One Option Looks Most Likely
Following a 7-5 regular season Mark Stoops and the Kentucky Wildcats are headed to their eighth straight bowl game. This extends a school record that started back in 2016. As the Cats move into the post-season one destination is the most projected. However, there are a couple of other options that could play out. Let’s break it all down as we go Exploring Kentucky’s Bowl Options. In addition, we’ll look at what happened this past weekend.
Leader in the Clubhouse
For many years the options for SEC football teams can vary wildly. However, with the league not filling all their bowl allotments this year there’s not as much jockeying between bowls. For the Wildcats the most likely destination is the Duke’s Mayo Bowl in Charlotte where they’ll face an ACC school.
Last Word, along with several other sites have the Cats playing there on December 27th. While the game is almost unanimous the opponent is not. We have them playing Duke, a school they haven’t played since 1933. All-time the Blue Devils lead the series 4-0.
Other possible matchups for the Cats include Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. The only other time UK played a bowl in Charlotte they faced the Hokies in the then Belk Bowl. In what was arguably the best bowl game of 2019 the Cats rallied behind Lynn Bowden late to win by seven. As far as the Yellow Jackets go they last met in the 2016 Taxslayer Gator Bowl with Tech winning 33-18.
If for some reason the Cats don’t play in the Mayo Bowl another option is the Texas Bowl. Should they go there a Big 12 team would be their opponent. Auburn and Texas A&M are the most likely teams to play here as an SEC East team has never played in Houston. The Music City Bowl in Nashville normally would be a possibility. However, the Cats played there last year and bowls generally don’t want the same team two years in a row.
It’s highly unlikely at this point but if Ole Miss were to move into the selection committee games then everyone else bump up a game. As a result, another trip to the Gator Bowl would be a likely scenario. It’s doubtful but there’s always a chance.
As we continue exploring Kentucky’s bowl options let’s now look at how what happened this past weekend affects their preparation.
About Last Weekend
The biggest on-the-field news came on Saturday as the Wildcats defeated in-state rival Louisville for a fifth straight time. In the process, they retained the Governor’s Cup and remained the dominant program in the state.
However off the field activities nearly overshadowed the happenings in Louisville. Starting late Friday night Stoops was linked to the vacant Texas A&M job. In fact, Aggie reporters said it was virtually a “done deal.” As we all know there’s no greater curse in a coaching search than the done deal. The UK headman said he was pursued by another opportunity but decided to remain in Lexington. He even took to X early Sunday morning to address things.
I know there’s been much speculation about me and my job situation the last couple of days. It’s true I was contacted about a potential opportunity this weekend, but after celebrating a big win against our rivals with players I love like family, I knew in my heart I couldn’t…
— Mark Stoops (@UKCoachStoops) November 26, 2023
On the other side, the A&M folks say Stoops’ hiring was at the finish line but didn’t get across. Another thought was following the overwhelming backlash from Aggie fans on social media they had second thoughts. Ultimately they settled on Duke head coach and former defensive coordinator Mike Elko.
Either way it has to be a little awkward, especially heading into portal season trying to convince players to stay with your program after you almost left. Speaking of that as we finish exploring Kentucky’s bowl options let’s look at who’s already decided on their futures.
‘Tis the Season
Last year the Wildcats went into the Music City Bowl without starting quarterback Will Levis and star running back Chris Rodriguez. The result saw freshman Destin Wade start against an Iowa defense ranked as one of the best in the country. What happened was ugly as UK lost 21-0.
This year Kentucky will once again be without their best offensive player as Ray Davis declared for the NFL Draft and will skip the bowl game. In his one year in Lexington Davis put up some impressive numbers. His 1,066 yards rushing placed him third in the league. In addition, he finished second in the league with 13 rushing touchdowns. However when you add in his seven receiving scores that takes him to 20, not only leading the league but breaking Benny Snell’s school record of 19 set in 2017.
So far several players have entered the portal. The list includes safety Jalen Geiger, wide receiver Dekel Crowdus, and tight end Izayah Cummings. Offensive lineman Kenneth Horsey declared for the NFL and will skip the bowl. With the advent of the portal players leave as soon as the season is over and teams are missing some top guys which affects bowl preparation. It’s not just a Kentucky problem, it’s all over college football. On a positive note, two other offensive linemen Eli Cox and Marques Cox will return.
Thanks for exploring Kentucky’s bowl options with us here at Last Word On College Football. We’ll all find out the Cats’ opponent and destination on Sunday.