TO READ TOMORROW
Game Day: Vanderbilt 24, Kentucky 21
Click below for more Herald-Leader and Kentucky.com coverage of Saturday’s Kentucky-Vanderbilt football game at Kroger Field in Lexington.
Kentucky football fell to 6-4 in the 2022 season with a 24-21 loss to Vanderbilt at Kroger Field on Saturday. Here’s a look at what victory means beyond the scoreboard.
THE DISAPPOINTING SEASON HITS THE BOTTOM
It seems like a long time since reporters voted for Kentucky to finish second in the SEC East or rank the Wildcats in the Associated Press’ preseason top 25 for just the fifth time in the SEC East. history of the program.
We knew before Saturday’s loss to Vanderbilt that the 2022 season would run out of preseason goals to win the SEC East or reach a New Year’s Bowl at six, but there was still a realistic chance of finishing the regular season. with eight wins and playing in a more prestigious bowl than Kentucky is used to.
Two of Kentucky’s three losses to date have come against teams that entered the weekend ranked 11th or better. The third loss (against South Carolina) could at least partly be explained by the absence of star quarterback Will Levis in this game.
But there’s no way to lose to lowly Vanderbilt, who had lost 26 straight SEC games before Saturday, as anything but an embarrassment could deal a blow to the progress Mark Stoops and company have made to elevate Kentucky’s level of respect nationally. Vanderbilt hasn’t had a winning season since 2013. He lost to Georgia and Alabama by a combined 110-3 margin earlier this season and was playing without his No. 1 quarterback and several other regular starters.
Not theoretically shocking. 1 Georgia next week would reset the narrative, but it’s impossible to imagine that scenario after watching Saturday’s game. Things could continue to tumble with a blistering loss to the Bulldogs and a loss to rival Louisville in the regular season finale, but even if that happens, this game represents the point where the season went from disappointing to a catastrophic failure.
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE BOWL
If Kentucky had taken care of business against Vanderbilt and Louisville, even with a loss to Georgia, the Wildcats looked like the favorites to reach the ReliaQuest Bowl (formerly known as the Outback Bowl) as long as one of the five teams ranked ahead of him in the playoff committee’s top 25 didn’t fall into the SEC’s “Pool of Six” bowls.
Barring a Georgia upset, the Tampa, Florida bowl game now seems out of reach for Kentucky.
The SEC assigns teams to games in the “Pool of Six” but it does so with input from schools and bowl games. The ReliaQuest Bowl is usually the primary target of pool schools due to its status as the game of Florida bowling traditionally played on New Year’s Day. The league office usually gives the school with the better record the first pick of games in the pool.
Florida could still get eight wins. Mississippi State could finish ahead of Kentucky with one more win and two losses in the UK. South Carolina would likely also have preference over Kentucky if they finished with the same record due to the head-to-head victory.
The SEC may not have enough bowling-eligible teams to fill all of the “Pool of Six” games, but the most likely scenario now suggests Kentucky will have little say in where it goes. That means a trip to the Music City Bowl, which kicks off at the same time as the Kentucky-Louisville men’s basketball rivalry game on New Year’s Eve, can no longer be ruled out. The Las Vegas Bowl or the Liberty Bowl are other possibilities.
BROKEN VANDERBILT SERIES
Kentucky entered the game having won six straight against Vanderbilt. The Commodores picked up their first win in the series since 2013.
With the loss, Kentucky fell to 48-43-4 all-time against Vanderbilt. Stoops-era dominance over the Commodores gave Kentucky one of its few comfortable advantages in an all-time series against an SEC rival, but none of those recent successes have been enough to avoid the disaster on a snowy afternoon in Lexington.
Kentucky’s longest winning streak against an SEC team is now two games against Florida and Missouri.
This story was originally published November 12, 2022 3:27 p.m.