For the fifth straight year, Mark Stoops and his troops are going bowling.
In a year full of schedule changes, teams opting out, extreme covid protocols, Kentucky managed to have a complete season, going South Carolina as the only two teams in the South Eastern Conference to play all of their scheduled games.
Kentucky was thrown into a 10 game all-SEC schedule, where they faced many of the conference powerhouses in attempt win the SEC East. After a long fought season, and multiple of off the field problems concerning Chris Oats' injury, the death of Coach Schlarman, injuries and contact tracing, Kentucky has a lot to deal with. That's not even including that their Offensive Coordinator and Quarterback Coach both have been let go since the season ended. A season that started off risky, completed by hard work and dealing with problems the whole way, they managed to get invited to a bowl game.
Let's Go Bowling
Kentucky has been offered the opportunity to play in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida, in which they've accepted. They'll be taking on the North Carolina State Wolfpack, who finished up the season at 8-3.
Kentucky last went to the Gator Bowl in 2016, in which they lost to Georgia Tech, 33-18. Since then, they are 2-1 in bowl games, and 2-2 overall under Mark Stoops.
Kickoff is scheduled for noon ET at TIAA Bank Field, with ESPN carrying the national television broadcast.
Coach Mark Stoops is the first head man to lead UK to five consecutive bowl appearances. As a program, UK is tying its school record for consecutive bowl games, with four under Coach Rich Brooks from 2006-09, followed by one with Coach Joker Phillips in 2010.
"We are very excited to accept a bid to the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl," head coach Mark Stoops said. "I want to thank the Gator Bowl for the invitation and I want to thank our administration, Dr. Eli Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart, for their unwavering support this season. It's been a very trying year for all of us and our team is ready to move forward with a fifth straight bowl game. We look forward to playing a great team in NC State. I've known Coach (Dave) Doeren a long time and I have great respect for him and his program."
"The University of Kentucky is very honored to represent the Southeastern Conference in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl," said Mitch Barnhart, UK Director of Athletics. "Having had the opportunity to be in the game in 2016, we have so much respect for Rick Catlett and his staff. Rick has been an incredible friend of college football and we appreciate all he has done.
"For UK, we're excited about moving our football program forward with a fifth-straight bowl game. This has been a challenging year and to complete the season in the Gator Bowl is an incredible opportunity."
The Wildcats have won at least four league games in four of the last five years. UK has won 20 SEC games over the last five years, most in any five-year period in school history.
The Cats are one of only two teams in the country to have played four opponents who were ranked in the top 10 at the time of the game: No. 1 Alabama, No. 5 Georgia, No. 6 Florida and No. 8 Auburn. Three of those games were on the road.
UK is fifth in the SEC in scoring defense (26.4), and 18th nationally and leads the SEC in red zone defense (.750).
Kentucky has rushed for at least 300 yards in seven of its past 15 games, including four of at least 400 yards. UK currently ranks fourth in the SEC in rushing offense (175.9).
Kentucky will face an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent in its bowl for the second straight season after defeating Virginia Tech last year.
NC State's offense averages 31.1 points per game, while the defense allows 29.7 points per game, but finished the season permitting an average of 19.5 points over its last four.
UK is 1-1 all-time vs. the Wolfpack. The Wildcats first met in 1909, falling to NC State, formerly known as NC A&M, 15-6 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The last meeting between the teams was in 1970 with UK winning 27-2 on Oct. 31 in Lexington, Kentucky.
The Wildcats own a 10-9 all-time record in bowl games.
Let's all get excited and #BeatNCState.