Ranking Kentucky’s top 3 possible bowl destinations
The week between Rivalry Week and Championship Week might as well be considered Bowl Speculation Week. Everybody has their predictions and projections in, and here’s the skinny on where Kentucky might end up, could end up, should end up … and ultimately will end up.
3. Peach Bowl (Dec. 29, Atlanta)
Why? It’s a NY6 bowl and Atlanta easily transforms into Cat-lanta. The city has a huge Kentucky alumni network, and Kentucky hasn’t seen the prestige of a Big Six bowl since at least the 1952 Cotton Bowl (UK beat TCU in that game, 20-7). UK has been to Atlanta for the 1976 Peach Bowl and the 1993 Peach Bowl, long before Chick-Fil-A was big business or the College Football Playoff was dreamed of.
Why not? Frankly, Kentucky’s not going to get the invite. Had the Wildcats taken care of business two weeks ago in Knoxville and reached a 10-2 regular season, they probably would have jumped Florida and/or LSU for this spot. But it’s hard to imagine the CFP putting five SEC teams in its Top 12. It could happen, but Kentucky basically lost this chance two weeks ago.
X factors: Matchup wise, Kentucky would draw a challenging but beatable foe in this game — UCF and Washington State are two of the schools mentioned as possibilities. The impossibility of an invite aside, the Peach Bowl would present another problem — Kentucky’s basketball rivalry game with Louisville will start an hour after the Bowl begins, making a football-hoops doubleheader impossible, which probably would hurt Kentucky’s traveling numbers.
2. Outback Bowl (Jan. 1, Tampa)
Why? Kentucky’s last appearance in a bowl this big was … the Outback Bowl 20 years ago. Tim Couch led Kentucky into this game on January 1, 1999 against Penn State as the culmination of his three years in Lexington. Nothing says a fun bowl getaway like New Year’s in Sunny Florida. When Kentucky last traveled here, there was a good deal more Wildcat blue and white than Nittany Lion blue and white in Tampa.
Why not? Kentucky’s probably not going to be waiting this late for a bid. While the Wildcats are unlikely to sneak into the NY6, they do seem likely to be snagged before the SEC’s lower group of six bowls, of which the Outback is generally considered the most prestigious (the others being the TaxSlayer, Belk, Music City, Liberty, and Texas Bowls). The Outback would be the most likely candidate of the group, given Kentucky’s appearance in the TaxSlayer Bowl two years ago, and the Music City Bowl last year, which makes that game impossible given the group’s ban on inviting the same team in consecutive years. The Belk Bowl in Charlotte would be the other likely candidate, but that seems doubtful, considering that Kentucky’s probably at the head of the non-CFP group.
X factors: The Outback Bowl would probably present a mid-tier Big Ten school, like Michigan State or perhaps Purdue. Of the three possibilities, it probably presents the best opportunity for a tenth victory for UK.
1. Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1, Orlando)
Why? This looks increasingly like the Wildcats’ landing spot, combining big bowl prestige with the sunshine and warm weather aspect needed to guarantee the kind of Kentucky travel that bowl reps love. Citrus Bowl representatives have been in the Kroger Field Press Box numerous times this season — likely more than any other bowl representatives. Assuming that Kentucky doesn’t creep into the CFP NY6 bowls, the Citrus picks next, and Kentucky probably trumps 8-4 teams from Texas A&M, Mississippi State or Missouri.
Why not? Granted, Kentucky defeated State and Mizzou head-to-head, but they did lose to A&M, which has to be the sexy pick after their upset win of LSU to end the regular season. The Citrus Bowl could go with A&M, in which case Kentucky falls to the group of six bowls and a likely spot in the Outback Bowl. Kentucky’s lack of offensive punch might hurt, as could the so-so attendance UK has displayed throughout the season.
X factors: This looks like the one. New Year’s Day Bowl, check. Higher prestige than Music City or Outback? Sure. Fun and sun? Team up UK and Orlando and watch Disney suddenly have an influx of New Year’s visitors clad in Blue and White. Kentucky will have its hands full in the actual game, particularly if it draws Penn State, although Northwestern is sometimes mentioned as another possible foe, which would be a rematch of last year’s Music City Bowl, and thus seems unlikely. Of the likely destinations, given Kentucky’s season and current ranking, this makes the most sense … and could make for an unforgettable start to 2019 for Big Blue Nation.