Kentucky entered this season with one of college football's most impressive trends, but that trend appears to be at an end.
Under seventh-year coach Mark Stoops, the Wildcats have matched or surpassed their victory totals every season, improving from 2-10 to 5-7 to 5-7 to 7-6 to 7-6 to last season's 10-3 run that was capped by a 27-24 topping of Penn State in the Citrus Bowl. Kentucky entered this season as the only FBS program to accomplish that feat since 2013, but this year's team is 2-3 overall, 0-3 in Southeastern Conference play and lost starting quarterback Terry Wilson for the season in the second game.
The only way to match last season's success would be to win out, which would have to include a triumph this month at Georgia. The Wildcats are off this week after consecutive losses to Florida, Mississippi State and South Carolina, with each of those outcomes worse than the week before.
"It's definitely a challenge, and I don't think there's any doubt about that," Stoops said Wednesday. "We had high expectations for this season, and things have gone the way they have. I've been very proud of the team, and the guys are very determined to get things fixed.
"That's the mentality of this team, to kind of fight our way out of this. It's been a tough month, and this open date comes at a very good time for us."
A week after losing Wilson, backup quarterback Sawyer Smith helped stake the Wildcats to a 21-10 lead over Florida in Lexington, but the Gators closed that game on a 19-0 run behind their own backup quarterback, Kyle Trask. Smith developed shoulder and wrist injuries before last Saturday's 24-7 loss at South Carolina, and he sustained a lower-body setback against the Gamecocks while completing 11 of 32 passes for 90 yards and an interception.
Wide receiver Lynn Bowden came in at quarterback late in the game and led Kentucky to its lone touchdown drive, completing two short passes and rushing six times for 44 yards. Bowden set a Kentucky sophomore record last season with 67 receptions for a team-high 745 yards, and he also returned two punts for touchdowns.
"I think he is really elusive," South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said. "He's got good top-end speed, and he can throw the ball. We obviously had a plan for him going into the game as a wildcat (formation) quarterback. We've had a lot of respect for him for a long time."
Stoops expects Smith to be at full strength for the Oct. 12 home game against Arkansas, but it may be Bowden who provides the most hope for a fourth consecutive bowl appearance.
Utah State at LSU: The temperature got down to 29 degrees this week in Logan, Utah. It will not be 29 Saturday in Baton Rouge. Tigers 42, Aggies 9.
Auburn at Florida: This is the first meeting between these former annual foes inside the Swamp since Wes Byrum's 43-yard field goal at the horn delivered Auburn to a 20-17 upset in 2007. Tigers 17, Gators 10.
North Carolina at Georgia Tech: A loss is a loss, or is it? North Carolina dropped a 21-20 thriller to Clemson last Saturday, while Tech was humbled 24-2 at Temple. Tar Heels 20, Yellow Jackets 13.
UTC at Mercer: The Mocs have yet to prevail at Five Star Stadium since the Bears reinstated football in 2013. Mocs 27, Bears 24.
Vanderbilt at Ole Miss: The Rebels had 476 yards of total offense last Saturday at Alabama, with freshmen accounting for 446 of them. Rebels 27, Commodores 16.
Troy at Missouri: The Tigers are 0-7 against FBS opposition under Barry Odom in games in which they have more than a week to prepare, including two bowl appearances. Tigers 44, Trojans 21.
Bowling Green at Notre Dame: The Falcons represent the 147th different opponent in 131 years of Fighting Irish football. Irish 48, Falcons 7.
Georgia at Tennessee: The Volunteers are seeking a split of their Peach State foes this season. Bulldogs 33, Vols 10.
UCF 26, Cincinnati 19
Oklahoma 52, Kansas 16
Wisconsin 55, Kent State 21
Penn State 48, Purdue 25
Michigan 27, Iowa 20
Texas 31, West Virginia 22
Miami 40, Virginia Tech 17
Marshall 33, MTSU 24
Memphis 49, UL-Monroe 28
Ohio State 34, Michigan State 13
SMU 41, Tulsa 26
Oklahoma State 45, Texas Tech 38
Louisville 28, Boston College 23
Oregon 30, California 27
Duke 37, Pittsburgh 30
Washington 23, Stanford 14
Boise State 42, UNLV 11
Winners — 24
Fuentes — 1
Pasquali is 105-20 overall (84.0%) this season.