Editor’s picks for the 2022 season


Jack Weaver

Kentucky runs onto the field before UK’s home opener against Louisiana Monroe on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jack Weaver | Kentucky Kernel

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

American sports fans are fickle in nature, and this mentality is no different when it comes to college football.

No matter how much excitement comes with the first game day of the year, no matter who that first matchup is against, American fans can’t help but ask the same question: how is the team going to have done by the end of the season?

Record predictions, playoff predictors and coaching hot seats lists litter Twitter feeds and forum walls in the weeks leading up to the season; it’s only natural by this point.

With the 2022 season less than a week away, those questions are in full force and for the Kentucky Wildcats that is no different.

With numerous storylines heading into the season and some critical matchups even early into the schedule, it remains to be seen how UK does this season.

Games 1-3:

General consensus amongst predictors is that UK’s floor after three games is 2-1. Miami Ohio and Youngstown State may be fun games, but there’s very little reason to believe the Wildcats have a chance of coming up short.

Miami does boast a notable quarterback prospect in Brett Gabbert, brother of former NFL QB Blaine Gabbert, but otherwise there’s little to be concerned about.

As for the Penguins, while Kentucky did struggle against Chattanooga, the Mocs not only had a noteworthy run game, but the consensus after the game was still that the struggle was a fluke.

With those games down as likely wins, that turns all the focus of the first two games towards Florida.

Florida is a program that arguably has even more question marks than Kentucky with the Gators ready to start their first season under new coach Billy Napier, former head coach of the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns, after parting ways with Dan Mullen following a 6-7 season that concluded with a bowl loss to UCF.

That said, Florida has one major factor going for it: The Swamp.

Gainesville is always a tough place to play, especially in week two of a season, and for a Kentucky team ranked in the top 25 before playing a game, the stadium is sure to be packed.
Kentucky has won just one game in The Swamp since 1979, with only three total wins over Florida in that period as well.

Despite this, ESPN matchup predictor has the Gators as just a 51% favorite with that number liable to change in favor of the Cats depending on how Florida’s week one matchup with No. 7 Utah goes.

As for a hard prediction, Kentucky has every tool to start the season 3-0 and many UK fans may struggle to imagine a world in which that doesn’t happen.

Whether 2-1 or 3-0, with high potential for the latter, the matchup against Florida could very well set the tone for the season as a whole, and should not be looked upon lightly.

Games 4-5:

Talk about a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Many UK fans may be overlooking this stretch purely based on the name’s of the team’s involved, but if UK is to take a first loss before traveling to Knoxville, it is very likely to come from one of these two games.

Northern Illinois might have some of the loudest silent trap-game alarm bells ringing that college football has this season.

The Huskies are coming off of a 9-5 season that saw them crowned champions of the MAC and narrowly losing an 80-plus-point shootout against Coastal Carolina in their bowl game.
With a number of returning stars looking to make an impact, NIU should not be taken lightly.

Moving on to game five, the problem with trap games is that, even if UK has no problem with NIU, they precede tougher opponents.

Ole Miss enters the season ranked No. 21 in the preseason top 25 with running back Zach Evan’s having led TCU in rushing yards before transferring to Mississippi.

To make matters worse, the game is in Oxford.

Similar to Florida, Kentucky doesn’t have the greatest odds on the road against higher level SEC teams based on historical precedent.

The Cats have not won in Oxford since 1978, and have gone 5-10 overall against the Rebels in that time frame.

While NIU should be a win for Kentucky despite the trap game potential, Ole Miss may give Kentucky significant problems.

Having said that, the possibility does still remain that Kentucky starts the season 5-0, though it will not be easy.

Games 6-7:

Games six and seven are home stands against SEC rivals South Carolina and Mississippi State.

Both games in which Kentucky could easily lose, but will likely be favored to win.

Looking first at South Carolina, Kentucky conquered the Gamecocks in Colombia last season, though the team is not quite the same.

USC brought in former Oklahoma prospect Spencer Rattler to start under center, with the QB finishing last season with 1,438 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions in Norman. He also ranked first in the Big 12 in completion percentage.

The Gamecocks should not be taken lightly by any means, but Kentucky is perfectly capable of getting the win.

Mississippi State is a bit more of a wildcard.

The Bulldogs defeated Kentucky in Starkville last season 31-17.

Returning star quarterback Will Rogers is a big plus for MSU, though Kentucky has a returning star QB with the first name Will of their own in former Penn State transfer Will Levis.

Traditionally though, the series between Mississippi State and Kentucky has been defined by who is home and away.

