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Editor’s Picks: The 2023 Kentucky Football Season

Abbey Cutrer
Kentucky Wildcats football Media Day on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Abbey Cutrer | Staff

Letter from the editor: The Kentucky Kernel, in keeping in line with journalistic integrity and brand beliefs, finds it necessary to mention that one author, Ali Cetinok, currently lives and frequently spends time with many members of the Kentucky football program. The Kernel does not believe this devalues the opinions expressed in this piece in any way, or that Cetinok is not capable of being a professional, but decided it necessary to disclose any conflicts that could potentially sway one author’s opinions on matters.


Another year means another college football season is on the horizon.

While students at the University of Kentucky have kicked off the fall 2023 semester with multitudes of classes and events going on, one constant upcoming event in the minds of most sticks out more than others: the first Caturday.

Kentucky football kicks off the 2023 season on Sept. 2 in the only way it knows how: against a Group of Five school. This year’s victim? Ball State.

The Cardinals are one of the easier opponents on Kentucky’s schedule, but with so many incoming freshmen and even more returning students eagerly awaiting the season, it’s fair to wonder how the Cats will do overall this year.

Having said that, here’s how your fall 2023 sports editors predict the Wildcats will do this season:


Game One: vs. Ball State (9-2-23)


Cole: Kentucky has played a total of eight games against MAC schools under Mark Stoops. After this season that number will be 10. Kentucky’s record against MAC schools? 8-0. This feels pretty straight forward, although it is cool to see Kentucky play a team for the first time since 2001. Won’t make much of a difference, though.

Kentucky wins 33-7


Smoney: Kent State transfer RB Marquez Cooper is going to be the best thing Ball State has going for them, but it’s still not enough for me to think the Cardinals will at all be a threat to the Wildcats. This game will be about Kentucky getting to see its new offensive line in action and introducing new NC State transfer QB Devin Leary.

Kentucky wins 38-13


Ali: Ball State was not a good team in 2022. The  Cardinals went 5-7, but the offense now has Marquez Cooper working behind a decent line and transfer QB Layne Hatcher, who has been around long enough to not be fazed on the road against an SEC team. The Cardinal offense should be able to keep up the pace in the early goings but it is hard not to imagine Devin Leary, with a potentially loaded group of receivers, doesn’t crush this Ball State team no matter the questions still yet to be answered with the offensive line. 

Kentucky wins 42-14


Game Two: vs. Eastern Kentucky (9-9-23)


Cole: Growing up in Richmond, I want so badly to say “Roll Kerns” and pick EKU to win this game. I want to, but I can’t. EKU is going to lose and it’s going to lose badly. That brings me no joy, but it’s a simple fact of life.

Kentucky wins 49-10


Smoney: This will be the game where Liam Coen’s offense really starts to show out. EKU does have QB Parker McKinney, who threw for nearly 4,000 yards last season, but that was against FCS competition and not a top SEC defense.

Kentucky wins 42-10  


Ali: Kentucky will be a huge favorite in this game as well while Mark Stoops faces off against former UK assistant coach Walt Wells. The Colonels finished 7-5 overall last year, losing in the FCS playoffs, but they did bring back the school’s all-time leading quarterback in Parker McKinney, the No. 4 ranked player in the 2023 FCS Positional Ranking. EKU will also be coached by former UK quarterback Maxwell Smith, but the Cats will get off to an easy 2-0 start, winning big anyway.

Kentucky wins 49-10


Game Three: vs. Akron (9-16-23)


Cole: I could go on to reiterate Kentucky’s 8-0 record against MAC schools or highlight the oddity that will be Kentucky playing AT Akron in the coming years, but the simple fact of the matter is that Akron doesn’t stand a chance here. I see this one going similar to the Ball State match.

Kentucky wins 35-0


Smoney: There’s not too much to say about this game. It will be important for Kentucky to work out all of its kinks in this final game before SEC competition.

Kentucky wins 38-3


Ali: Akron and Ball State are in a similar tier in the MAC this year, which means neither have enough firepower to challenge a good Kentucky team this season. Expect a similar result to Ball State.

Kentucky wins 42-14


Game Four: at Vanderbilt (9-23-23)


Cole: Last season Kentucky football was embarrassed by Vanderbilt, suffering its first loss in a decade to the Commodores on its own turf. What was Kentucky’s answer to that? Well, it poached Vandy’s best running back, Ray Davis, for itself and brought back offensive coordinator Liam Coen to lead a rejuvenated attack with transfer quarterback Devin Leary. Kentucky is winning this one.

