Believe it or not, it’s Football season that’s on the clock as both the NCAA Tournament and spring sports season has been canceled due to coronavirus concerns.
In 2020, the Kentucky Wildcats will be looking to not only reach a fifth straight bowl game but win their first SEC East division title in program history.
To do so, the Cats will need to find a way to navigate through a tough schedule that features 10 teams that won at least six games a year ago.
In these power rankings, we take a look at Kentucky’s 2020 opponents to find which games will be the most difficult to win.
12: Eastern Illinois Panthers (2019 Record: 1-11)
Kentucky’s lone FCS opponent in 2020 will be the Eastern Illinois Panthers who will make the trip to Kroger Field on Oct. 10.The Panthers have a rich program history at the quarterback position as they’ve produced NFL Pro Bowlers Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo.
Lately, however, the program has fallen on hard times. The Panthers won just one game in 2019 and finished last in the Ohio Valley Conference. Their one win was a decrease from a 2018 campaign that saw the team win three.
With the matchup coming in the middle of October, Kentucky should have a chance to build some midseason confidence before opening the second half of conference play the following week.
11. Kent State Golden Flashes (2019 Record: 7-6)
For the first time since 2012, the Kent State Golden Flashes of the Mid American Conference will travel South to Lexington to take on the Cats on Sept. 19, 2020.
2019 was a historic season for the Golden Flashes as they won their first bowl game in program history with a 51-41 win over Utah State in the Frisco Bowl.
While the program is trending upwards, Kentucky should be able to handle a Kent State that hasn’t defeated a power-five opponent since 2007 when they took down Iowa State.
10. Eastern Michigan Eagles (2019 Record: 6-7)
For the third time in four years, Kentucky will play host to the Eastern Michigan Eagles. The 2020 battle will take place in the season opener on Sept. 5.
Last season, Kentucky defeated EMU 38-17 but lost starting quarterback Terry Wilson to a season ending injury. Thus, Wilson’s return to the gridiron will be a chance for revenge as he looks to put his team in the win column to open the season.
In 2019, the Eagles won six games and reached a bowl game for the third time in four years. While UK will be heavy favorites, EMU will be the most challenging non-power-five they will play in 2020.
9. Vanderbilt Commodores (2019 Record: 3-9)
Kentucky will look for their fifth straight victory over division foe Vanderbilt when the Commodores travel to Lexington on Oct. 20.
After falling behind 14-3 in Nashville in their matchup last season, the Wildcats scored 35 unanswered points to secure a 38-14 victory.
Vanderbilt will hope to improve upon a rough 2020 season, but with several question marks on offense, particularly at the quarterback position, it’s hard to see much of a jump in the win total.
8. Missouri Tigers (2019 Record: 6-6)
The Wildcats will go for their sixth straight win over Missouri when they travel to Columbia on Oct. 24. Kentucky ran through the Tigers in their 2019 meeting with a 29-7 victory in the Lexington rain.
In 2020, the Tigers will have a handful of holes to fill, including at quarterback with Kelly Bryant graduated. The team will also be under new leadership as Eli Drinkwitz was hired as head coach to replace the fired Barry Odom.
In the first year of the Drinkwitz era, there may be some growing pains for the Tigers, but they still won’t be an easy team to defeat on their home field.
7. South Carolina Gamecocks (2019 Record: 4-8)
Kentucky saw their five-game winning streak over the Gamecocks snapped last season with a 24-7 loss at Williams-Brice Stadium.
In 2020, the two teams will face off at Kroger Field, where South Carolina has not won since 2012. The Gamecocks should be improved from their four-win 2019 season but still have plenty of holes to fill, including at running back and on defense with the loss of first-team all-conference defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw.
As per usual, defeating the Gamecocks will likely take a dog fight as the two teams have had several close battles since Mark Stoops arrived in Lexington.
