Kentucky will enter the fall with redemption on its mind after losing six straight games to close out last season. After a surprising 5-1 start it appeared the Wildcats would possibly contend for the SEC East but a lack of quality depth and an inability to stop anyone on defense eventually led to their demise.
Fast-forward to 2015 where the Wildcats boast one of the SEC's most experienced rosters. Head coach Mark Stoops is confident in this year's squad but a challenging schedule still stands in the way of his team making it to a bowl game.
Here are Kentucky's 12 regular season games ranked in difficulty from easiest to toughest.
12. Nov. 21 vs. Charlotte
The 49ers are making a major jump to Conference USA this season after going 5-6 last year against the likes of The Citadel and Gardner-Webb. Despite their best efforts, it will be extremely difficult for the 49ers to compete with Kentucky for four quarters. The rosters are simply too unevenly matched. The Wildcats should come through with an easy win here.
11. Oct. 3 vs. Eastern Kentucky
Kentucky could be a little banged up when they clash with the Colonels in early October. The Wildcats will be coming off three straight divisional games against South Carolina, Florida and Missouri. While Eastern Kentucky maintains moderate success in its league, this one should still be a snoozer (and a much-needed break for the 'Cats). The Colonels dropped their last game against an SEC team, 52-3 to Florida in 2014.
10. Sept. 5 vs. UL Lafayette
The Ragin' Cajuns are not a team Kentucky can take lightly and still beat. They have won nine games in each of the last four seasons with some impressive triumphs over Nevada, San Diego State and East Carolina along the way. The Ragin' Cajuns will have some questions on defense, but Mark Hudspeth is still their head coach. This is a difficult matchup for Kentucky to open the season.
9. Nov. 14 at Vanderbilt
The Commodores probably shouldn't be written off until some games are played. After all, they played well at times last year and gave Kentucky all they wanted before falling 17-7 in Lexington. With 18 returning starters and Derek Mason now running the defense, Vanderbilt will be in this game. Patrick Towles and company will have to play well to fend off the pesky Commodores.
8. Sept. 19 vs. Florida
Could this be the game where Stoops breaks through and proves his worth as an SEC head coach? Knocking off South Carolina last year was big but a win over the Gators would keep Stoops' job safe. Florida is in serious rebuilding mode and could finish as low as sixth in the SEC East this year if the ball doesn't bounce its way a few times. This could be a key swing game in determining the order of finish in the East.
7. Sept. 26 vs. Missouri
Kentucky gets the East's back-to-back champs at home. Both of these teams have question marks at defensive end. Mizzou has to replace the elite duo of Shane Ray and Markus Golden, while Kentucky must find replacements for Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith. Mizzou's defensive line against Kentucky's offensive line will be an interesting matchup here. The 'Cats haven't beaten Mizzou since the Tigers entered the SEC in 2012.
6. Sept. 12 at South Carolina
Steve Spurrier is a zealous competitor and last year's results against Kentucky, and the season in general, probably didn't sit well with him. The Gamecocks may be getting overlooked coming into 2015. They have 15 starters returning and could have won 10 games a year ago if not for fourth quarter blunders against Kentucky, Mizzou and Tennessee. The Gamecocks will be looking to return the favor when the 'Cats visit Columbia.
5. Nov. 28 vs. Louisville
Louisville returns a moderate 11 starters from last year's 9-4 team, but is in desperate need of playmakers. The Cardinals lost four key receivers, which could spell trouble in head coach Bobby Petrino's pass-heavy offense. Louisville also is thin at running back. While Kentucky looks like the more complete team here, a Petrino-coached group deserves to be high on the list. Kentucky is 0-5 against Petrino-coached Louisville teams. The 'Cats also lost to a Western Kentucky team coached by Petrino in 2013.
4. Oct. 24 at Mississippi State
Starkville isn't the most intimidating venue in college football but Mississippi State recently added seats to Davis Wade Stadium and those cowbells can be quite effective in annoying the visiting team. Dak Prescott, the SEC's best quarterback, along with receiver De'Runnya Wilson will be a difficult pair for Kentucky's defense to overcome. Mississippi State is Kentucky's permanent rival and was handled by the Wildcats in the series up until 2009. Since then, the Bulldogs have won six straight.
3. Oct. 31 vs. Tennessee
This one has been listed as a potential trap game for the Volunteers. Kentucky's explosive running backs present a unique challenge for a UT defense trying to find an answer at middle linebacker. The Vols also aren't overly deep on the interior of the defensive line and Kentucky has a solid group of run blockers. However, by this time in the season, Josh Dobbs could be lighting up the scoreboard. If last year's performance by Tennessee is any indication, the Wildcats will be in trouble.
2. Oct. 15 (Thursday) vs. Auburn
Auburn is 25-6-1 against Kentucky but the two haven't met since 2010 when the Cam Newton-led Tigers edged the Wildcats 37-34 in Lexington. Auburn is known as a run-first offense, but if quarterback Jeremy Johnson's throwing potential turns out as expected there is a chance War Eagle will torch Kentucky through the air. Maybe the 'Cats can put up some points on Auburn's defense as well.
1. Nov. 7 at Georgia
The 'Dawgs scored 63 points on Kentucky last year. Nick Chubb had a field day, piling up 170 yards rushing on only 13 carries. From a matchup standpoint, the Wildcats' defense doesn't stand much of a chance this year either, at least on paper. Kentucky's best chance to stay in this game will be holding onto the ball and feeding its two running backs while keeping Chubb off the field.