Mark Story

Predictions for every game of the 2019 Kentucky Wildcats football season

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The prior two times before now when Kentucky reached nine wins in a football season, all of UK’s positive program momentum evaporated in the ensuing year.

Coming off a 10-1 season in 1977, Kentucky played to an unexpected 14-14 tie in its 1978 season opener at South Carolina. It set a negative tone for what became a 4-6-1 disappointment.

After going 9-3 in 1984, UK was stunned by Bowling Green in a 30-26 upset to open the 1985 season. That led to a 5-6 Kentucky season from which the Jerry Claiborne coaching regime never really recovered.

So coming off last season’s 10-3 breakthrough campaign that ended with the 27-24 victory over No. 12 Penn State in the VRBO Citrus Bowl, Mark Stoops and his current troops have an obvious bar to clear:

Simply produce a winning record.

Will the 2019 Wildcats do it? Below are my game-by-game predictions:


Aug. 31 at Kroger Field

The hope: Under Mark Stoops, Kentucky is 4-0 vs. Mid-American Conference foes.

The nope: This opener is a potential upset trap for UK. The Wildcats begin 2019 with the fewest returning starters (10) in the SEC. Toledo has a veteran roster that boasts two experienced quarterbacks and a star running back — ex-Kentucky player Bryant Koback. The Rockets are picked to win the MAC West Division.

The scope: Kentucky 35, Toledo 30.

Former Kentucky running back Bryant Koback ran for 917 yards and 14 touchdowns last season for Toledo. Pablo Alcala Herald-Leader file photo

Eastern Michigan

Sept. 7 at Kroger Field

The hope: Under Mark Stoops, Kentucky is 4-0 vs. Mid-American Conference foes.

The nope: EMU has beaten a power-five conference team — 16-13 win at Rutgers in 2017; 20-19 upset at Purdue last year — in each of the past two seasons. The Eagles almost got Kentucky in 2017 before falling 24-20.

The scope: Kentucky 38, Eastern Michigan 21.

Landon Young vs EMU in 2017.JPG
Kentucky offensive tackle Landon Young (67) celebrated a UK touchdown in the Wildcats’ narrow, 24-20 victory over Eastern Michigan in 2017. Alex Slitz


Sept. 14 at Kroger Field

The hope: UK beat UF last season in The Swamp and had to get wildly creative — giving up not one but two touchdowns to receivers uncovered at the line of scrimmage in what became a one-point loss — not to beat the Gators two seasons ago in Lexington.

The nope: After becoming the first Florida team since 1986 to lose to Kentucky last season, Dan Mullen’s troops will come to Lexington determined to restore the old status quo.

The scope: Florida 35, Kentucky 26.

Terry Wilson scoring TD at Florida
Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson ran for one touchdown and threw for two TDs to lead the Wildcats to a streak-busting 27-16 upset of No. 25 Florida last season in Gainesville. Before last season, UF had beaten UK in 31 straight games. Alex Slitz

Mississippi State

Sept. 21 at Starkville, Miss.

The hope: After physically whipping State at the line of scrimmage in last season’s 28-7 win at Kroger Field, Kentucky has now won two of the past three in the series.

The nope: UK has not won in Starkville since 2008 (with starting quarterback Randall Cobb) and has yet to beat an SEC West foe (0-6) on the road in the Mark Stoops coaching era.

The scope: Mississippi State 23, Kentucky 17.

Boogie Watson vs Miss State.JPG
Kentucky linebacker Boogie Watson (31) had four tackles and a quarterback sack last season in UK’s 28-7 upset of No. 14 Mississippi State. Alex Slitz

South Carolina

Sept. 28 at Columbia, S.C.

The hope: With five straight wins over the Gamecocks, Mark Stoops just flat has South Carolina’s number.

The nope: Not joining Vanderbilt (1976-81) as the only SEC team to lose football games to Kentucky in six-consecutive seasons will make this game a holy war for veteran Gamecocks quarterback Jake Bentley and crew.

The scope: South Carolina 24, Kentucky 23.

Muschamp and Stoops.JPG
Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops, right, is 5-1 against South Carolina. Gamecocks head man Will Muschamp, left, is 0-3 vs. UK as South Carolina coach. Dwayne McLemore


Oct. 12 at Kroger Field

The hope: Kentucky is 4-3 against Arkansas since the Hogs joined the SEC, and 2-1 in Lexington (and the loss was 71-63 in seven overtimes).

