Sponsored Content: Eastern Kentucky vs. University of Kentucky 

Published 8:30 am Friday, September 1, 2023

Sponsored Content

The Eastern Kentucky Colonels football team prides itself on being one of the premier programs of Division 1 FCS. The league is often seen as something of an afterthought compared to the pinnacle of college football, which is Division 1 FBS, but the two brackets still have quite a bit in common. FCS has haves and have-nots, just as there are in FBS with programs like Alabama and Georgia (as compared to the lower echelons of the league with programs like the FIU Panthers and the Charlotte 49ers.

The Colonels are lucky enough to find themselves on the Alabama end of that analogy, and as we see the landscape of college football shaken up in an extreme fashion with continued conference realignments, this upcoming season could be pivotal if they want to scramble for a bigger piece of the pie.

That’s easier said than done, obviously, but the Colonels will have an excellent chance to show that they belong on a bigger stage this season when they head half an hour north of Richmond to take on the Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington.

Colonels vs. Wildcats: Who Ya Got?

The game will take place in Week 2 of the college football season, set for a 3 p.m. kickoff on Saturday, September 9. The Wildcats were expected to be one of the best teams in college football last season, but they failed to live up to expectations, falling into a 3-6 tailspin to end the season. Their roster looks a lot different than it did last year, as is expected given the popularity of the transfer portal, headlined by the addition of quarterback Devin Leary—formerly of NC State.

As of right now, the Colonels aren’t given much of a chance of beating the Wildcats. Betting odds won’t drop for this specific game until the conclusion of Week 1 (as bookies want to see teams in action before setting future lines so that they can make the most informed decisions possible), but we do have some indicators of how things will go. ESPN’s matchup indicator gives the Colonels a 1.5 percent chance of pulling off the upset, so the Wildcats are probably going to be listed somewhere in the realm of -8000 ahead of the game.

That’s not to say that an upset is impossible, though, as there are typically somewhere between five and ten FCS upsets of an FBS team each season: dating back to 1978, the lower tier of college football has pulled off the win in 14.5 percent of games played.

Kentucky is set to legalize online sports betting in a few weeks and a Caesars Kentucky bonus code is sure to offer good promotions and sign-up deals, especially if the Colonels can pull off the unthinkable and steal an upset win.

Keeping Up with the Colonels

The Colonels will bring back one of the top quarterbacks in FCS this season, as Parker McKinney will return for his redshirt senior season. He led one of the best offenses in the league last season, averaging 37 points per game, and they gained more players than they lost through the transfer portal. In addition to McKinney, the Colonels will field their No. 1 receiver and No. 1 running back from 2022, Jaden Smith and Braedon Sloan, respectively, as well as all five starters on the offensive line.

That’s a marked contrast from the Wildcats, who will be giving Leary a crash course in offensive coordinator Liam Coen’s scheme after he transferred in. Offensive coordinator Andy Richman returns to pilot one of the top offenses in the FCS, so the chief question surrounding the Colonels will be their defense. They got into some track meets last season, with McKinney giving everything he could to keep up as his defense got gashed repeatedly.

The Colonels brought in a bunch of defensive pieces through the transfer portal, but they also lost quite a few players to graduation. It’ll be interesting to see how quickly the unit gels, and how many fits Leary will give them as they figure things out.

High Expectations Returning?

The Colonels made their return to the FCS playoff in 2022 for the first time in nearly a decade, as third-year head coach Walt Wells has had enough time to enact his vision for the program after they spent years in the wilderness under the leadership of Dean Hood and Mark Elder.

We’ve seen the future of college football change dramatically in just the past month, with the Big 12 and Big Ten conferences poaching most of the programs away from the Pac 12.

The Big 12 nearly fell victim to a similar fate last year, when it was announced that the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners would jump ship for the SEC in 2024, but they got ahead of the curve this offseason, making sure to bolster their long-term viability by adding Arizona, Arizona State and Utah to the mix.

We’ve seen teams make the jump from FCS to FBS before, like when James Madison University did so last season. While it seems like a pretty big gulf to cover, the Dukes managed to go 8-3 in their first taste of FBS football, earning honors as the co-champions of the Sun Belt’s East Division. Not only is upward mobility possible, but it could become even more likely as the lesser conferences continue to get picked over.

The Big 12 added UCF and Cincinnati this year, giving them a promotion into the Power Five in doing so. At the same time, they created a power vacuum as the American Athletic Conference lost a pair of mainstays. As the ramifications of realignment continue to trickle down from the upper echelons of the sport, who knows where the Colonels could find themselves in a few year’s time, especially if they’re able to maintain success under Wells. They flirted with the idea of jumping up to the FBS in 2013, but the bid ultimately fell flat when they didn’t receive an invitation to do so from any of the member conferences.

That could change in this new era of college football, and director of EKU Sports communications Rixon Lane announced last season that the Colonels were eyeing a move up to FBS once again. A win over a program like Kentucky could give them the ammunition they need to prove that they’re worthy of such a move.