Mark Story

Ranking the 50 best Kentucky football wins of all time: Nos. 10-1

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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.


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:

10

The game: Kentucky 21, No. 8 Mississippi 14, 1955 regular season

Blanton Collier
After leading the Kentucky Wildcats to a 41-36-3 record from 1954-61, Blanton Collier was head coach of the Cleveland Browns for eight seasons and led the franchise to the 1964 NFL championship. Associated Press

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

9

The game: Kentucky 41, No. 11 Louisville 38, 2016 regular season

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

Stephen Johnson vs U of L in 2016
Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson was one of the stars of UK’s 41-38 upset of No. 11 Louisville in 2016. Mark Cornelison

8

The game: Kentucky 31, No. 10 South Carolina 28, 2010 regular season

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

Randall Cobb TD to beat S Carolina.JPG
Randall Cobb’s 24-yard touchdown reception from Mike Hartline with 1:15 left in the game gave UK a 31-28 upset of No. 10 South Carolina and its first victory over a Steve Spurrier-coached team after 17 losses. Pablo Alcala Herald-Leader file photo

7

The game: No. 16 Kentucky 27, No. 12 Penn State 24, 2018 season Citrus Bowl

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

Lynn Bowden vs. Penn State
Two explosive plays by Kentucky wide receiver Lynn Bowden (1) helped the Wildcats upset No. 12 Penn State 27-24 in last season’s VRBO Citrus Bowl. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

6

The game: Kentucky 27, No. 25 Florida 16, 2018 regular season

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

Terry Wilson after Florida
Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson (3) celebrated after throwing for 151 yards and running for 105 more in UK’s 27-16 win at Florida. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

5

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

Bear Bryant after Cotton Bowl win.JPG
Kentucky Coach Bear Bryant, second from left, celebrated with the three offensive stars of UK’s 20-7 victory over TCU in the 1952 (1951 season) Cotton Bowl. From left, quarterback Babe Parilli; Bryant; running back Ed Hamilton; and end Emery Clark. AP

4

The game: Kentucky 27, No. 1 Mississippi 21, 1964 regular season

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

samball.jpg
Kentucky wide receiver Rick Kestner, far left (and standing next to UK’s Sam Ball), was a star of UK’s 27-21 upset of No. 1 Mississippi in 1964. Horace Cort AP

3

The game: Kentucky 24, No. 4 Penn State 20, 1977 regular season

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.

770000_DallasOwens.JPG
Kentucky defensive back Dallas Owens returned an interception 23 yards for a touchdown that ignited UK’s 24-20 road upset of No. 4 Penn State in 1977.

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

2

The game: No. 17 Kentucky 43, No. 1 LSU 37 (3OT), 2007 regular season

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

Xuj2l.So.79.jpg
Steve Johnson caught the game-winning touchdown in the third overtime to give Kentucky a 43-37 upset of No. 1 LSU in 2007.

1

The game: No. 7 Kentucky 13, No. 1 Oklahoma 7, 1950 season Sugar Bowl

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.

Bear Bryant after Sugar Bowl win.JPG
Bear Bryant was greeted at Blue Grass Field in Lexington after Kentucky ended Oklahoma’s 31-game winning streak with a 13-7 upset of the No. 1 Sooners in the 1951 (1950 season) Sugar Bowl. Herald-Leader

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).

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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader 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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