Following up on my column about Kentucky football enjoying early hot-ticket status for 2019, here’s an early look at the opponents:
Toledo: The Rockets went 7-6 last season, including a 5-3 mark in the MAC. Toledo lost 35-32 to Florida International in the Bahamas Bowl. Last season was a regression from a stellar 11-3 showing in 2017 under head coach Jason Candle, who is 28-12 in three seasons at Toledo. The Rockets do return quarterback Eli Peters, who completed 55.1 percent of passes last year. Peters threw for 18 touchdowns, compared to seven interceptions.
Eastern Michigan: The Eagles went 7-6 overall, including 5-3 in the MAC last season. Their 2018 highlight was a 20-19 win over Jeff Brohm and Purdue in West Lafayette. EMU ended the year by losing 23-21 to Georgia Southern in the Camellia Bowl. Head coach Chris Creighton is 22-40 at Ypsilanti, but has taken EMU to bowls in 2016 and 2018. He must replace quarterback Tyler Wiegers, a grad transfer last season.
Florida: The Gators were 10-3 overall and 5-3 last season under new coach Dan Mullen. One of those three losses was to Kentucky 27-16 in September, Florida’s first loss to UK since 1986. Georgia and Missouri also beat the Gators. Mullen was 69-44 at Mississippi State before returning to Gainesville, where he was once offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer. He does return quarterback Feleipe Franks, who threw for 24 touchdowns, and six interceptions, while completing 58.4 percent of his passes last year.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs were 8-5 overall and 4-4 in the SEC for first-year coach Joe Moorhead last season. The former Penn State offensive coordinator lost to UK 28-7 in Lexington. MSU finished the season with a 27-22 loss to Iowa in the Outback Bowl. Moorhead has plenty of talent to replace. Four Mississippi State players were selected in the first 44 picks of April’s NFL Draft, including three in the first round.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks were 7-6 overall and 4-4 in the SEC last season. Their 24-10 loss in Lexington was their fifth straight to Kentucky. USC ended the season with a 28-0 loss to Virginia in the Belk Bowl. Coach Will Muschamp is now 22-17 overall and 12-12 in the SEC in his three season in Columbia. The former Florida coach is 50-38 overall. He does return quarterback Jake Bentley, who threw for 27 touchdowns with 14 interceptions last season.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks were 2-10 overall and 0-8 in the SEC under first-year coach Chad Morris last season. A former Clemson offensive coordinator, Morris was 14-22 in three season at SMU before moving to Fayetteville. Arkansas struggled offensively last season, losing 52-6 at Mississippi State and 38-0 at Missouri in its last two games. Former Texas A&M quarterback Nick Starkel joined the Razorbacks as a grad transfer and could be the starter.
Georgia: The Bulldogs were 11-3 overall and 7-1 in the SEC last season. They lost to LSU in the regular season, to Alabama in the SEC title game and to Texas in the Sugar Bowl. They beat UK 34-17 in Lexington. Head coach Kirby Smart is 32-10 overall and 18-6 in the conference in his three seasons. He returns quarterback Jake Fromm, who threw for 30 touchdowns with just six interceptions last year. Fromm completed 67.3 percent of his passes.
Missouri: The Tigers were 8-5 overall and 4-4 in the SEC last season. After losing 15-14 to visiting Kentucky on Oct. 27, Mizzou won four straight games before losing 38-33 to Oklahoma State in the Liberty Bowl. Coach Barry Odom is 19-19 in his three seasons. He must replace quarterback Drew Lock, who threw for 28 touchdowns with eight interceptions last season before being chosen by the Denver Broncos in the second round, No. 42 overall, of the NFL Draft. Kelly Bryant, a graduate transfer from Clemson, was brought in to do just that.
Tennessee: The Volunteers were 5-7 overall and 2-6 in the SEC last season for first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt, the former Georgia and Alabama defensive coordinator. Tennessee was 5-5 before losing 50-17 to Missouri and 38-13 at Vanderbilt to end the season. Those defeats came after a 24-7 win over Kentucky in Knoxville. Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano returns. He threw for 12 touchdowns with three interceptions last season.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores were 6-7 overall and 3-5 in the SEC last season. They lost 14-7 at Kentucky on Oct. 20, but finished the regular season with wins over Ole Miss, 36-29 in overtime, and Tennessee, 38-13. Derek Mason’s club lost 45-38 to Baylor in the Texas Bowl. Mason is 24-38 over his five years in Nashville. He returns dynamic running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who averaged 7.9 yards per carry last season.
UT-Martin: The Skyhawks were 2-9 overall and 2-6 in the OVC last season. They lost 51-14 at Missouri in the season opener. Coach Jason Simpson is the longest-tenured coach in the Ohio Valley Conference. He is 80-68 as the UTM coach. Wide receiver Terry Williams caught 67 passes last year.
Louisville: The Cardinals were 2-10 overall and 0-8 in the ACC last season. That sent a pink slip to head coach Bobby Petrino, who was 75-25 in his second stint as the U of L coach before the free fall. New coach Scott Satterfield has a tough task in front of him, considering the Cards’ only wins last year came against Indiana State and Western Kentucky. U of L lost 56-10 to Kentucky.
2019 UK football schedule
Aug. 31: TOLEDO, Noon (SEC Network)
Sept. 7: EASTERN MICHIGAN, 7:30 p.m. (ESPNU or SEC Network)
Sept. 14: FLORIDA, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Sept. 21: at Mississippi State
Sept. 28: at South Carolina
Oct. 5: Open
Oct. 12: ARKANSAS
Oct. 19: at Georgia
Oct. 26: MISSOURI
Nov. 2: Open
Nov. 9: TENNESSEE
Nov. 16: at Vanderbilt
Nov. 23: TENNESSEE-MARTIN
Nov. 30: LOUISVILLE
NOTE: Home games are in all capital letters. Remaining times and television will be announced at later dates.