper headline: Kentucky conquers Texas Christian, 20-7, before 75,349 in Cotton Bowl
UK coach: Bear Bryant
The plot: Rick Norton threw for two touchdowns and ran for one and Rick Kestner caught nine passes for 175 yards and three TDs as UK, a three-touchdown underdog, pulled off a stunner in Jackson.
Why the game mattered: The second upset of a team ranked No. 1 in the country in Kentucky football history. Though the two-time defending SEC champion, Ole Miss never recovered and limped home 5-5-1 in 1964.
Lexington newspaper headline: UK Wildcats whip mighty Mississippi 27-21
UK coach: Charlie Bradshaw
The plot: With UK trailing 10-0, Dallas Owens flipped momentum by stepping in front of a Chuck Fusina pass and returning it 23 yards for a touchdown. A Mike Siganos interception set up Kentucky’s winning touchdown and a second pick by Owens sealed the UK upset.
Why the game mattered: Kentucky’s first win over a top-five opponent in 13 years propelled the Wildcats to one of the great seasons in school history (10-1). It was the only game eventual Fiesta Bowl champion Penn State (11-1) lost and may have cost the Nittany Lions the national title.
Lexington newspaper headline: Wildcats leave Penn in State of shock
UK coach: Fran Curci
The plot: Andre Woodson hit Steve Johnson with a 7-yard touchdown pass in the third overtime to put Kentucky ahead. On a fourth-and-2 play from the Wildcats’ 17-yard line on the ensuing LSU possession, UK linebacker Braxton Kelley stopped Tigers running back Charles Scott 1-yard short of a first down to end the game.
Why the game mattered: Kentucky’s third all-time victory over a No. 1-ranked foe came against an LSU team that rebounded to win both the SEC and BCS national championships.
Lexington newspaper headline: Believe, indeed: No miracles necessary as Cats beat No. 1
UK coach: Rich Brooks
The plot: Wilbur Jamerson caught a touchdown pass from Babe Parilli and had a TD run. UK lineman Walt Yowarsky, inserted into the Kentucky defensive front as part of a surprise three-tackle alignment, recovered two fumbles and continually made life miserable for Oklahoma quarterback Claude Arnold.
Why the game mattered: Kentucky snapped Oklahoma’s 31-game winning streak. The UK victory came over the consensus 1950 national champion (in that era, the mythical national title was conferred before the bowls). Kentucky (11-1) finished with 11 wins for the only time in school history.
Lexington newspaper headline: Kentucky wins Sugar Bowl 13-7, ends Oklahoma’s 31-game win streak
UK coach: Bear Bryant
(All newspaper headlines cited are from the Lexington Herald-Leader and/or its predecessors).