It’s easy to be sullen after Kentucky’s 30-13 loss to Georgia, but it’s not crazy to think it could be the Wildcats’ only defeat of the season.
There are no top-25 squads left on the Cats’ slate following their upcoming off week. According to College Football Reference, the Cats’ schedule is No. 73 nationally in terms of overall strength, and they’re through the toughest part. Three road games remain, but Kentucky is likely to be the betting favorite in all of its remaining contests.
ESPN’s College Football Power Index projects UK to win at least nine games, though it’s notable that the same metric barely had Kentucky qualifying for a bowl game this season. So take that for what it’s worth.
Let’s take a look at UK’s remaining guaranteed games, and grade them in terms of difficulty on a scale of 1-10.
At Mississippi State (Oct. 30)
Is anything scarier than the thought of spending Devil’s Night in Starkville, Miss.? That’s where Kentucky will be following its bye. Last year Mike Leach brought his Bulldogs to Lexington and for the first time in his entire coaching history saw his offense get shut out. Mississippi State (3-3 overall, 1-2 SEC) has been uneven this year, but one has to think it will be motivated to make up for that 24-2 shellacking last year. It’s hard to think Kentucky comes away with six (!) interceptions again, but it should be well-rested after a physical scrum with Georgia. How motivated will these Cats be to see a superb start to the season through after finally suffering their first loss? This will be a pivot point for whether this season continues to be a special one or if it starts to go off the rails.
Degree of difficulty: 8.
Tennessee (Nov. 6)
Josh Heupel has hurriedly gotten the Volunteers (4-3, 2-2) back to respectability in the league thanks to a high-octane offense that’s thumped some of the Southeastern Conference’s worst defenses. Against Florida, the only top-30 defense it has played? Tennessee was able to move the ball but mustered only 14 points. Kentucky will be the third of four straight games UT will play against foes who were ranked in the top 15 entering the weekend. It gets Alabama before the bye week, which precedes the UK trip. Like Mississippi State, it’ll be motivated to return a beat down handed out last year, and this series has not gone Kentucky’s way most years.
Degree of difficulty: 6.
At Vanderbilt (Nov. 13)
The Commodores (2-5, 0-3) are bad. That’s it, that’s the analysis. They rank in the bottom of the league in offense and are almost the league’s worst defense (hat tip to Missouri). Kentucky will roll like it did its last time in Nashville.
Degree of difficulty: 1.
New Mexico State (Nov. 20)
Former UK quarterback Doug Martin has been in charge of the Aggies since 2013. NMSU lost its only meeting with the Wildcats in 2016 (62-42) after playing the Cats to a 35-all halftime score. The Aggies are 1-6 this year, and Kentucky is much further along in its development as a program than it was five years ago. This won’t be close, but Kentucky might sleep walk a little on Senior Day.
Degree of difficulty: 2.
At Louisville (Nov. 27)
The Cardinals have lost back-to-back nail biters to the best teams they’d played. The only FBS wins they have in 2021 are against Central Florida and Florida State, who’ve combined to start 5-6. They’ve also beaten Eastern Kentucky, which is 5-2. At 3-3 with games against Boston College, North Carolina State and Clemson over the next three weeks, there’s a real possibility that U of L will enter the renewal of this rivalry needing a win to qualify for the postseason; it gets Syracuse and Duke ahead of this bout. Kentucky could be seeking a school-record 11th win in the regular season. Louisville is the host, but UK has had its number for a while; anything can happen in a rivalry game, but UK has a more solid foundation and should be a strong favorite.
Degree of difficulty: 5.