The University of Kentucky football team improved to 4-0 after holding on for a 16-10 victory over South Carolina on Saturday.
Here’s a look at what the result means for the Wildcats beyond the scoreboard.
Prelude to a storm
Kentucky avoided its worst-case scenario entering a tough stretch to start October.
Its next three games — Florida (Oct. 2), LSU (Oct. 9) and at Georgia (Oct. 16) — have been circled as the toughest trio on the schedule since it was released last year. The Gators nearly sprung an upset over Alabama. LSU hung on against Mississippi State in Starkville on Saturday and has looked closer to form since a loss to UCLA to open the year. Georgia’s probably the best team in college football at the moment. The mood around these parts would not have been great had Kentucky lost to South Carolina before that slate got started.
Two of the three are at home, so you like that if you’re an optimistic fan. Kentucky’s played Florida closely more than it hasn’t over the last several seasons, and the last time LSU rolled into town, in 2007, UK earned one of its best wins in program history. A Mark Stoops-coached team has never beaten Georgia, so that’s probably safe to pencil in as a defeat, but completely writing off the Cats’ chances of winning at least one game in the next three is foolish. Taking a 4-0 record into October gauntlet was always the hope — at worst UK comes out of it 4-3, but it’s not outlandish to think it can take a 5-2 or 6-1 record into the bye week.
At this juncture, anything but 7-0 seems achievable.
Saturday’s result could have dire recruiting implications for South Carolina
Dane Key, a four-star wide receiver recruit that plays for Frederick Douglass High School, is thought to be a UK lean but South Carolina’s viewed as the closest contender for his services if he doesn’t end up playing where his dad, Donte Key, played. Shane Beamer, South Carolina’s first-year head coach, had this to say about the recruits attending the game ahead of it being played.
“If a lot of those guys decided to be Gamecocks, we’d be competing for SEC championships really soon.”
Key, who had 80 yards on eight receptions for the Broncos in their 35-0 win over Scott County on Friday night, was expected to be among the recruits Beamer referenced who would be in attendance on Saturday. He’s a top-300 recruit in the country and ranked as a top-40 receiver in the nation. Michigan and Oregon are among the other contenders for the services of a senior who makes catches like the one below with regularity. Kentucky can’t miss on this one, and Saturday’s win had to have helped that cause.
— Jared Peck (@HLpreps) September 24, 2021
A loss wouldn’t have blown a hole in UK’s chances of making a bowl by any means, but a win virtually assures Kentucky of a sixth straight bowl trip, which would be a school record.
Kentucky following its bye will travel to Mississippi State (Oct. 30), host Tennessee (Nov. 6), travel to Vanderbilt (Nov. 13), host New Mexico State (Nov. 20) and travel to Louisville (Nov. 27). Two of those five games should be gimmes (to say the Commodores got thrashed by Georgia would be generous) and UK likely will be favored against the Volunteers and Cardinals. That trip to Starkville’s always capable of being a nightmare, but if Kentucky maxes out its potential, it’s very reasonable to think it could go 5-0 after the bye and finish with no worse than a 9-3 record.
That would match the best regular season finish of Stoops’ tenure (2018) and would qualify UK as one of the “hottest” teams in the country heading into bowl season. That’s worth something.
This was ...
▪ SEC victory No. 26 for Mark Stoops, putting him at the top of list in that category among Kentucky head coaches. Fran Curci previously held the record with 25 SEC wins.
▪ The seventh time in nine attempts that a Stoops-coached team defeated South Carolina. His 77.8 win percentage against the Gamecocks is his personal best against any SEC team and the best over South Carolina by any UK coach.
Stoops later this year could also improve his record against Vanderbilt to 7-2; UK hasn’t lost to the Commodores since 2015.
▪ Stoops’ 53rd victory at UK. The school record is 60, owned by Paul “Bear” Bryant.