The nope: After a 2-10 disaster in his first season as boss Hog, one-time Clemson offensive guru Chad Morris has brought in not one, but two graduate transfer quarterbacks — Ben Hicks (SMU) and Nick Starkel (Texas A&M) — to try to get the Razorbacks rolling

The scope: Kentucky 31, Arkansas 27.

Arkansas Coach Chad Morris went 2-10 last season in his first year as boss Hog. Butch Dill AP


Oct. 19 at Athens, Ga.

The hope: Kentucky’s most-recent victory over Georgia, in 2009, came between the hedges at Sanford Stadium.

The nope: Georgia is said to be especially motivated to send UK a message in 2019 because Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran had the temerity to turn down a job on the Dawgs’ coaching staff during the offseason.

The scope: Georgia 42, Kentucky 21.

Jake Fromm.JPG
Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm (11) is 2-0 as a starter against Kentucky and has completed 23 of 34 passes for a combined 236 yards against the Wildcats with two touchdown throws vs. one interception. John Bazemore AP


Oct. 26 at Kroger Field

The hope: Kentucky has won four in a row over Mizzou, including last season’s comeback for the ages in Columbia.

The nope: Under Mark Stoops, UK is 0-6 in games the week after it has played Georgia. In ex-Clemson starter Kelly Bryant (665 rushing yards, 2,802 passing yards in 2017), Mizzou has added the kind of dual-threat quarterback that has traditionally tormented Kentucky defenses.

The scope: Missouri 34, Kentucky 31.

Kentucky slot receiver Lynn Bowden produced a momentum-changing, 67-yard punt return touchdown in UK’s 15-14 come-from-behind victory at Missouri last season. Alex Slitz


Nov. 9 at Kroger Field

The hope: Over the past two seasons, Kentucky (17-9, 9-7 SEC) has been a far better football team than Tennessee (9-15, 2-14).

The nope: UK backers got a stark reminder in the Cats’ 24-7 upset loss last season in Knoxville that, even when Kentucky is better than UT, it’s never easy for the Wildcats to silence “Rocky Top.”

The scope: Kentucky 30, Tennessee 28.

Marquez Callaway TD vs UK 2018.JPG
Tennessee wide receiver Marquez Callaway (1) caught a 39-yard touchdown on the final play of the first half last season in UT’s 24-7 upset of No. 12 Kentucky. Charles Bertram


Nov. 16 at Nashville

The hope: Kentucky has won four of the last five in the series — and won convincingly (44-21) two years ago in its prior trip to the Music City.

The nope: In running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn (1,244 yards rushing, 12 touchdowns), wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb (87 catches, 916 yards, nine TDs) and tight end Jared Pinkney (50 catches, 774 yards, seven TDs), Vandy should have one of the most lethal offensive “big threes” in the SEC.

The scope: Kentucky 28, Vanderbilt 27.

Kentucky nose guard Quinton Bohanna (95) made the key play of UK’s 14-7 victory over Vanderbilt in 2018 when he forced and recovered a Vandy fumble on a fourth-down play at the Wildcats’ 20-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. The play ignited what became Kentucky’s winning touchdown drive. Abby Drey

Tennessee Martin

Nov. 23 at Kroger Field

The hope: Under Mark Stoops, Kentucky is 6-0 vs. FCS foes with an average score of 44.2 to 15.7.

The nope: The father of new UTM quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Nick Petrino went 8-2 vs. UK at three schools (then things went very, very bad for Bobby Petrino at Louisville).

The scope: Kentucky 48, Tennessee Martin 14.

Nick Petrino as Trinity QB.JPG
Former Trinity High School quarterback Nick Petrino (10) is the new quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee at Martin. MARK CORNELISON Lexington Herald-Leader


Nov. 30 at Kroger Field

The hope: Kentucky should be a clear favorite to beat its intrastate rival in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the Cats claimed the Governor’s Cup four times in a row from 2007 through 2010.

Kavosiey Smoke TD vs U of L 2018.JPG
Kentucky running back Kavosiey Smoke (20) finished off UK’s 56-10 pasting of intrastate rival Louisville last season with this 37-yard touchdown run. Mark Mahan

The nope: In the modern rivalry, UK has had a much harder time beating U of L in Lexington (4-10 since 1994) than in The Ville (6-5 since 1998).

The scope: Kentucky 38, Louisville 24

Final Kentucky record: 7-5, 3-5 SEC

Bowl projection: Liberty Bowl

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.