When Kentucky opens the 2020 season on Saturday at No. 8 Auburn, the Wildcats have plenty of history going against them. UKs last win over a top 10 team was in 2010 against South Carolina. The Wildcats are 1-17 against Auburn since 1966, with that lone win coming at Auburn back in 2009. UK is rated as an underdog by the gamblers by somewhere between a touchdown and ten points.
But there are plenty of reasons why Kentucky is feeling comfortable heading into the game. The Wildcats are coming off an 18-8 run over the last two seasons, the most successful two years for the program since 1976 and 1977. Kentucky returns the vast majority of the mauling offensive line that led the SEC’s top rushing attack last season, and a vastly underrated defense, particularly in the secondary. For the first time in recent memory, Kentucky stacks up pretty well against Auburn. But will it be well enough to pull the upset?
The Tigers, as noted above, do open the season ranked 8th in the nation. They come off a 9-4 season in 2019, with all four losses coming against teams then ranked in the national top 20. Auburn’s best moment of last season was probably its 48-45 win in the annual Iron Bowl rivalry matchup with Alabama. The Tigers had a freshman QB, Bo Nix, who returns this season. Nix was superb against mediocre competition, but often struggled in big games.
Returning receivers Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz have shown big play skills in the past.
Auburn lost plenty on defense, including in the secondary, where they are expected to start a freshman and two other reserves from last season. They do return some standouts, including defensive end “Big Kat” Bryant, a preseason all-SEC pick.
QB Terry Wilson is ready to go after the season-ending injury he suffered in Week Two of 2019. UK has a deep and talented backfield, with the three-headed monster of A.J. Rose, Kavosiey Smoke, and Chris Rodriguez dividing carries. A bigger question is the receiver spot, where senior Josh Ali is a likely leader, but it remains to be seen who else might emerge.
Kentucky is rock solid up front, and returns a phenomenally talented secondary, including LSU transfer Kelvin Joseph, who will likely play early and often. Top punter Max Duffy returns to give UK a potential special teams edge.
There are so many question marks about all aspects of college football. Anecdotally, it appears that Auburn has been harder hit by COVID-19 implications in fall practice, with many players missing time to quarantine. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s seat cooled greatly when he beat Alabama last year… but it could warm back up in a hurry with a season-opening loss.
For Kentucky, it’s time to figure out a new offensive identity. Lynn Bowden is gone, and the Cats figure to be more balanced in 2020… but can they be effective when the chips are down? The last three games in this series have all been decided by one score. There’s no reason to think this one won’t do the same.
UK 24, Auburn 21
Other SEC Predictions
While SEC Week One has plenty of “safe” games, the potential for surprise is still there, most notably with UT as a slight road favorite at South Carolina. I’ll take the Vols 30-23 in that one. Some of the likely blowouts are Bama over Missouri (I’ll go 42-10), Texas A&M over Vandy (38-7) and Georgia over Arkansas (45-14). The other games are Mississippi State playing at LSU, which Mike Leach’s Bulldogs might keep close early, but end up losing 42-21 and Florida going to Oxford to play Ole Miss, where I think the Gators get a 31-17 win.
Stay safe and have a fun weekend watching!