Kentucky football: Stoops has his Cats ranked No. 20 in preseason AP poll

Will Levis #7 of the Kentucky Wildcats (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Will Levis #7 of the Kentucky Wildcats (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

In a testament to just how vital and inspirational Mark Stoops has been and is to Kentucky football success, his 2022 Wildcat team kicks off the season ranked No. 20 in the Associated Press preseason poll.

Just last week Big Blue came in ranked No. 21 in the USA Today Sports AFCA Top 25, its first-ever preseason ranking. The feeling across the college football landscape is mutual that Kentucky football has arrived and is ready to play with the big boys and challenge for the top spot in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division.

The Wildcats are ranked No. 20 in the AP preseason poll, marking their fifth all-time appearance and first since 1978.  Previously, Kentucky kicked off a season ranked back in 1950 (No. 13), 1951 (No. 6), 1957 (No. 20), and lastly in 1978 (No. 15).

The Associated Press began its preseason poll in 1950. A panel of 63 sports writers and broadcasters from around the country votes on the poll weekly.

Stoops (59-53) enters his tenth season leading the Wildcats and is poised to make history possibly as early as week two when the Wildcats head to the Swamp to take on Florida. They should win their opener over Miami (Ohio) which would tie Stoops with legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant as the all-time winningest football coach at Kentucky.

Should they knock off the Gators it would put Stoops all alone at the top.

Kentucky football has a history of first, and according to SEC Sports History, the very first football game in the Southeast was played on April 9, 1880, on the ground now called Old Stoll Field at the University of Kentucky.

Kentucky A&M (now the University of Kentucky) put together a team and in November 1881, played Transylvania College in a three-game series. By 1895, 11 current SEC members were playing the game of football.

The Wildcats joined Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt as charter members that became the SEC when it was formed in 1933.

Fast forward to 2022 and from that group in the preseason AP poll you find Alabama ranked No. 1, Georgia No. 3, Kentucky No. 21, Ole Miss at No. 22, Tennessee at No. 26, LSU at No. 30, and Auburn and Mississippi State tied at No. 35. Only Vanderbilt isn’t ranked.

Stoops is humble at what he has built at Kentucky and Wildcat fans are very thankful for their coach despite basketball coach John Calipari taking a cheap shot at him last week while whining about a new basketball practice facility.

The 55-year-old Stoops is laser-focused on what could be a huge breakout season for this Wildcats with a stellar signal caller in quarterback Will Levis and depth all over the field.

Over the past six seasons, the Wildcats have had winning seasons and been to six straight bowl games. The Wildcats burst on the scene in 2018 when they finished 10-3 and won the Citrus Bowl 27-24 over Penn State. They finished 18th in the AP poll.

In 2019 the Wildcats went 8-5 as Covid hit but still won the Belk Bowl 37-30 over Virginia Tech, and in 2020 where it was an all-SEC schedule went 5-6 with a 23-21 win over NC State in the Gator Bowl.

Last year Levis led the Big Blue to a 10-3 record with another Citrus Bowl win over Iowa 20-3, Stoops’ old alma mater.

This year Kentucky has sold more season tickets than ever, especially with eight home games this fall. Besides the opener against Miami (Ohio) coming to town will be SEC foes South Carolina (Oct. 8), Mississippi State (Oct. 15), Vanderbilt (Nov. 12), and defending national champion Georgia (Nov. 19).  Other non-conference teams heading to Kroger Field are Youngstown State (Sept. 17), Northern Illinois (Sept. 24) and Louisville (Nov. 26).

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