Kentucky College Football Opening Day Preview

Published 5:20 pm Monday, August 28, 2023


The 2023 college football season officially begins tomorrow, August 26, with a handful of early action games in Week 0. Football fans of the top programs in the state of Kentucky have a little bit longer to wait, as Louisville, the University of Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky and Western Kentucky are all set to start playing next weekend as part of the traditional Week 1 slate of games. Each Saturday from here through the end of December is loaded with plenty of contests, we’ve made it through the long offseason. Football is officially back. Here’s a quick primer on the games that will get things started for football fans in Kentucky this season.

Kentucky Wildcats

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The University of Kentucky is set to face off against the Ball State Cardinals to open the season. They’ll be playing at home, and they’re expected to be heavy favorites against the MAC program, listed as high as -7000 at some sports betting sites. Keep in mind that odds can vary quite a bit between sportsbooks, so the lines listed here are more of a general rule of thumb: different apps could have better or worse odds listed depending on their own specific formula for determining matchups.

This will be the first chance for Wildcats fans to see highly touted transfer quarterback Devin Leary in action, and it will be interesting to see how he fits in behind a reworked offensive line. Head coach Mark Stoops is always going to have Kentucky’s defense ready to play, but it was the offense that couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain last year… if Leary can perform as advertised, the Wildcats could be a dangerous draw for teams like the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs on October 7 and the No. 4 Alabama Crimson Tide on November 11, a game Kentucky will host.

Louisville Cardinals

The Louisville Cardinals have three games this season on ESPN along with several other tough match-ups. They open the season with Georgia Tech, will face teams like Boston College, Notre Dame, and will finish the season with the battle for Kentucky against the Wildcats. BC fans can find good promos with these apps. Cardinals’ fans will have to wait a little longer as Kentucky is set to legalize online sports betting five days later on September 28.

The Cardinals sit in a similar position to the Wildcats. They brought in a transfer quarterback this offseason, Jack Plummer, but he isn’t quite the proven commodity that Leary is. A sixth-year signal caller who spent four years in a backup role at Purdue before breaking out with the California Golden Bears last season, Plummer put up an excellent 3,095 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2022, along with just eight interceptions.

Plummer doesn’t have quite the pedigree that Leary does, and the fact that he diced up a bunch of shoddy Pac-12 teams last season isn’t going to change my mind on that: For me, the jury is still out on Plummer. While the Cardinals have the talent to succeed, I’m going to want to see that talent turn into results on the field first.

Beginning the season against Georgia Tech is a tough draw, as it’s always going to be difficult to get a new quarterback up to speed against a Power Five program, but playing at home should help them out: they’re listed as healthy favorites at -300.

Eastern Kentucky Colonels

The Colonels will begin the season on the road against the Cincinnati Bearcats. Cincinnati had a rare down year by their lofty standards in 2022, going just 9-4: head coach Luke Fickell left for Wisconsin following the season, and the Bearcats replaced him with Scott Satterfield (who spent the last four years at Louisville). The Colonels aren’t given much of a chance in this game, as ESPN lists them as having a 2.7 percent chance of winning, but their high-powered offense under redshirt senior quarterback Parker McKinney means that they can keep things interesting even if they don’t end up pulling out the win.

If the Bearcats had a proven defense that needed more help from their offense last season, the Colonels saw the opposite take place. McKinney had to go blow-for-blow with opposing teams as their offenses marched up and down the field against an inept Eastern Kentucky defense.

One matchup you can be sure the Colonels will have circled on the schedule is their October 21 game at Gardner-Webb: The Runnin’ Bulldogs sent them packing last season with a 52-41 playoff loss, one Eastern Kentucky would be happy to avenge.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

Finally are the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, who will begin their 2023 season at home against the South Florida Bulls. The Hilltoppers are heavy favorites in the game, listed at -455: The Bulls went a pitiful 1-11 last season, firing their head coach. They have plenty of continuity on offense, with quarterback Austin Reed returning after throwing for 4,744 yards and 40 touchdowns with just 11 interceptions in 2022. He’ll still be able to throw to top targets like Malachi Corley and Michael Mathison, so the pieces that helped them score more than 36 points per game last season will have had another year to hone their craft.

While the star-studded offense got most of the love last season, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the Hilltoppers defense also did an excellent job, allowing 23.4 points per game. If they can keep both of those trends up, it’s going to be a fun year in Bowling Green. Conference-USA got a whole lot weaker this offseason, with a number of programs departing for the AAC, so the Hilltoppers have an excellent chance at contending for a conference championship if they’re able to live up to those expectations.

One game that could prove pivotal in that quest is their October 24 matchup with the Liberty Flames, another hopeful to hoist the conference trophy. Seven of the Hilltoppers 12 games will take place during prime time this season, so there’s plenty of hype building around them already.