Heading into this season, the national college football prognosticators weren’t too excited about UK’s bowl outlook.
Most had the Wildcats playing somewhere after the regular season, but the matchups and locations weren’t all that intriguing for a program looking to take that next step forward.
Several new sets of bowl projections were released Sunday morning — and more will be coming out over the next couple of days — and UK is clearly moving up the ranks.
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It’s early, obviously, but the Cats now return home for three straight games, one against FCS opponent Murray State and two more chances to make major statements within the Southeastern Conference in matchups against Mississippi State and South Carolina.
CBS Sports analyst Jerry Palm, who didn’t have UK in a bowl in his preseason projections and made a realistic argument for a 4-8 season for the Cats, now has Stoops’ bunch positioned in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 29 against Notre Dame, a team with College Football Playoff hopes and one of the top programs in the sport’s history.
CollegeFootballNews.com also pits Kentucky against one of the sport’s greats, a matchup with the Texas Longhorns in the Texas Bowl on Dec. 27.
247Sports updated its bowl projections Sunday with a matchup between UK and Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl, mentioning the Cats as a dark-horse candidate to contend for SEC East title honors this fall. “If these two make it to Charlotte with matching 9-3s, fans will get a competitive game.” UK hasn’t won nine games in a season since 1984.
Sports Illustrated also puts Kentucky in the Belk Bowl, matching the Wildcats up with Duke. It’s worth noting that the Belk Bowl is on the same day as the UK-Louisville basketball game. The Cats playing the Blue Devils and Cardinals on the same day would make things quite interesting for Kentucky fans.
Brant Parsons of the Orlando Sentinel projects UK in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, a game scheduled for New Year’s Eve. Kansas State is the matchup in those projections. The Sporting News’ projections pit Kentucky against Texas Christian in the Liberty Bowl.
SB Nation’s post-Week 2 bowl picks also kicked Kentucky up the postseason food chain, moving the Cats from the Birmingham Bowl to the Music City Bowl in UK-friendly Nashville, a matchup with North Carolina State that would take place on Dec. 28.
USA Today’s update, which was posted Wednesday, still has the Cats facing Central Florida in the Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 22.
Both of ESPN’s new projections also put UK in the Music City Bowl, with Kyle Bonagura predicting they’ll play Miami in that game and Mitch Sherman putting them up against Georgia Tech in a postseason rematch from two years ago. Sherman had UK in the lower-tier Independence Bowl last week, and Bonagura didn’t have them in a bowl at all.
Kentucky is obviously getting more attention in national circles.
If the Cats can protect their home turf with wins over Murray State, Mississippi State and South Carolina over the next three weekends, they’ll be well-positioned for an even larger postseason prize.