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UK's early-season football schedule among nation's toughest

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Kentucky will face its fourth ranked opponent in six games on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Kentucky will face its fourth ranked opponent in six games on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Heading into the 2012 season, the Kentucky football team knew it would be facing a tough schedule. That's just life in the Southeastern Conference. The Wildcats, though, likely didn't realize just how tough it would be.

Through five games, UK has played three teams currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25: No. 6 South Carolina, No. 10 Florida and No. 19 Louisville. Making things even more difficult, the Cats' two nonconference opponents, Western Kentucky and Kent State, are a combined 7-2. One of those losses came to UK, the other to top-ranked Alabama.

Jeff Sagarin's NCAA football rankings rate Kentucky's schedule eighth hardest in the nation, but I wanted to dig a little deeper. I combed through the schedules of the teams with the most challenging early-season slates and found that an argument can be made that the Cats have actually faced the most difficult schedule in the NCAA through the season's first five weeks.

Discounting the games they played against the Cats, UK's five opponents have a combined record of 17-1, yielding a sparking winning percentage of 94.4. No other Football Bowl Subdivision team can match that opponent winning percentage. Moreover, no team has played more currently ranked opponents (three) than Kentucky has.

Let's take a look at the data. Opponent records listed exclude games played against the teams in question.

Team (record) - Opponent record - Ranked opponents
Kentucky (1-4) - 17-1 (94.4 percent) - 3 (No. 6 South Carolina, No. 10 Florida, No. 19 Louisville)
Stanford (3-1) - 14-1 (93.3 percent) - 2 (No. 13 Southern Cal, No. 23 Washington)
Vanderbilt (1-3) - 14-2 (87.5 percent) - 3 (No. 5 Georgia, No. 6 South Carolina, No. 24 Northwestern)
Syracuse (1-3) - 14-2 (87.5 percent) - 2 (No. 13 Southern Cal, No. 24 Northwestern)
Auburn (1-3) - 12-2 (85.7 percent) - 3 (No. 4 LSU, No. 15 Clemson, No. 20 Mississippi State)
Iowa State (3-1) - 12-2 (85.7 percent) - 0
Missouri (3-2) - 17-3 (85.0 percent) - 2 (No. 5 Georgia, No. 6 South Carolina)
Oregon State (3-0) - 10-2 (83.3 percent) - 1 (No. 25 UCLA)

Notice that four of the teams with the best opponent records come from the SEC, three from the brutal Eastern division. With three of the East's seven teams in the top 10, there are few easy weeks.

Things don't get a whole lot easier for UK the final seven games of the regular season. Two more matchups with top-25 teams loom (No. 20 Mississippi State and No. 5 Georgia) and another with Tennessee, a team that was just knocked out of the rankings after back-to-back losses to Georgia and Florida. Kentucky's remaining seven opponents have a combined record of 21-12.

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