What will UK’s record be this season?
Published 11:06 am Friday, September 1, 2023
BY JAMIE VAUGHT
The 2023 college football campaign is here and that means it is time for my game-by-game forecast for UK football.
The Wildcats finished with a 7-6 record (3-5 in SEC) last season. Veteran head coach Mark Stoops is entering his 11th year at Kentucky. Stoops is the second-longest tenured SEC coach at the same school behind Alabama’s Nick Saban.
In terms of national preseason rankings, Athlon Sports and Lindy’s Sports have picked the Cats at No. 27 and No. 36, respectively. In the SEC East Division, the preseason yearbooks have ranked Kentucky at No. 3 and No. 5.
UK has seven home games this season, including a November date with Alabama, and the Wildcats will open the season with three straight home games at Kroger Field.
Stoops has posted two10-win seasons in the past five years at Kentucky. The big question is: Can he come up with another 10-victory campaign this fall?
Sept. 2, Lexington
The Cardinals from Indiana will be making tons of cash for their two season-opening road trips to UK and two-time national champion Georgia. Last season, Ball State traveled to Knoxville and got whipped by the Vols 59-10. The Cardinals, who lost their quarterback and running back to Illinois and ULCA, aren’t expected to do much this time with a lowly finish at either No. 5 or No. 6 in the six-team West Division of the Mid-American Conference. This will be the first start at UK for quarterback Devin Leary, a transfer from N.C. State. The noon game will be shown by SEC Network. Kentucky by 21.
Sept. 9, Lexington
Fourth-year coach Walt Wells, who recovered from a serious health scare last fall, has a new four-year contract through the 2026 season. His Colonels won the 2022 Atlantic SUN regular season title and reached the NCAA FCS playoffs for the first time since 2014. Wells’ teams have been nationally ranked in each of the last two seasons. The Colonels have a new assistant coach in C.J. Conrad, who was a standout tight end at Kentucky. Conrad spent the last three years at UK as a graduate assistant and quality control coach. The 3 p.m. matchup will be seen on SEC Network Plus (online only). Kentucky by 13.
Sept. 16, Lexington
Second-year Zips coach Joe Moorhead got a contract extension through 2027 despite a 2-10 record last season as the former Mississippi State boss was drawing interest from NFL and other universities. Like Ball State, Akron isn’t expected to do much this fall, finishing at a projected No. 5 in MAC’s East Division. The 7:30 p.m. contest will be televised by ESPNU. Kentucky by 22.
Sept 23, Nashville
After a not-so-horrible 5-7 season in 2022, which included wins over Kentucky (24-21) and Florida (31-24), coach Clark Lea and the Commodores are looking for improvement this fall. It’s possible they could be heading for their first bowl berth since 2018. Kentucky by 6.
Sept. 30, Lexington
This could be a close game. The Gators, who were 6-7 under first-year coach Billy Napier, lost QB Anthony Richardson, the No. 4 overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft. Florida likely will be struggling again this fall. Kentucky by 7.
Oct. 7, Athens
What can I say about the powerful Bulldogs? Coach Kirby Smart has all kinds of weapons. The Dogs, the preseason No. 1 favorite, are simply from a different league and should dominate the visiting Wildcats. The Wildcats had a fighting chance to upset Georgia last season before falling short 16-6 in Lexington. Dogs by 18.
Oct. 14, Lexington
Like the Florida game, this could be another exciting matchup. The Tigers, 6-7 with four narrow losses in 2022, aren’t a bad team. As you may recall, the Cats escaped last year’s contest with a 21-17 victory in Columbia. Kentucky by 3.
Oct. 28, Lexington
The Vols will be coming off a visit to rival Alabama in Tuscaloosa. This could be advantageous for the Wildcats as UT could be banged up after a tough fight with the Crimson Tide. But the Vols, a top 15 contender, will have too much power and depth for Kentucky to overcome. UK dropped to Tennessee in a 44-6 blowout loss last season. Vols by 15.
Nov 4, Starkville
The Bulldogs have a new boss in Zach Arnett after the untimely death of Mike Leach. Arnett served as MSU’s defensive coordinator from 2020-22. Senior Will Rogers is back at QB with 33 starts (in 35 games) under his belt, and he holds the school career records with 10,689 career passing yards and 82 career passing touchdowns. It should be a winnable game for the Wildcats. Kentucky by 3.
Nov. 11, Lexington
Saban and the Crimson Tide are coming to the Bluegrass for the first time since 2013. The last time both teams met was during the COVID year of 2020 when Bama crushed UK 63-3. Saban is the same guy who once led LSU to the “Bluegrass Miracle” comeback victory over the Wildcats in 2002. Alabama by 18.
Nov. 18, Columbia
The Gamecocks are a dangerous team in the SEC especially after beating Tennessee and Clemson last season. And they have a QB by the name of Spencer Rattler who is back for his senior year. USC defeated UK 24-14 in Lexington last fall. South Carolina by 6.
Nov. 25, Louisville
The Cardinals have a new coach. Jeff Brohm returns to his hometown after a six-year head coaching stint at Purdue. Despite the rebuilding work that needs to be done, U of L will be better than advertised, finishing in the middle of the pack in the ACC. Kentucky by 10.
So, what is UK’s final regular season record? The Wildcats will finish at 8-4 overall (4-4 in SEC). Not bad. What do you think? Agree?
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime sports columnist in Kentucky, is the author of six books about UK basketball, including recently released “Forever Crazy About the Cats: An Improbable Journey of a Kentucky Sportswriter Overcoming Adversity.” He is also the editor and founder of KySportsStyle.com Magazine, and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via email at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.