Both teams will be looking to get an early leg up in the SEC East race when the Kentucky Wildcats welcome the no. 9 Florida Gators to town this weekend. The game is scheduled to kick off at 7:00 EST on Saturday, September 14 at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Fans can watch the game on ESPN.
According to the Week 3 college football odds, the Gators are 8-point favorites on the road. The over/under for the game is listed at 50 points.
Florida made a statement to open the season by surviving a rivalry game against Miami. The Gators then took a week off and enjoyed a rather easy game over the weekend against Tennessee-Martin, winning 45-0 and dominating on both sides of the ball.
However, the fun is officially over with the start of SEC play this weekend. Florida faces a difficult conference schedule this year with crossover games against both Auburn and LSU, so they can’t afford to lose to Kentucky if they want to win the East. More importantly, if the Gators can continue to win, they can put themselves in the College Football Playoff conversation later in the season.
At Kentucky, the Wildcats have followed up last year’s 10-win season with a 2-0 start in 2019. Kentucky has beaten a pair of MAC teams in Toledo and Eastern Michigan, so they haven’t played anywhere close to Florida’s level. However, both Toledo and Eastern Michigan were bowl teams last season, and the Wildcats beat both by double digits, so it’s hard to complain too much.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, starting quarterback Terry Wilson will miss the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury against Eastern Michigan. The injury will surely throw a wrench in Kentucky’s season and doesn’t give them or their new quarterback a lot of time to prepare for what promises to be one of the most difficult games on their schedule.
The silver lining is that Kentucky is no longer dealing with the burden of a three-decade-long losing streak to Florida. The Wildcats won in Gainesville 27-16 last year, snapping a streak of 31 straight losses to the Gators. Of course, now the challenge is to start a winning streak of their own against Florida.
Kentucky lost their starting quarterback, so I’m going to lean toward Florida to cover on the road. Admittedly, things aren’t that simple, but I will side with the Gators in this game. A year ago, Kentucky could have better absorbed losing Wilson, but this year’s a little different. The Gators are also a top-10 team that can win on either side of the ball, so I think Florida wins by double figures and covers.
To be fair, Kentucky has a capable backup in Troy transfer Sawyer Smith. He played enough for the Trojans last season to throw for over 1,600 yards and toss 14 touchdowns to just six interceptions. He also had two touchdown passes in relief of Wilson against Eastern Michigan last week. Smith is a capable quarterback who is good enough to lead Kentucky to a bowl game this year, so the season is far from over for the Wildcats.
However, I’m not sure he’ll be ready to face the Florida defense on Saturday. The Gators have far more speed and athleticism on defense than Smith saw in the Sun Belt last year. We’re talking about a defense that had 10 sacks in the season opener against Miami. Part of that was due to Miami’s porous offensive line. But you can bet the Gators will do everything they can to put pressure on Smith. It’s also important not to overlook the important role that Wilson played in Kentucky’s running game. Smith can run a little, but he’s not the same caliber of athlete as Wilson.
On the other side of the ball, Florida has an experienced quarterback in Feleipe Franks. He had some issues in the opener against Miami, including two interceptions, that kept the Gators from putting the game away. But I trust that he’ll start to settle in after an easy day against Tennessee-Martin last week. Franks threw just six interceptions last season, so he’s usually not turnover-prone. He also has enough weapons around him to keep the offense moving and score points.
More importantly, this isn’t the same Kentucky defense that limited Franks to a 48% completion percentage a year ago. There’s still a fair amount of talent on that side of the ball, but the Wildcats didn’t exactly dominate their two MAC opponents. Florida has Franks, a nice set of receivers who can make plays down the field, and an experienced running back in Lamical Perine, so I trust that they’ll be fine offensively.
Obviously, Smith is a bit of an X-factor in this game. He has plenty of ability and Florida won’t have a lot of tape on him. Plus, Kentucky will likely make some changes to their scheme because he has a different skillset from Wilson. Those factors make me a little nervous. However, I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that Florida is 10 points better than Kentucky, so I’ll lean toward the Gators to cover on the road.