CatsIllustrated - What's at stake?
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What's at stake?

Every regular season game is important on some level, but Saturday's game between Kentucky and Tennessee at Kroger Field carries added stakes for Mark Stoops' program and this team in particular.

What a Kentucky win would mean ...

In the bigger picture, every Kentucky victory against Tennessee is meaningful. Matt Roark and Stephen Johnson have notched wins against UT in the last nine years but those are UK's only two victories against the Volunteers in well over three decades. The streak is long gone, but the collective memory of the fan base and the college football world is of heartbreak and trials for UK in this series. Even another win won't change that, but it would be another step in the right direction.

For this year's UK team, a win against the Vols would all but ensure a fourth straight bowl game. UK would move to 5-4, or above .500 for the first time since September when the 'Cats were 2-1 after a loss to Florida.

It would mark the second time of the year that Kentucky has won back-to-back games, the only previous instance being in Weeks 1 and 2 against Toledo and Eastern Michigan.

With three very winnable games following, Kentucky could be riding a huge wave of momentum after back-to-back SEC wins and with so much at stake.

In terms of stakes, they would be raised significantly with a win Saturday. 8-4 would be in play, and at least 7-5 would be very likely, and in this year's top and bottom heavy SEC that could lead to an enticing bowl venue and matchup.

A win could give Kentucky a big recruiting boost down the stretch. UK is recruiting against Tennessee for a number of players from the 2020 class, including Tyler Baron, Octavious Oxendine, Ronald Williams, and R.J. Adams, and all of those four-star prospects are watching both teams closely down the stretch heading into the signing period. This head-to-head could be influential to some of those players.

There's also the fact that former Rivals100 recruit and Auburn quarterback Joey Gatewood is one of the players visiting UK this weekend. The better the team performance, the better the atmosphere and the better the postgame vibe in Lexington. Every little bit could help UK with a player who could be so impactful to the future of the program.

What a Kentucky loss would mean ...

A loss would be a failure to capitalize in a 50/50 situation. One of the goals many Kentucky-based observers have discussed for the program, as a long-term success strategy, is UK taking its share of "winnable" SEC East games. Mission accomplished against South Carolina, Missouri, and Vanderbilt in the Mark Stoops era. Against Tennessee, not as much yet. This has been the worst down period in the history of Tennessee football and while the Volunteers are trending up during the present season, this is still a vulnerable and less than complete UT team playing on the road against a UK team that should be riding momentum after a strong game against Missouri. Another loss to UT would be the latest gut punch and injection of cynicism regarding this series.

The traditional Big Three in the East -- UGA, UT, and UF -- would also finish 3-0 against Kentucky. There was a time when that would be completely understandable, but that is less true these days with the Vols down and with UK in so many close situations against UF late in games.

Losing would drop Kentucky to 4-5. It would not eliminate Kentucky from bowl contention by any means, with games against Vanderbilt, UT-Martin, and Louisville remaining, but it would raise the possibility of a sub-.500 finish if the team loses its focus down the stretch.

A loss to UT would guarantee Kentucky its first sub.-500 season in conference play since 2015. UK is one of the few SEC programs to finish 4-4 or better in SEC play for the last three seasons and that has been one of the most obvious illustrations of the program's improvement under Mark Stoops.

The flipside of the recruiting impact outlined above would not be ideal.