Mark Stoops knew the question was coming on Monday. Kentucky’s head football coach has had to answer it several years running. In fact, Wildcats coaches dating back to Jerry Claiborne have had to answer it.
“How critical is it to the program to finally get over the hump with Florida?” a reporter asked during the first day of SEC Media Days on Monday at the College Football Hall of Fame.
“I always look forward to that annual question here,” Stoops replied. “I’m not blaming you. I’m going to get it a thousand times between now and that game. You can’t hide from the elephant in the room. It’s been a long time. We need to beat Florida, but we need to beat a lot of teams on our schedule.”
The Gators have beaten Kentucky 31 consecutive times, dating back to 1986, but at least the Wildcats head coach can sooth himself by thinking about his winning streak against South Carolina. He got a chance to do that later in his media appearance when he was asked if his team feels overlooked when it hears the Gamecocks being lauded in the preseason despite losing four in a row to Kentucky.
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“I don’t need South Carolina to motivate me,” Stoops said. “I am not worried about what they’re doing. I have respect for Will (Muschamp) and what they’re doing and their program. It’s not an easy game. It’s a very competitive game with us. We had close games about every year. You know, basically the same way I could answer the Florida question, it’s about this year. The past four years don’t matter.”
It is the Wildcats’ longest winning streak against any division opponent other than Vanderbilt since the 1940s. It accounts for one-third of the 12 SEC games Stoops has won in his five years at Kentucky.
“We just win,” Wildcats linebacker Josh Allen said. “I’m not knocking them. We execute what we need to do. We need to start doing that more often. They are going to be a great team this year, so we are just going to try to do what we have to do to beat them.”
The Gamecocks play Kentucky on Sept. 29 in Lexington, Ky., where they haven’t won since 2012. South Carolina’s last win in the series came in 2013, and even then, a Gamecocks team that finished 11-2 had to hold off a 21-point fourth quarter from Kentucky to hold on for a 35-28 victory.
It is South Carolina’s longest active losing streak in the SEC East.
“I don’t really know how to describe it,” Kentucky tight end C.J. Conrad said. “We are happy that we have beaten South Carolina the last four years, but I promise you, they are going to come ready to play this year. I’m sure they are not very happy that we’ve beaten them four years in a row, just like we’re not happy about Florida.”
South Carolina vs. Kentucky history
South Carolina is 17-11-1 against Kentucky all-time, including 9-6 on the road. A look at the series since 2000:
A=denotes game played away, in Kentucky
2000: USC wins 20-17 (A)
2001: USC wins 42-6
2002: USC wins 16-12 (A)
2003: USC wins 27-21
2004: USC wins 12-7 (A)
2005: USC wins 44-16
2006: USC wins 24-17 (A)
2007: USC wins 38-23
2008: USC wins 24-17 (A)
2009: USC wins 28-26
2010: Kentucky wins 31-28 (A)
2011: USC wins 54-3
2012: USC wins 38-17 (A)
2013: USC wins 35-28 H
2014: Kentucky wins 45-38 (A)
2015: Kentucky wins 26-22
2016: Kentucky wins 17-10 (A)
2017: Kentucky wins 23-13