Kentucky, as expected but not with ease, took care of business against Chattanooga to improve to 3-0 in the 2021 season.
Here’s a closer look at what Saturday’s result means beyond the win-loss record.
The Wildcats are undefeated through three games for the first time since 2018, when they started 5-0 and finished 10-3 after a win over Penn State in that season’s Citrus Bowl.
Kentucky won its fifth straight game overall, going back to last year’s 41-18 pounding of South Carolina, to which it will travel next week. The Gamecocks, who were scheduled to play at No. 2 Georgia on Saturday night, are 2-6 against Mark Stoops’ teams and have lost all but one of the last seven meetings (2019). If UK wins in Columbia next week, it’ll have won six consecutive games as a program for the first time since 1977 (that team won nine straight games to end the season after starting 1-1).
UK after that returns for two more home games, Florida and LSU. Assuming it’s 4-0 after this year’s South Carolina visit — a heavy assumption coming out of a lackluster showing on Saturday — then Kentucky will be in a spot to make some real noise in the Southeastern Conference this year.
My gut says Kentucky will have to improve to 4-0 before cracking either of the top-25 polls, especially after Saturday’s close call. Struggling to get the better of a now 1-2 FCS team isn’t exactly the kind of development that makes voters go, “Wow!”
Whether or not UK deserves to be ranked is a worthwhile debate. At a minimum, it ought to be getting more respect from voters as far as point accumulation in the poll is concerned. Kansas State, who stuck it to Stanford a week before scraping by Southern Illinois, is closer to being ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 than Kentucky, which overwhelmed a Missouri team that many in the media thought would finish ahead of UK in the SEC Eastern Division before the season started.
The coaches are favoring Kentucky a bit more — they’re ahead of Kansas State over there — but they have the likes of Pittsburgh and Liberty ranked higher than the Wildcats. The latter’s getting shine for its performance last season, while the former’s getting credit for shellacking UMass and squeaking out a victory on the road against a Tennessee squad that’s not expected to make a bowl game. OK.
Kentucky last was ranked before it ever played a game in the 2020 season. UK, benefiting from the fact that at that time some major conferences were not playing football, was ranked No. 23 in the week two and week three AP polls prior to its kickoff at Auburn. The Cats were ranked 20th in the week two coaches poll.
Before that instance, Kentucky last was ranked at the end of the 2018 season; the Cats finished 11th (coaches) and 12th (AP) in that year’s final polls. That team didn’t enter the polls until improving to 4-0 with a 28-7 win at home against Mississippi State, its second win over a top-25 team that season (they’d beaten Florida in week two). UK from that point was ranked in both polls for the remainder of the season.
Two of the three opponents were penciled in as wins before the year even got started, so take that for what it is, but Kentucky is well-positioned to make a sixth straight bowl game.
UK has bigger aspirations than merely winning six or seven games, of course, but that would also be a new record for the program. Make light of it if you’d like, but that kind of history is better than most of what the Cats have written in their previous 130 years playing the sport.