Kentucky wins 28-3


Smoney: There is just no way the Wildcats will let the Commodores embarrass them again. Kentucky took Vandy’s Davis this season, who rushed for 129 yards against UK last year and was arguably Vanderbilt’s best player. 

Kentucky wins 28-10


Ali: After dominating in Lexington last season, Davis now finds himself on the opposite sideline and has a day to remember in Nashville, rushing for more than 100 yards for the Cats this time. Vanderbilt will be a better squad this season but will still find themselves finishing last in the SEC East. Kentucky will come into this game with a lot of confidence and an undefeated record and leave 1-0 in SEC play and 4-0 after four weeks of play. 

Kentucky wins 24-10


Game Five: vs. Florida (9-30-23)


Cole: This is the first real intense matchup Kentucky has on the schedule and even then, I don’t imagine Kentucky being at too much of a risk of losing this one. Last year, the Cats marched into Gainesville and beat a Florida team that had all the momentum in the world. Sure, the Gators were overhyped, but the point stands. UF has less excitement now than it did prior to that game, and Kentucky is a better team than it was.

Kentucky wins 31-21


Smoney: If everything goes as planned, the Wildcats should be 4-0 going into this home matchup against Florida. The Gators will be the same team they were last year, and Kentucky had no issue beating them at the Swamp. This year will be no different, just with the home advantage at Kroger Field.

Kentucky wins 24-17


Ali: This is a huge game for Florida’s Billy Napier to establish a winning culture again in Gainesville as the Wildcats have won three of the last five against UF. Expect more of the same this year, with the game at Kroger Field and Kentucky having the quarterback advantage. The Cats will make it four out of six wins, which would have been unthinkable not long ago.

Kentucky wins 21-17


Game Six: at Georgia (10-7-23)


Cole: Kentucky is a better team than it was last year. Unfortunately, it won’t matter too much. Georgia is fresh off two national titles and are looking for a third. Brad White will work his magic on the defensive side of the ball and Liam Coen will do his best to fight Georgia’s elite defense, but I think Georgia hands the Cats yet another loss.

Georgia wins 23-13


Smoney: As well as Kentucky’s offense will hope to be by this point, it would take a miracle to beat Georgia. White’s defense will hold the Dawgs to a respectable measure, but playing in Athens is pretty much a death sentence for any team that’s not Georgia.

Georgia wins 28-13


Ali: White’s defense always plays great against Georgia, but winning against the Dawgs requires perfection. Unfortunately for Stoops and Kentucky, the Wildcats are not a perfect team and that will land Kentucky its first loss of the season in Athens.

Georgia wins 27-13


Game Seven: vs. Mizzou (10-14-23)


Cole: A nice opportunity for a bounce back win. Kentucky hasn’t lost to Missouri at home since 2013, Stoops’ first year at UK, and this year won’t be any different. It will be close, because it always is, but Kentucky will pull it out again.

Kentucky wins 23-17


Smoney: Returning home after Georgia, the Wildcats have only ever lost one time to Missouri (back in 2013). This will be a nice win for Kentucky after picking up their first loss of the season.

Kentucky wins 24-14


Ali: Kentucky returns home to take on a Missouri team that it has defeated six of the last seven years. Make it seven out of eight thanks to the superior quarterback. This game is always close and will continue to be close this year, but the outcome won’t be any different.

Kentucky wins 20-10


Game Eight: vs. Tennessee (10-28-23)


Cole: Last year was a particularly brutal example of what Tennessee is capable of during a good year, but even in the rougher years of the program, Tennessee has managed to have Kentucky’s number. I think this year will be no different.

Tennessee wins 38-31


Smoney: Kentucky will be predicted to lose this game, but out of all the games the Wildcats are expected to lose, I think this is the one where they could turn the tables. The rivalry between the two is hot this year and, with UK at home, I believe a healthy defense and pumped-up offensive line can take down the Vols. 

Kentucky wins 35-31


Ali: Was last year’s success because of the UT players or was it the system? With Hendon Hooker gone, it’s Joe Milton’s team. Milton has a strong arm, but almost every quarterback has a strong arm (that’s what they do), and not every quarterback is great. Regardless, the last two times the pair have faced off in Lexington, UT have won nail biters, so I expect the same this season as Kentucky falls to 6-2 on the season.

