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Must-win 2016 game: Kentucky Wildcats

The margin for error is thin.

Just look at last season: If Alabama lost to Auburn on the final week of the regular season, then the Tide wouldn’t have played for the national championship. Thanks to a head-to-head tiebreaker, Ole Miss would have represented the West in the SEC title game, and there’s a chance that no one from the conference would have reached the playoff.

You see, sometimes it comes down to one game.

Predicting that must-win game isn’t easy, but that’s what we’ll attempt to do this week on the SEC Blog. Next up in the series are the Kentucky Wildcats.

Must-win game: Oct. 29 at Missouri

The last two years Kentucky has been 5-6 heading into the Governor’s Cup against Louisville, needing a victory to become bowl eligible. Both years the Wildcats lost to their in-state rival, and both years they missed out on the postseason.

That could be the scenario again this year. And if that happens, then the must-win game automatically becomes the Louisville game. But Kentucky fans are hoping they can get to six wins before the season finale. And looking at the schedule, there are five home games in the first two months of the season that all are winnable. Even if the Wildcats were to slip up against South Carolina or Vanderbilt or Mississippi State, there’s still a chance they’ll be 4-3 when they travel to Missouri at the end of October.

A win against Missouri would then put Kentucky at five wins, and with Austin Peay still on the schedule, it would all but guarantee a bowl berth.

Now obviously, we can’t assume a win at Missouri. The Wildcats lost 22 straight road games in SEC play before knocking off South Carolina on the road last season. But this program needs to take the next step under Mark Stoops. They need to prove once again that they can win on the road and prove that they’re ready to play in the postseason.

The pieces are there. Drew Barker took control of the offense during spring practice and won the quarterback job. Stanley “Boom” Williams is one of the better running backs in the conference. And while the defense might be a question mark, there’s potential for improvement.

But over the past two seasons, Kentucky has lost games like this. This team has faltered with a bowl game on the line. They can’t afford to do that this season.