No time to mope. UK football’s next five foes have an axe to grind with the Cats.

The ardor with which Kentucky football pursued victory Saturday at then-No. 14 Mississippi was impeccable.

On display in Oxford was the same refusal to buckle that produced UK’s miracle comeback at Missouri in 2018 and the rally by a depleted Wildcats roster past Iowa in last season’s VRBO Citrus Bowl.

In spite of that, two ill-timed turnovers in the game’s closing minutes and a first-half meltdown by Kentucky’s place-kicking unit left Mark Stoops and troops with a dispiriting 22-19 loss in a road game vs. a ranked, conference foe that UK should have won.

Alas, there is little time for No. 13 Kentucky to stew in the juices of frustrating defeat.

Starting with Saturday night’s 7:30 home kickoff with South Carolina, UK is set to embark on a series of contests versus five straight opponents who have, each for their own reasons, axes to grind with the Cats (4-1, 1-1 SEC).

One consequence of the Stoops-era ascension in Kentucky’s football fortunes is that UK is now a circled opponent for programs the Wildcats have surpassed and/or threatened with their rise.

Let’s examine what is at stake in UK’s next five games from the perspectives of the opponents:

South Carolina

The date: Oct. 8 at Kroger Field.

The trend: Kentucky has won seven of the last eight meetings with the Gamecocks. South Carolina (3-2, 0-2 SEC) has not won in Lexington since 2012.

The backdrop: UK’s football climb has been hard to stomach for Gamecocks backers, who came to believe the perpetual status of the series had been set between 2000 and 2009 when South Carolina beat Kentucky 10 in a row (albeit by seven points or fewer in seven of the 10 games).

The zeal: For Shane Beamer to get the Gamecocks ascending in the SEC East, South Carolina has to reverse its fortunes against Kentucky. Doing so in 2022 would accelerate the timetable for Beamer’s rebuilding project.

No. 23 Mississippi State

The date: Oct. 15 at Kroger Field.

The trend: The home team has won every game in this annual SEC inter-divisional rivalry since 2015.

The backdrop: Mississippi State beat Kentucky seven straight from 2009 through 2015. Starting with 2016, UK has at least been able to hold serve at home vs. the Bulldogs.

The zeal: MSU (4-1, 1-1 SEC) has not gotten the level of national attention in 2022 that Kentucky has even though the Bulldogs returned 17 starters from a team that beat UK by two touchdowns last season in Starkville. For MSU, besting the Cats in Lexington would send a strong message of rebuke to the college football narrative setters and poll voters.

No. 8 Tennessee

The date: Oct. 29 at Neyland Stadium.

The trend: Tennessee (4-0, 1-0 SEC) has won 34 of its past 37 football meetings with Kentucky, although the Vols are 3-2 vs. the Cats in the past five.

The backdrop: Recent history in this series has frustrated both fan bases.

Since the start of the 2017 season through the present, Kentucky has been, by many objective standards, a better football program than Tennessee. Over that time frame, UK is 44-24 overall, 22-22 in SEC games; UT is 31-33, 15-28. The Cats have played in five bowls and won four; the Vols have played in two bowls and won one.

That reality unsettles the Rocky Toppers.

Yet Kentucky fans are highly frustrated that the head-to-head outcomes between UK and UT have not fully reflected the other metrics of recent program strength.

The zeal: A chance to remind an uppity Kentucky who its “football daddy” has always been will animate Tennessee’s efforts in 2022.

Missouri

The date: Nov. 5 at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium.

The trend: Kentucky has won six of the past seven, including two of the past three in Columbia.

The backdrop: After entering the SEC in 2012, Mizzou whipped Kentucky three straight times by an average margin of 21.3 points. Starting in 2015, Stoops has turned the tables on the Tigers (2-3, 0-2 SEC) rather emphatically.

The zeal: At SEC Media Days last summer, Tigers defensive back Martez Manuel said the Mizzou players consider Kentucky an important rivalry game. That suggests the Cats will be facing a highly motivated foe in what may be a bit of a trap game for UK.

VANDERBILT

The date: Nov. 12 at Kroger Field.

The trend: Kentucky has won seven of the past eight meetings with the Commodores.

The backdrop: When James Franklin was working his relative magic (24-15 record from 2011-13) over his three seasons coaching at Vandy, the Commodores crushed the Cats three straight by an average margin of 28.7 points.

As Stoops has also done in UK’s annual meetings with South Carolina and Missouri, the UK head man has dramatically flipped the narrative of this series, too.

The zeal: In Clark Lea’s second season as Vanderbilt head coach, the Commodores (3-2, 0-1 SEC) have shown some life. Lea would put a turbo-charge beneath his rebuilding effort if he could engineer Vanderbilt’s first win in Lexington since 2012.

Kentucky quarterback Will Levis (7) is about to lead the Wildcats into a series of games, starting with Saturday night’s meeting with South Carolina, in which the opponents figure to be especially-motivated to beat UK.
Kentucky quarterback Will Levis (7) is about to lead the Wildcats into a series of games, starting with Saturday night’s meeting with South Carolina, in which the opponents figure to be especially-motivated to beat UK.

Kentucky’s 2022 results, schedule

Home games in all capital letters. Remaining kickoff times to be announced later.

Sept. 3: MIAMI (OHIO), W-37-13

Sept. 10: At Florida, W-26-16

Sept. 17: YOUNGSTOWN ST., W-31-0

Sept. 24: NORTHERN ILLINOIS, W-31-23

Oct. 1: At Mississippi, L-22-19

Oct. 8: SOUTH CAROLINA, 7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)

Oct. 15: MISSISSIPPI STATE, 7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)

Oct. 22: Off week

Oct. 29: At Tennessee

Nov. 5: At Missouri

Nov. 12: VANDERBILT

Nov. 19: GEORGIA

Nov. 26: LOUISVILLE

What to know about 2022 UK football schedule: game times, TV channels, streaming info

The John Clay Podcast: Reviewing Kentucky football’s tough loss at Ole Miss

Blue Preview: Mark Stoops is ‘on the spot’ vs. South Carolina

How far did Kentucky football fall in AP Top 25, coaches poll after Ole Miss loss?

Stock watch: Who’s rising, who’s falling after Kentucky football’s loss at Ole Miss

Fair or not, Kentucky football needs more from Will Levis after fumbles at Ole Miss