On this first full weekend of Southeastern Conference football, Saturday afternoon's game between Kentucky and Ball State ranks near the bottom of my interest level.
The pairing does, however, contain a unique piece of history. Mark Stoops will become the first Kentucky football coach ever to begin a second decade in Lexington.
"If you had told me that 11 years ago, I don't really know what I would have said," Stoops said Wednesday afternoon on the SEC teleconference. "It's been a very good journey. I think there has been a lot of work by a lot of different people and some very good continuity from the top down. There are always going to be challenges, and there are always going to be ups and downs, and you've just got to have the ability to persevere through it and adapt and change and put yourself in a position to be consistent and win every year.
"Even though I'm proud of the work we've done, there is still more work to do."
Let's put the Lexington longevity of Stoops into a couple of perspectives here. His 10 years in the books are more than Hal Mumme, Guy Morriss and Joker Phillips had combined, and there are only five Power Five coaches who have been at their programs longer: Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy, Utah's Kyle Whittingham, Alabama's Nick Saban and Clemson's Dabo Swinney.
Stoops has compiled a 66-59 record that becomes more impressive when you consider the 12-24 mark through his first three seasons. He has guided the Wildcats to seven consecutive bowl games, a program record, and attained 10 victories in 2018 and again in 2021.
Kentucky backslid from 10-3 to 7-6 last season, but the adaptive element to his tenure was reflected this past offseason when he brought in former North Carolina State quarterback Devin Leary, the 2022 Atlantic Coast Conference preseason player of the year, and former Northern Illinois offensive lineman Marques Cox, a much-needed left tackle following last season's issues up front.
Stoops has led the Wildcats to three wins over Florida in the past five seasons, which followed a 31-game series winning streak by the Gators, and he has four consecutive double-digit thumpings of in-state rival Louisville.
"We all know how challenging it is to climb the ladder in this league," Stoops said. "Nobody is interested in going backwards."
Florida has the daunting task of opening its season at Utah on Thursday night and closing it against Florida State, with the likes of Georgia and LSU in between.
To get his Gators ready for such a gauntlet, second-year coach Billy Napier played a little mixing and matching with roommates earlier this month.
"It's something we've done for a while now in an effort to foster more relationships," Napier said. "We were in the dorm for seven to 10 days at the beginning of training camp, and we just pair the players up with somebody they typically wouldn't spend time with. Maybe it's a rookie and a vet or offense and defense or whatever the case may be.
"I think it's beneficial, and the players in the past have believed in it. Ultimately, that's really what matters."
If you play like you practice, South Carolina could be in trouble Saturday night when the Gamecocks face North Carolina in Charlotte.
Third-year Gamecocks coach Shane Beamer was not pleased with Tuesday's workout, the most physical one of the week.
"I just felt the intensity, mentality, body language, effort -- it just wasn't what our standard is here, and it wasn't what it's going to take to play well on Saturday night," Beamer said. "We've talked since January that we can't just assume things are going to go well this season because we did some good things last year, and I saw a bunch of guys in practice yesterday just assuming that things are going to go a certain way on Saturday night.
"They are really mistaken if that's how they feel."
Florida at Utah: The last time the Gators opened a season against a ranked team on the road, they fell at Miami in 1987 by the memorable score of 31-4. Gators 27, Utes 24.
Louisville at Georgia Tech: This marks the first game of the ACC's new scheduling format that features three permanent opponents and five that rotate. Cardinals 31, Yellow Jackets 26.
Virginia vs. Tennessee: Methinks the Volunteers will display better tackling traits compared to their last visit to Nissan Stadium. Vols 48, Cavaliers 17.
UMass at Auburn: An update to premium seating has increased Jordan-Hare Stadium's capacity to 88,043, so this will be the largest home crowd in Auburn history. Tigers 41, Minutemen 20.
UT Martin at Georgia: The Skyhawks have won back-to-back Ohio Valley Conference championships. The Bulldogs have won back-t0-back somethings. Bulldogs 52, Skyhawks 7.
Alabama A&M at Vanderbilt: The Commodores have a chance to be 7-7 in their last 14 outings. Commodores 45, Bulldogs 16.
UTC at North Alabama: Rusty Wright's win percentage of 56.4% (22-17) with the Mocs is superior to UTC's all-time win percentage of 50.5% (561-549-35). Mocs 27, Lions 22.
Middle Tennessee at Alabama: Saban's first 110 games at Bryant-Denny Stadium as Crimson Tide coach have consisted of 102 wins and eight one-possession losses. Crimson Tide 45, Blue Raiders 10.
LSU vs. Florida State: This marks the fourth consecutive season that LSU second-year coach Brian Kelly is encountering Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis. Tigers 26, Seminoles 23.
Missouri 31, South Dakota 22
Kentucky 44, Ball State 21
Arkansas 52, Western Carolina 9
Ole Miss 56, Mercer 25
Mississippi State 49, Southeastern Louisiana 8
Texas A&M 55, New Mexico 6
North Carolina 27, South Carolina 24
N.C. State 30, UConn 13
Miami 33, Miami (Ohio) 10
Clemson 38, Duke 17
Notre Dame 59, Tennessee State 0
Michigan 42, East Carolina 7
Ohio State 35, Indiana 16
Southern California 60, Nevada 15
Memphis 48, Bethune-Cookman 3
Penn State 41, West Virginia 14
Winners — 0
Elite matchups — 0
Contact David Paschall at [email protected].