The last road win against the other was by the Bulldogs in 2014, but since then the series has been 4-3 in favor of Mississippi State, with both teams winning every home game and losing every road game against each other.

With signs pointing to Kentucky evening the score, it will be hard to imagine history doesn’t repeat itself.

Expect both squads to continue passing wins back and forth like the world’s most random tennis match.

Not an easy stretch necessarily, but Kentucky should go 2-0 in this stretch if all goes according to plan for head coach Mark Stoops.

Game 8:

Now the team arrives at a brick wall known as Neyland Stadium.

The Volunteers have to be one of, if not the toughest game Kentucky has on its schedule this season.

With Tennessee returning redshirt senior quarterback Hendon Hooker, an early national player of the year candidate, the offense looks to pick up right where it left off one season prior.

That doesn’t bode well for Kentucky, which lost to Tennessee at home last season in a 45-42 shootout that was ultimately decided by a halftime field goal.

Take those factors and add the fact that the game is at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, in which Kentucky has only won once since 1984 and you’re left with a recipe for a gritty loss for a UK team with big ambitions.

While Kentucky has the tools necessary to defeat Ole Miss and Florida on the road, it’s hard to imagine the Cats winning in Knoxville.

If Kentucky is somehow 7-0 entering the Tennessee game, there’s a very good chance they leave it 7-1.

Games 9-10:

The next two should both be wins for Kentucky.

First, playing in its easiest road game of the season by far, Kentucky travels to Colombia, Missouri, to challenge the Mizzou Tigers.

While it should not be overlooked, the Missouri game is an ideal target for a standard road win for the Wildcats.

Levis may have difficulties managing junior defensive back Kris Abrams-Diane, but with a sturdy run game and other receivers to pass to, Kentucky should be alright.

Next, returning home for the first time in two weeks, Kentucky gets the closest thing to an easy matchup as the SEC has to offer: Vanderbilt.

The Commodores did stomp the Hawai’i Warriors 63-10 in their first game of the season, but the truth of the matter is that Vandy is still not ready to be competitive in the SEC.

Coming off a 2-10 season that saw the Commodores narrowly lose to Kentucky at home, the Wildcats should have little issue securing the win at home.

Game 11:

This is what the entire season is building up to.

Kentucky gets to challenge the reigning national champions at home, potentially for the SEC East as a whole assuming Tennessee is not in the conversation.

Georgia has not lost to Kentucky, home or away, since 2009, currently boasting a win streak of 12 over the Cats.

The Bulldogs are the team to beat in the SEC East, and if it wasn’t for Alabama, would be the team to beat in the SEC as a whole.

As for whether or not Kentucky will break the streak and perhaps win the east, it’s hard to say.

The game one season prior wasn’t extremely competitive as the Bulldogs stomped the then-undefeated Wildcats 30-13, but the matchup was also in Athens.

The difference in venue could mean the difference between a nice bowl appearance or a college football playoff appearance being on the table if Kentucky enters the game with one or fewer losses.

That said, whether Kentucky is undefeated, has one loss or has more than one loss, it’s hard to predict it won’t have another one after Georgia comes to town.

Game 12:

Kentucky ends the regular season at home for the annual Governor’s Cup battle against Louisville.

The Cardinals do bring back quarterback Malik Cunningham who is expected to make a significant impact on their season, but Cunningham was also part of the 52-21 thrashing UofL suffered in Louisville last season.

With the game being in Lexington, it’s hard to imagine Kentucky not retaining the Governor’s Cup, though the game should not be taken lightly regardless.

Similar to South Carolina or Mississippi State before it, Louisville is a game that Kentucky should win, but should doesn’t always mean will.

With this particular matchup though, especially considering how much Levis bought into the feud last season, Kentucky should be victorious.


Kentucky’s schedule is not easy.

Sure, there are harder one’s out there, but the Wildcats will have to maintain focus and be able to shift mindsets on a week-to-week basis if they hope to live up to the hype that surrounds the program.

Kentucky has a floor of anywhere from 8-4 to 6-6 if it crumbles under the expectations, but the reality is probably closer to 9-3, with a ceiling of 11-1.

Imagining Kentucky beating both Georgia and Tennessee on the road in the same season is the dream for many UK football fans, but mostly implausible to anyone outside of that bubble.

If a hard baseline prediction is required, 9-3 seems safe.

Apart from Missouri, Kentucky has some tough road matchups this season, and losing one or two against Florida, Ole Miss or Tennessee feels more like an inevitability than a worry.

On top of that, Georgia at home is better than Georgia on the road, but imagining the 12-year losing streak being snapped just seems unlikely this season.