Tennessee wins 38-35


Game Nine: at Mississippi State (11-4-23)


Cole: This rivalry between the Bulldogs and Wildcats has recently been defined by whichever side had home field advantage. The teams have traded wins in eight straight battles with the home side winning every time. Unfortunately, this year’s Mississippi State will have the cloud of former head coach Mike Leach’s passing. As unfortunate as that is, the game of football tends to show very little sympathy.

Kentucky wins 24-19


Smoney: The Wildcats have not found success in Starkville since 2008 when Kentucky held on by a singular point over the Bulldogs. Sitting in between Tennessee and Alabama will be a tough spot to be in, but a new head coach for Mississippi State could give the Wildcats the upper hand they will need on the road.

Kentucky wins 21-17 


Ali: Kentucky has lost 15 straight road games to SEC West teams, but there’s a new regime in Starkville and Stoops has a tendency to end streaks. Even though the home team has dominated this series, Kentucky will leave Mississippi with the win, albeit a very close one.

Kentucky wins 17-14


Game Ten: vs. Alabama (11-11-23)


Cole: Alabama and Nick Saban come into Kroger Field for a spectacle game. Unfortunately, since it’s Bama, there’s little doubt about the outcome. Kentucky has beaten Alabama twice in history: in 1997 and 1922. I don’t think 2023 is the year that will end a reign of team-on-team dominance that has lasted over two-and-a-half decades.

Alabama wins 42-20


Smoney: The wait is over — Alabama is coming to Lexington. It’ll be a hard-fought match for both sides, and while there has been much buzz around Nick Saban and who will be his quarterback, there is no shot he will let the Wildcats beat them. Kentucky has found victory against the Crimson Tide only twice and I can’t say that is going to change any time soon.

Alabama wins 35-21


Ali: One major concern for Nick Saban is the question of who will start at quarterback, but this is still Alabama. It’s still Nick Saban. What does he do best? Remind the country exactly who he is. Now, this game will be close and won’t be the same as the 2020 meeting in Tuscaloosa, but the Tide will leave Lexington with the win.

Alabama wins 42-28


Game Eleven: at South Carolina (11-18-23)


Cole: Some have gone as far as to say that South Carolina is one of the toughest places to play in college football. It very well may be, but that hasn’t stopped Kentucky from winning three of the last four in Columbia. If I were a betting man (I often am), I would pick Kentucky to win an ugly one.

Kentucky wins 19-12


Smoney: Nearing the end of the season and coming off of a loss is an exhausting spot to be. As much as I want to believe the Wildcats can hang in there and pull through, there’s going to be one game this season when UK loses when it wasn’t expected to. South Carolina had a strong finish to its season last year and having the home advantage over Kentucky might help it earn an upset win.

South Carolina wins 21-17


Ali: Columbia can be a very intimidating place to play, but not necessarily for Kentucky, as the Cats have only lost one time against the Gamecocks since 2015. That loss came last year without Will Levis. Now, many people are high on South Carolina after it finished last season with wins over Tennessee and Clemson, but I am not feeling that same sentiment. This game will be reminiscent of the 2021 matchup where the defense pulled through for the win.

Kentucky wins 20-14


Game Twelve: at Louisville (11-25-23)


Cole: Everyone loves a good Governor’s Cup battle. Especially Kentucky, considering the Cats have won four straight now. Louisville is looking to build a new identity, but identities aren’t crafted overnight. The Cat will once again catch the bird.

Kentucky wins 42-24


Smoney: New head coach Jeff Brohm will no doubt be looking to end the 4-game win streak Kentucky currently holds over Louisville, but he’ll have to wait. 

Kentucky wins 24-17


Ali: Louisville hasn’t been good for awhile but, with the arrival of Brohm from Purdue, I expect this Louisville team to at least be competitive. Sooner or later, the Cards will be back to their former glory, but not this season. Growing pains for Brohm’s program and the fact that Kentucky possesses more talent will see the Cats win the Governor’s Cup yet again.

Kentucky wins 35-24




Cole: 9-3 with losses to Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama.

Smoney: 9-3 with losses to Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina 

Ali: 9-3 with losses to Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.

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Cole Parke, Sports Editor
Abbey Cutrer, Editor-in-Chief

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