5 games Britain must win Mark Stoops 2022


LEXINGTON — While discussing the future of Kentucky football’s non-conference schedule in a recent interview with The Courier Journal, Britain’s sporting director Mitch Barnhart acknowledged that the bar has been raised for the Wildcats.

“The goal is to get to Atlanta,” Barnhart said.

It’s easy to see why Mark Stoops and his players dream of pushing Georgia to the first SEC East crown in program history.

Kentucky is in its second season with 10 wins in four years. Quarterback Will Levis, now widely projected to be the first-round pick in the 2023 NFL draft, is back. A group of senior linebackers chose to use their extra playing time to return to Kentucky and form the core of an experienced defense.

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Of course there are questions.

What’s the star relegating Chris Rodriguez’s status after he pleaded guilty to DUI charges this week? Are the many transfers added in defensive secondary this spring enough to answer the questions there? What does the passing game look like without record receiver Wan’Dale Robinson?

How these questions are answered says a lot about whether Kentucky is a legitimate contender for the SEC East title.

New Courier Journal Louisville football beat writer Alexis Cubit recently listed the five games U of L must win for the 2022 season to be considered a success. Writing the same list for Kentucky requires a different grading process, as achieving a bowl is no longer enough. Almost every game must be considered a “must win” if making the SEC championship game is the goal.

Can Kentucky’s season be considered a success even if Georgia holds on to its SEC East champion crown? Win those five games—in addition to wins in the Miami (Ohio), Youngstown State, Northern Illinois, and Vanderbilt competitions in which Kentucky will be a big favorite—and success is still within reach in this scenario.

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1. Louisville (Nov. 26)

While Kentucky has won the last three games in the Governor’s Cup rivalry with a combined score of 153-44, the pressure is on the Wildcats entering the 2022 matchup. The SEC East race will be decided when Kentucky completes the regular season by hosting their rival at Kroger Field, but even if Georgia has won the title, winning this game will likely be crucial to keep Kentucky in the running for a new one year to keep six cup appearance. If a New Year’s Six Bowl is out of reach, a win over Louisville could still add momentum to a crucial recruiting period ahead of December’s Signing Day. Rivalry rights appear to be especially important this year as Louisville fans enjoy a summer of positive recruiting news while Kentucky’s class of 2023 sits outside the top 50 nationally.

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2nd in Florida (September 10)

With two wins in the last four years against Florida, Kentucky is working to re-establish itself as a threat to the team that beat them 31 straight games between 1987 and 2017, but the Wildcats haven’t won back-to-back games against the Gators since 1976 and 1977. It’s difficult to imagine Kentucky as a competitor in the East without beating Florida in the first year of the Billy Napier era. Winning at Gainesville is always a tough task, but winning Florida in week two offers a chance for an early swing.

3rd in Tennessee (29 Oct)

For all of Kentucky’s recent successes, southern border rival Stoops and Co. have remained a thorn in their side. The 45-42 loss to Tennessee a year ago essentially put Kentucky out of contention for a New Year’s Six Bowl. The loss of South Warren defenseman Cristian Conyer, the top-ranked recruit in the Kentucky High School class of 2023 according to Rivals, over the holiday weekend only added to the frustration. The winner of this game looks like Georgia’s biggest threat in the SEC East race.

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4. South Carolina (8 Oct)

Kentucky has established itself in a class above South Carolina by winning 7-of-8 against the Gamecocks, but that gap could quickly close if vaunted quarterback transfer Spencer Rattler has the impact at Columbia that many pundits are predicting. South Carolina has momentum after hitting a bowl game in Shane Beamer’s first season as coach, a year after going 2-8. A win for Kentucky here would silence any talk of a reshuffle in the SEC East’s pecking order.

5. at Ole Miss (Oct. 1)

The two games against the SEC’s Mississippi Schools will likely be pivotal in determining Kentucky’s bowl goal. Kentucky will likely need to win both to keep a New Year’s Six Bowl within reach, but as the SEC’s Sugar Bowl representative a year ago, Ole Miss offers a better opportunity to move the needle in the national perception of Stoops’ team. Kentucky is only 2-14 all-time against Ole Miss in games played in Mississippi. The last win came in Jackson in 1964. Kentucky’s only win at Oxford came in 1949. Britain’s 2020 overtime loss in the last meeting still hurts.

Email to Jon Hale [email protected]; Follow him on Twitter at @JonHale_CJ.

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