Let's break down Kentucky's 2012 schedule:
Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
Sept. 2: at Louisville (7-6)
Sept. 8: Kent State (5-7)
Sept. 15: Western Kentucky (7-5)
Nov. 17: Samford (6-5)
SEC home games
Sept. 29: South Carolina
Oct. 6: Mississippi State
Oct. 20: Georgia
Nov. 3: Vanderbilt
SEC road games
Sept. 22: at Florida
Oct. 13: at Arkansas
Oct. 27: at Missouri
Nov. 24: at Tennessee
Gut-check time: It's not even an SEC game that rises to this level for the Wildcats, who will need to be on top of their game early. The opener on the road at Louisville is huge on so many fronts for Kentucky. For one, the Wildcats lost to the Cardinals last season at home after winning four in a row, and it's a game that carries a lot of weight in that state from a recruiting standpoint. Equally important is the fact that Kentucky needs a healthy dose of confidence early as it jumps into the SEC fray. Going on the road and winning at Louisville to open the season would likely give the Wildcats a nice 3-0 buffer heading into the conference opener at Florida on Sept. 22.
Trap game: Kentucky had better not be looking past Western Kentucky on Sept. 15 before traveling to Florida that next week. Western Kentucky played the Wildcats tough in the opener last season, and Willie Taggart has dramatically improved that program.
Snoozer: The Wildcats come off their bye the second week of November to face Samford on Nov. 17. It's the week before the regular-season finale against Tennessee, so it's doubtful that Commonwealth Stadium will be buzzing ... or close to full.
Telltale stretch: Kentucky's first four SEC games are at Florida on Sept. 22, home against South Carolina on Sept. 29, home against Mississippi State on Oct. 6 and then on the road at Arkansas on Oct. 13. That's a four-game stretch that would cause anybody to wince, especially when you consider that Kentucky returns home on the back end of that stretch to face Georgia. Somewhere the Wildcats have to find a couple of wins in that gauntlet. That is, if they're going to bounce back with a winning season in 2012.
Final analysis: One game is never the end-all for a college football team, but it's impossible to overemphasize how much that opener against Louisville means to Kentucky. The Wildcats are probably going to need all four of those nonconference wins to get to six or seven wins overall, particularly when you consider that Kentucky has won more than two SEC games in a season only three times in the last nine years. It helps that Kentucky avoids both Alabama and LSU, but the Wildcats also have to play seven straight SEC games without getting a break. It starts with a trip to Florida on Sept. 22 and ends with a home game against Vanderbilt on Nov. 3. There are no byes or nonconference games in between. In fact, Kentucky is the only team in the league that has to play seven straight weeks against SEC opponents. Talk about the grind of all grinds.