UK football schedule could use a boost

Except for its annual rivalry showdown with U of L, UK’s non-conference football schedule hasn’t been very attractive in years.

But, to be fair, Kentucky isn’t the only school guilty of having a weak non-league, four-game schedule overall. As you know, SEC and ACC schools, looking for near-guarantee victories, will usually feature three cupcakes and one attractive non-conference showdown like South Carolina-Clemson, Florida-Florida State and Georgia-Georgia Tech.

For instance, look at Tennessee’s 2018 schedule. Besides its tough season-opener with West Virginia recently in Charlotte, N.C., the Vols have East Tennessee State, Texas El Paso (UTEP) and Charlotte. Last year, UT had Georgia Tech, Indiana State, Massachusetts and Southern Mississippi.

This season the Wildcats have Central Michigan of the Mid-American Conference, Murray State (Ohio Valley Conference) and Middle Tennessee (Conference USA) in addition to regular-season finale with Louisville. In 2017, UK faced Southern Mississippi, Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan and U of L.

By the way, it should be pointed out the other three “Power Five” conferences – Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 — only play three non-conference opponents as they have nine league matchups.

Several years ago, it was certainly nice to see Kentucky and Western Kentucky from the Conference USA square off each other five times (2008 to 2013) with UK coming out with three wins. WKU won the last two meetings in the series against UK’s 2-10 teams in 2012 and 2013 (Joker Phillips’ last year and Mark Stoops’ first year as the Wildcat coach).

In addition, having another state school — Eastern Kentucky — on Kentucky’s schedule wasn’t too bad, either. Both schools have met five times and the Colonels nearly upset the Wildcats in 2015 before UK rallied to win 34-27 in overtime.

But could Kentucky get a non-SEC team from a “Power Five” conference? How about rival Indiana? That isn’t a bad choice. I really like the idea. The Hoosiers, now 2-0 after defeating Virginia 20-16 last Saturday, come from the Big 10 Conference and Bloomington, Ind., is only a three-hour drive from Lexington, making the trip very practical for the fans from both sides.

The last time both schools met was in 2005 when coach Rich Brooks’ third UK team dropped in a 38-14 decision on the road. Indiana leads the series with a 18-17-1 mark. It was a very competitive series, which was once known as the “Bourbon Barrel,” and I think the fans – perhaps not the coaches — would enjoy a renewal of the UK-IU series.

Unfortunately, after reviewing Kentucky’s tentative schedules in 2019 and 2020 on FBSchedules.com, it isn’t any better in terms of attractiveness. The Wildcats are scheduled to meet Toledo, Eastern Michigan, UT Martin and Louisville in 2019 which includes eight home games. Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Eastern Illinois and Louisville are UK’s 2020 opponents.

Unfortunately, I guess we just have to learn to live with some not-so-delicious cupcakes in college football as the schools continue to keep near-guarantee wins for possible bowl trips.

Needless to say, a Kentucky-Indiana football game in the future sounds pretty good. And much more attractive than a Kentucky-Nobody contest. Don’t you agree?

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September 8, 2018.

That’s the date the Big Blue Nation will never forget as Kentucky rolled over the No. 25 Florida Gators 27-16 before a crowd of 80,651 at The Swamp, snapping its 31-game losing streak to UF in the series.

In my annual preseason UK football “fearless forecast” column, I had picked Florida to win, beating the Wildcats by 10. I’ll admit that I was wrong, but I’ll take it.

I was very, very pleased to see sixth-year Kentucky coach Mark Stoops and his squad come up with a major signature win for the rising program.

Interestingly, I had the Wildcats at 8-4 for the season even with a setback to Florida. And now this could be a fascinating year as the Wildcats, now 2-0, certainly have the tools – outstanding defense and running game — to be a serious threat in the SEC this fall.

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Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is 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 e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.