6. Louisville Cardinals (2019 Record: 8-5)
The Louisville Cardinals were among the most improved teams in college football in 2019. Under first-year head coach Scott Satterfield the Cards won eight games, including a victory over Mississippi State in the Music City Bowl just a year removed from their two-win 2018 campaign.
Despite this, the Cardinals couldn’t handle the rival Wildcats as Kentucky blew out Louisville 45-13 in Lexington for a second straight Governor’s cup crown.
In 2020, the Cats will travel west to Louisville and look to make it three in a row. This will be a tall order, as nearly all of Louisville’s main contributors from a year ago on both sides of the ball will be back in red.
5. Mississippi State Bulldogs (2019 Record: 6-7)
There’s a new sheriff in town in Starkville. After just two seasons, the Bulldogs fired Joe Morehead and hired former Kentucky offensive coordinator Mike Leach to turn the program around.
Despite a tough 2019, the Bulldogs still won six games and defeated Kentucky 28-13 to avenge their 21 point loss in Lexington during the 2018 season.
In 2020, Leach will take the Bulldogs into Lexington on Nov. 14 in what could be a pivotal matchup for the Cats SEC East title hopes. With Stanford transfer K. J. Costello under center and most starters set to return on both sides of the ball, Mississippi State will be a tough late season opponent to beat.
4. Tennessee Volunteers (2019 Record: 8-5)
The Wildcats woes, against the Vols, continued in 2019 as Tennessee earned a 17-13 victory at Kroger Field for their 32nd victory over the Cats in the last 34 matchups.
In their second year under head coach Jeremy Pruitt, the Vols bounced back after losing games to Georgia State and BYU to go 8-5 and earn their first bowl bid since 2016. There, they defeated Indiana in the Gator Bowl and officially let the nation know the program is on the rise.
Tennessee’s 2020 roster will see much off their trench talent returning on both sides of the ball, which should help lead them to more success. Thus, it will be a tall order to Kentucky to earn a victory in Knoxville for the first time since 1984 when they make the short trip South on Nov. 7.
3. Auburn Tigers (2019 Record: 9-4)
For the first time since 2015 the Wildcats will match up with the Auburn Tigers when they travel to the plains on Oct. 3. The Tigers have won each of the previous two battles between the cross-divisional foes but haven’t seen the Cats since the program began to shift in the right direction.
The Tigers are coming off a 9-4 2019 campaign that saw them knock rival Alabama out of the college football playoff picture but also loose to Minnesota in the Outback Bowl.
This matchup compares to the matchup Kentucky had with Texas A&M in College Station in 2018. They will go into one of the nation’s most hostile environments with a chance to prove they can beat any team in the conference. It will be a great challenge for a Wildcats program hungry to prove they are for real.
2. Georgia Bulldogs (2019 Record: 12-2)
The lone SEC East rival Kentucky has yet to beat in the Stoops era is Georgia. While Kentucky has kept games’ close and shown they belong on the same field, they have yet to get over the hump and pull out a victory. 2020 might be the Cats best shot.
Georgia’s roster features several young starters, including at quarterback, running back and nearly the entire offensive line due to the talent they’re losing to the NFL. Kentucky will also have the home field as the Bulldogs will come to Kroger Field on Nov. 21.
While Georgia may take a step back in 2020, Kentucky will still be underdogs with the Dawgs roll into town.
1. Florida Gators (2019 Record: 11-2)
While Georgia has controlled the SEC East the last three seasons, the Florida Gators will enter 2020 as heavy division favorites. The Gators will return a large load of starters from their 2019 roster that won 12 games and the Orange Bowl.
Florida will also have a full season of Kyle Trask as their starting quarterback. In 1o starts, Trask led the Gators to an 8-2 record and helped the team overcome an 11 point fourth-quarter deficit against Kentucky after Feleipe Franks left the game due to injury.
Thus, a trip to Gainesville to open up conference play on Sept. 12 will be Kentucky’s toughest game of the season as they look for just their second win over Florida since 1987.