The Southeastern Conference revealed its weekly conference matchups for the 2022 schedule Tuesday night during a broadcast on SEC Network.
If you were a Kentucky fan aware of the cross-divisional rotation announced way back in 2014, and there was no real intrigue beyond when the games would be played. If you were not aware, though, then Tuesday’s night announcement that UK will travel to Ole Miss on Oct. 1 probably surprised you a little, since the Cats hosted the Rebels just last season. That game was added to the schedule because of the league’s move to a 10-game SEC slate; the road trip to Auburn that opened the 2020 season was UK’s regularly-scheduled game as part of the cross-divisional rotation (this year’s is their home game against LSU on Oct. 9).
Here are three observations about what lies in store for the Wildcats next year.
Three of Kentucky’s first four games are at home, and those are “guarantee” games. Two are against Mid-American Conference schools — Miami (Ohio) to open the season on Sept. 3 and Northern Illinois on Sept. 24 to close out the month — while the other is against Youngstown State, an FCS program that attempted to pluck away recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow from UK’s staff to become its head coach a couple years ago.
Miami’s rebuild under Chuck Martin has coincided with Mark Stoops’ at Kentucky. Martin in 2014 inherited an 0-12 team and has since gotten the Redhawks to bowl eligibility in three of his last four full seasons (they were 2-1 in their shortened 2020 season). Miami won the 2019 MAC championship game and has finished with a top-three recruiting class in its conference each of the last three cycles.
When UK signed its contract with Northern Illinois in Sept. 2017, the Huskies were at the tail end of a historic run: under three different head coaches from 2008-2018, they played in 10 bowl games and won at least eight games in nine of those seasons. They finished with double-digit victories every season from 2010-2014, and went 8-5 the year this contract was signed. NIU has dropped off since; it finished 8-6 the next season, 5-7 in 2019 and was 0-6 in 2020. The Huskies are off to a 1-2 start in 2021.
Miami and NIU each will be paid $1.4 million to travel to Lexington, per copies of the contracts obtained by the Herald-Leader. Youngstown State will be paid $550,000.
To ‘The Grove’
UK hasn’t played at Ole Miss since 2010; the Rebels won 42-35, a result they later had to vacate. Due to a quirk in the schedule, Kentucky has played Ole Miss three times in Lexington since that last road trip. It’s 1-2 in those games and fell to 0-2 under Stoops after dropping last season’s 42-41 overtime thriller.
The Rebels’ offense has been as potent as anticipated in 2021, but will get its best test yet on Saturday when Alabama rolls into Oxford, Miss. Junior quarterback Matt Corral, heading into the bout, is the betting favorite for this year’s Heisman Trophy; the 22-year-old has thrown for 997 yards and nine touchdowns with no interceptions through three games. If he continues to play at that clip, he’ll not only be in the conversation as a first-round NFL pick for a draft that’s not thought to be particularly rich in quarterbacks, but might build himself up to be the first passer off the board. That’d be a win for Kentucky; he was 24 of 29 for 320 yards and four touchdown throws without an interception last year in Lexington.
Off the field, it’ll be an opportunity for fans to partake in tailgating festivities in “The Grove,” a 10-acre area at the center of Ole Miss’ campus that Sporting News once described as “the Holy Grail of tailgating sites.”
The league tried to schedule no more than five consecutive conference games for its schools in 2022, and has no team playing any more than three consecutive road games in the league. The former didn’t jibe with Kentucky’s non-conference slate, though.
Kentucky from Oct. 1 through Nov. 19, a stretch that includes its off week, will play seven straight league foes, just as it will this season beginning with its Saturday trip to South Carolina. UK started SEC play at home this year; it won’t host an SEC foe in 2022 until Oct. 8, when the Gamecocks make the return trip. It goes to Florida in week two and to Ole Miss in week five; those aren’t exactly the first two games you’d like to have in league play.
The Wildcats will play seven games before their bye week. If you chalk up the games against Florida and Ole Miss as losses, just by virtue of being on the road, and assume they get the better of South Carolina and Mississippi State before taking a week off, they’d need to win only one game after the bye to be bowl eligible.
A trip to Tennessee greets Kentucky after the bye; UK last year won in Knoxville for the first time since the 1980s. The Cats will then travel to Missouri before hosting Vanderbilt and Georgia to close out conference play. A home date with Louisville rounds out the schedule; those last two are toughies to close out the season.
Kentucky’s 2022 football schedule
Games at Kroger Field unless noted
Sept. 3: Miami (Ohio)
Sept. 10: at Florida
Sept. 17: Youngstown State
Sept. 24: Northern Illinois
Oct. 1: at Ole Miss
Oct. 8: South Carolina
Oct. 15: Mississippi State
Oct. 22: Off week
Oct. 29: at Tennessee
Nov. 5: at Missouri
Nov. 12: Vanderbilt
Nov. 19: Georgia
Nov. 26: Louisville