Today, we examine closer the schedule that Mark Stoops will face in his first season as Kentucky’s coach:
Nonconference opponents (with 2012 records)
Aug. 31: vs. Western Kentucky (7-6), in Nashville
Sept. 7: Miami, Ohio (4-8)
Sept. 14: Louisville (11-2)
Nov. 2: Alabama State (7-4)
SEC home games
Sept. 28: Florida
Oct. 12: Alabama
Nov. 9: Missouri
Nov. 30: Tennessee
SEC road games
Oct. 5: at South Carolina
Oct. 24: at Mississippi State
Nov. 16: at Vanderbilt
Nov. 23: at Georgia
Gut-check time: With the way Charlie Strong has it going at Louisville right now, what a coup it would be for Stoops to take down the Cardinals at home in his first season. It’s the kind of shot in the arm the Kentucky program needs, especially to help re-establish itself in the state after losing the last two to the Cardinals. The Wildcats will need a stellar defensive effort on Sept. 14 because Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater is the kind of quarterback who can make even the best defenses look average. Just ask Florida.
Trap game: Yep, it’s the very first game, but Kentucky had better be dialed in against Western Kentucky in the Aug. 31 opener in Nashville. It’s the first of two straight chances for Bobby Petrino to pick off an SEC team. The Hilltoppers, who beat Kentucky in Lexington a year ago, play at Tennessee the second week of the season.
Snoozer: The Wildcats kick off the month of November with a home game against Alabama State. Just a hunch, but here’s betting there might be a few empty seats in Commonwealth Stadium that day.
Telltale stretch: Coming out of the Louisville game, Kentucky gets a bye. And then it’s on to a brutal three-game stretch against three teams that will start the season ranked in the top 10 nationally. Kentucky faces Florida at home on Sept. 28, travels to South Carolina on Oct. 5 and then comes back home to play Alabama on Oct. 12. For perspective, the Wildcats have lost 26 in a row to Florida, 12 of their last 13 to South Carolina and 35 of their 38 meetings all-time with Alabama.
Final analysis: Getting out of September without being beaten down mentally and/or physically will be crucial, which makes that opener against Western Kentucky so important. The Wildcats simply can’t afford to be 1-3 coming out of September and expect to make any kind of run at a bowl game. The three-game October stretch is one of the toughest in the league. In other words, there aren’t many breaks the first two months of the season. Kentucky won just two games a year ago and went winless in the SEC. Barring a major upset early, the Wildcats could go into November next season looking for their first league win since beating Tennessee to end the 2011 season.