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Ranking the Most Important Nonconference Games for Kentucky

Kentucky nonconference
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats football team is going into its 12th season under coach Mark Stoops, the longest-tenured coach in the Southeastern Conference. The Wildcats are looking to extend their 20-game win streak in the nonconference. Here is a look at their four nonconference games in order of importance.

Home Sweet Home

Everyone knows the SEC is one of the most grueling schedules in college football. That is why acquiring as many wins as possible is important to keep teams bowl eligible. Bowl games equal money for the school and the conference, so nonconference games are important.

This season Kentucky will face all four of its nonconference opponents at Kroger Field in Lexington. The Wildcats will take on Southern Miss (Aug. 31), Ohio (Sept. 21), Murray State (Nov. 16) and Louisville (Nov. 30).

Here is a breakdown of the games ahead for the Wildcats in the nonconference.

No. 4: Murray State Racers (2023: 2-9, 1-7 Missouri Valley Conference)

You would think that being in-state rivals, Kentucky and Murray State might have a storied history, but you would be wrong. The Racers and the Wildcats have only met once—in 2003—with "Big Blue" coming out victorious 37-6 with fan favorite, quarterback Jared Lorenzen. The "Hefty Lefty" threw 3 touchdown passes on the day. The Racers are coming off a less-than-stellar year with a 2-9 record in the FCS. This game is toward the end of the year, right before going on the road to take on the Texas Longhorns. This should be a cakewalk for the Wildcats, hoping to rest some starters before traveling to Austin.

Kentucky nonconference
© Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

No. 3: Southern Miss Golden Eagles (2023: 3-9, 2-6 Sun Belt Conference)

The season for the Wildcats will start in Lexington with the Golden Eagles. Southern Miss is on the heels of a dismal 3-9 record, losing their last two games of the 2023 season. However, the last time the two teams met at Kroger Field in 2016, Souther Miss picked up its first win in the all-time series 44-35, overcoming a 25-point deficit. This will be the fifth time the two teams will meet, and this time, the Golden Eagles are receiving a hefty $950,000 payday. The Wildcats own a 3-1 all-time lead in the series, having won the last game in Hattiesburg, Miss. in 2017. This being the season's first game, you can expect the Wildcats to set the tone for their season and comfortably move past Southern Miss.

Kentucky nonconference
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No. 2: Ohio Bobcats (2023: 10-3, 6-2 Mid-American Conference)

After playing the Georgia Bulldogs, the Wildcats have an intriguing match with the Bobcats on Sept. 21. The Bobcats are always a team that can be scary, especially wedged between games with two powerhouses such as Georgia and Ole Miss. Ohio is coming off a really good 10-3 season that concluded with a Myrtle Beach Bowl 41-21 victory against Georgia Southern.

Keep an eye on running back Rickey Hunt Jr. The Millwood High School (Okla.) three-star rusher can take over a game and give teams problems. Kentucky is the better team, but we all know that doesn't always mean you will win. Expect the Wildcats to win this game, however, it will be much closer than most think.

No. 1: Louisville Cardinals (2023: 10-4, 7-1 Atlantic Coast Conference)

The rivalry between the Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals is mostly known for its intensity on the hardwood. However, the gridiron rivalry is just as intense. The Wildcats will look to extend their winning streak over the Cardinals to six games on Nov. 30 in the final regular season game for Kentucky. This kind of rivalry will always be the most important game, even with the ever-changing landscape of college football.

Kentucky nonconference
© Matt Stone/The CourierJournal /USA TODAY NETWORK

The Governor's Cup has belonged to the guys in blue and white. Kentucky owns the series with an all-time record of 20-15. On a couple of occasions, the Wildcats have played spoiler, upsetting a highly-ranked Cardinals. In 2016, the then-No. 11 ranked Cardinals lost the game after the Wildcats recovered a late fumble from Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, then kicked a field goal to win a shoot-out 41-38. Last year, the Cardinals came in to the game ranked No. 10 and had hopes of a College Football Playoff berth. The Cardinals were 7.5-point favorites but lost the game 38-31.

The Kentucky-Louisville rivalry is becoming one of the more entertaining in-state rivalries in college football. Without a shadow of a doubt, the Governer's Cup is the most important nonconference game for the Wildcats.


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