After squandering the Southern Miss game, flatlining vs. Florida, and escaping what could have been a program-crushing loss to New Mexico State, Kentucky is 1-2 headed into this weekend's game vs. South Carolina. This game's importance goes without saying; for maybe the third or fourth time since he's been at Kentucky, it is the most important game of the Mark Stoops era. Kentucky needs to go bowling this season, but looking at the schedule, if they don't beat South Carolina on Saturday, that's probably not going to happen.
With that in mind, let's break down the win probabilities for each game moving forward
September 24: vs. South Carolina -- 60%
A showdown of a terrible offense (South Carolina) vs. a terrible defense (Kentucky). The immovable force vs. the unstoppable object, if you will. South Carolina averages only 17.3 points and 297 yards per game, which would normally have you salivating until you see that Kentucky's defense is allowing 43.7 points and 528 yards per game. So, who really knows?
On the flip side, it's also a showdown of a good offense (Kentucky) vs. a good defense (South Carolina). Assuming Drew Barker is out due to his back injury, here's my reason for optimism: South Carolina was unable to contain Mississippi State dual-threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald two weeks ago, letting him rush 17 times for 195 yards and throw for 178 yards and two touchdowns. On Saturday, Stephen Johnson showed he can run UK's offense through the air (310 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) and on the ground (381 yards total rushing) all while keeping the defense honest with his own two feet (10 carries for 51 yards). South Carolina's defense may be good, but not against dual-threat QBs, which is why I'm giving Kentucky a 60% chance of winning.
October 1: at Alabama -- 1%
I can see it now...
A down-on-their-luck Kentucky team travels to Tuscaloosa with something to prove, and what better stage than under the lights at Bryant-Denny on ESPN vs. the defending national champions? While commentators stack their notes with fun facts in anticipation of a slaughter (did you know Bear Bryant used to coach Kentucky?) and houndstooth-clad fans pile into their seats, Tim Couch addresses the team in the visitor's locker room.
"Boys, they said it couldn't be done," Tim says, prowling the floor. "They said it wasn't possible. But did we listen? No. Do you think I listened to the haters when I threw that pass to Craig Yeast in overtime? No. Did the rest of the world listen when the Big Blue Nation took down the goal posts and carried them through campus? You bet your ass they did."
Kentucky wins the toss but defers to the second half. Alabama gives the ball to Damien Harris on the first play from scrimmage, and after a ten-fifteen-twenty!-yard run that brings Tuscaloosa to its feet, Matt Elam takes him down from behind, and the ball comes loose! Kash Daniel scoops it up and runs the length of the field. TOUCHDOOOOOOOOWWWN KENTUCKY!!! After an onside kick, Stephen Johnson complete an 80-yard pass to CJ Conrad---
Whoa, whoa, whoa, where am I? I think I just blacked out. Wait, what did I just write? Haha, yeah, that's not gonna happen, especially that part about Matt Elam catching Damien Harris. What a nice dream, though.
October 8: vs. Vanderbilt -- 60%
Coming in to this season, I had this matchup closer to 50/50 because of Vanderbilt's supposedly stout defense. Well, that defense gave up 511 yards to Georgia Tech in a 38-7 loss on Saturday AND their offense scored only one touchdown for the second time in three games. So, Vandy's not good. But neither is Kentucky right now. Given the home field advantage, I'm giving Kentucky a slight edge in this game.
October 22: vs. Mississippi State -- 35%
In the preseason, Kentucky beating Mississippi State was a popular pick around these parts, especially after South Alabama upset the Bulldogs at home in Week 1; however, Mississippi State's near upset of LSU on Saturday validated my hesitancy to put this game in the "W" column for Kentucky, even if it comes after a bye week. Nick Fitzgerald may have given South Carolina fitz (puns!) in week two, but Damian Williams looked very good during that late rally vs. LSU. I'm not say it's not going to happen, I'm just saying I'd be pretty surprised.
October 29: at Missouri -- 35%
When the line came out last week for Georgia vs. Missouri, I remember questioning why it was only 6.5. Then I watched Missouri almost beat Georgia. As Stoops would say, the Tigers aren't a great team, but they're a good team...or, in my opinion, an improving team that Kentucky might be able to knock off in Lexington, but in Columbia? I don't see it happening.
November 5: vs. Georgia -- 20%
Yes, Georgia almost lost to Missouri, but behind a freshman quarterback, they managed to get the win on the road. In the Mark Stoops era, Georgia has beaten Kentucky three years in a row by a combined score of 139-51. After witnessing several of those beatdowns in person, I know better than to be optimistic about the Cats' chances vs. the Dawgs, especially when they have Nick Chubb and we have the nation's 116th-ranked run defense.
November 12: at Tennessee -- 10%
Scares vs. Appalachian State and Ohio prove that the Volunteers aren't the national championship contenders many believed they were in the preseason, but they'll still be a huge favorite over Kentucky at home. Whereas the Cats will be coming off a tough stretch vs. Mississippi State, Missouri, and Georgia, the Volunteers will have just hosted Tennessee Tech. We'll find out how good Tennessee really is when they play Florida this weekend, but regardless, Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Hurd, and company are undoubtedly good enough to take care of a porous Kentucky defense at home.
November 19: vs. Austin Peay -- 95%
Before you slow me down with cautionary tales about Southern Miss and New Mexico State, let me remind you that Austin Peay isn't even in the FBS. The Governors are currently 0-2 with losses to Neal Brown's Troy (57-17) and Tennessee Tech (41-7). So, while UK's other "cupcakes" were more like fiber-rich bran muffins that made each outcome feel like...well, you get where I'm going with this...Austin Peay should be one of those sweet, icing-laded confections that's just perfect for Senior Day.
(That 5% of doubt is for the "should be" factor)
November 26: at Louisville -- 0.1%
There's no nice way to say it: all of Kentucky's problems this season are magnified by the fact that Bobby Petrino -- who wanted the UK job four years ago -- is killing it at Louisville. The Cards look so good right now that the national media is even writing character pieces about Petrino, proof that Tom Jurich has formed some pact with the devil in exchange for Rick Pitino's soul. Given the current trajectory of things, I shudder when I think about this game. Not only has Lamar Jackson proven he's capable of running over any defense, especially Kentucky's, Petrino has proven he's willing to run the score up on any team, especially Kentucky. Add in the fact that it's at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium about a month before Louisville fans know they're going to lose to Kentucky in basketball and it will just be awful. Like, leave the bodies in the streets for a week after to teach the others a lesson awful.
...Wouldn't it be crazy if Kentucky was the team to stand in the way of Louisville's college football playoff dreams? If, after two years of the Cards keeping the Cats from bowl eligibility, it was THIS Kentucky team that pulled off the unthinkable?
It would be almost as crazy as me waking up tomorrow and suddenly deciding to be a Louisville fan, so I'm setting the percentage at 0.1%.