An early look at Kentucky’s bowl prospects:
Going into UK’s season finale with Louisville, many college football analysts had the Wildcats in more attractive bowl scenarios than one might imagine at the end of what has been a disappointing season for Mark Stoops and troops.
There are a couple of caveats. These projections were done before Mississippi State beat Mississippi to get to eight wins. That presumably pushes a team UK beat ahead of the Wildcats (7-5) in the SEC bowl pecking order based on overall season record.
Also, many of the better bowl predictions for Kentucky were prefaced on the SEC putting four teams in the College Football Playoff (Georgia) and the New Year’s Six Bowl Games (Alabama, LSU and Tennessee).
Should the SEC get “only” three teams in the CFP and major bowls, that will push all the other SEC teams down a rung in their bowl destinations.
Now, onto the projections:
1. ESPN.com analysts Mark Schlabach and Kyle Bonagura disagreed on the Wildcats’ projected destination (You will have to be an ESPN Plus member to read the projections).
Schlabach had the Wildcats in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville vs. Florida State.
Comment: That would be Kentucky’s third trip to the Gator Bowl since 2016. A matchup of Mark Stoops vs. the school where he used to coordinate the Seminoles defense would be fun.
Bonagura had UK in the Music City Bowl in Nashville vs. Purdue.
Comment: Kentucky vs. Jeff Brohm, the former Louisville quarterback and assistant and ex-Western Kentucky head man, would form an intriguing narrative.
2. Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com had Kentucky in the Music City Bowl vs. Wisconsin.
Comment: Would be a rematch of the 1984 Hall of Fame Bowl in Birmingham, a 20-19 UK upset of the No. 20 Badgers.
3. Steven Lassan of Athlon Sports projected Kentucky to the Gator Bowl to face Notre Dame.
Comment: The first-ever football meeting between the Cats and the Fighting Irish would surely stir the Big Blue Nation to full engagement.
4. The Action Network’s Brett McMurphy has UK in the Music City Bowl but against Illinois.
Comment: Would be a coaching matchup of good friends Mark Stoops and Bret Bielema and an on-the-field meeting of two teams built on physicality and stout defense.
5. SI.com’s Richard Johnson has the Wildcats in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis vs. Texas Tech.
Comment: Would be UK’s first appearance in the Liberty Bowl since Rich Brooks and the 2008 Wildcats beat East Carolina 25-19.
Bowl dates and times
If the bowl analysts are correct and UK is bound for one of the three above-mentioned bowls, this is the relevant planning information for each:
▪ The Liberty Bowl in Memphis is scheduled for Dec. 28 at 5:30 p.m. (EST) and will be telecast by ESPN.
▪ The Gator Bowl in Jacksonville is scheduled for Dec. 30 at 3:30 p.m. (EST) and will be telecast by ESPN.
▪ The Music City Bowl in Nashville is scheduled for New Year’s Eve at noon (EST) and will be telecast by ABC.
Two other bowl games with SEC affiliations that could come into play for UK are:
▪ The Las Vegas Bowl in Nevada will pit an SEC team vs. a Pac-12 opponent. It is scheduled for Dec. 17 at 7:30 p.m. (EST) and will be telecast by ABC.
▪ The Texas Bowl in Houston will pit an SEC team vs. a Big 12 foe. It is scheduled for Dec. 28 at 9 p.m. (EST) and will be broadcast by ESPN.
UK is 12-9 all-time in bowl games and has won four straight.
Under Mark Stoops, the Wildcats are 4-2 in bowl games.
▪ 2016: Kentucky fell to Georgia Tech 33-18 in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.
▪ 2017: UK lost to No. 17 Northwestern 24-23 in the Music City Bowl in Nashville.
▪ 2018: The No. 14 Wildcats upset No. 12 Penn State 27-24 in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
▪ 2019: Kentucky rallied past Virginia Tech 37-30 in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte.
▪ 2020: The Cats upset No. 23 North Carolina State 23-21 in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.
▪ 2021: The No. 22-ranked Wildcats upset No. 15 Iowa 20-17 in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
This year’s seventh straight bowl appearance for Kentucky will continue what is the longest streak of consecutive postseason appearances for UK football in school history.