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Jamie Vaught: Despite tougher schedule, Kentucky’s odds for winning 2020 football season look strong


The football Wildcats, who are coming off an electrifying Belk Bowl victory over Virginia Tech in Charlotte, now have posted four straight winning seasons. Will they have another victorious campaign in 2020?

I think so, although the schedule may be a little bit tougher. But UK will have some experienced weapons coming back and that helps. In addition, the Wildcats have more talent than in the past due to successful recruiting classes.

Looking ahead, Kentucky will have three new teams on its 2020 schedule.

Replacing three of UK’s 2019 opponents (Toledo, UT Martin and Arkansas) are two non-conference foes Kent State and Eastern Illinois, and SEC’s Auburn, a rotating Western Division opponent. (The Wildcats, by the way, are scheduled to play LSU at home in 2021, at Ole Miss in 2022 and Alabama at home in 2023.)

Kentucky players pose in the locker room with the Belk Bowl trophy following their win over Virginia Tech Dec. 31. (Photo by Britney Howard, IK Athletics)

Kentucky will kick off its 2020 campaign on Saturday, Sept. 5 when it hosts Eastern Michigan, a team the Wildcats had defeated in a 38-17 victory this past season. The EMU is coming off a 6-7 season, including a four-point loss to Pittsburgh in Detroit’s Quick Lane Bowl.

After visiting Florida (which recently finished at 11-2 with an Orange Bowl victory over Virginia) in Gainesville, the Cats will have two straight home games. They will battle the Golden Flashes from Kent State and the South Carolina Gamecocks in the friendly confines of Kroger Field.

Kent State, which recently won its first bowl game in school history, compiled a 7-6 season with a 51-41 win over Utah State in the Tropical Smoothie Café Frisco Bowl while South Carolina posted a 4-8 mark in 2019, including a 24-7 win over Kentucky in Columbia.

Then UK will travel to Auburn to meet coach Gus Malzahn’s Tigers on first Saturday in October. It would be the first time both schools have faced each other since 2015 when Auburn narrowly edged UK 30-27 in Lexington. Kentucky had a chance to tie or win the matchup with 25 seconds remaining but QB Patrick Towles was sacked on fourth down as the Tigers prevailed.

Auburn, which beat Alabama in a 48-45 shootout, is coming off a 9-4 Outback Bowl campaign. The Tigers’ four setbacks this past fall were to Florida (24-13), eventual national champion LSU (23-20) and Georgia (21-14) and Minnesota (31-24).

Then UK returns to Kroger Field for two straight games, facing Eastern Illinois, a member of the Ohio Valley Conference, and Vanderbilt.

EIU, which competes in Football Championship Subdivision, recently completed its season with a poor 1-11 overall mark (1-7 in OVC), including losses to Eastern Kentucky (33-6), UT Martin (27-18) and Indiana (52-0).

And Vandy coach Derek Mason is back for his seventh season in Nashville after a disappointing 3-9 record (1-7 in SEC) in 2019.

Kentucky then travels to Missouri where the Tigers have a new football boss by the name of 36-year-old Eliah Drinkwitz. One of college football’s top offensive minds, Drinkwitz, just completed an impressive campaign at Appalachian State where he guided No. 20 Mountaineers to a 12-1 mark and a Sun Belt Conference title before coming to Columbia.

Then the Wildcats visit the Volunteers in Knoxville on the first Saturday in November. Tennessee is coming off an 8-5 season with six straight victories, including a TaxSlayer Gator Bowl comeback win over Indiana. UT also will play at Oklahoma in the second game of the 2020 campaign.

After 5-7 and 8-5 seasons, coach Jeremy Pruitt will be entering his third year at Tennessee.

And UK wraps up its campaign with remaining November games against Mississippi State (home), Georgia (home) and U of L (away).

As you may have heard, MSU has a new coach by the name of former UK offensive coordinator Mike Leach, a two-time national coach of the year. Georgia is going to be tough again and Louisville, led by ACC Coach of the Year Scott Satterfield, has already been ranked in Top 20 for next year, according to early polls.

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There is a recently-published football book about ex-UK coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and current Alabama coach Nick Saban. “Chasing the Bear” by Lars Anderson (Grand Central Publishing, $28) is a dual biography of two coaching legends who built and led the Alabama Crimson Tide into a true football dynasty.

This 291-page hardcover provides readers a rare inside look at two great leaders. Both coaches have lots in common and they even grew up in a small-town environment with Bryant in Arkansas and Saban in West Virginia.

As you probably know, Bryant coached at UK for eight years – all winning seasons – and guided the Wildcats to three prestigious bowls – Orange, Sugar and Cotton – in addition to the Great Lakes Bowl in Cleveland.

“Chasing the Bear” is a very enjoyable read for football fans.

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Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four (soon-to-be five) 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.


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