A consensus is forming: Kentucky is on track to play in a prestigious bowl game to end its 2018 season.
The Cats scored yet another notable victory Saturday night with a decisive 24-10 win over South Carolina to improve to 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference following previous upset victories over Florida and Mississippi State.
UK heads to Texas A&M next — and the Cats will probably be underdogs in that one — but they’ve clearly established themselves as the second-best team in the SEC East behind juggernaut Georgia and positioned themselves well for a possible New Year’s Day postseason game. (They’ll also get a shot at the Bulldogs, at home, on Nov. 3).
Stewart Mandel of The Athletic has Kentucky playing in one of the New Year’s Six bowls: the Peach Bowl in Atlanta against Notre Dame, which goes into this weekend as the No. 6 team in the country. Mandel also wrote that UK should be favored in every game the rest of the season other than Saturday night at Texas A&M and the Georgia game in Lexington.
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Veteran college football journalist Brett McMurphy of WatchStadium.com also has UK in the Peach Bowl (against Penn State). Though considered one of the prestigious New Year’s Six games, the Peach Bowl will actually be played Dec. 29, the same date as the Kentucky-Louisville basketball game.
The Peach Bowl is set for a noon kickoff on ESPN, while the UK-U of L basketball game is set to tip at 2 p.m. on ESPN2.
USA Today, 247Sports, CollegeFootballNews.com and the Orlando Sentinel all have Kentucky playing in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., on Jan. 1, against Michigan State, Michigan State, Indiana, and Iowa, respectively.
Both of ESPN’s bowl prognosticators — Kyle Bonagura and Mitch Sherman — also project Kentucky to play in the Outback Bowl. Bonagura has UK playing Wisconsin, and Sherman is predicting the Cats will play Michigan State.
“Kentucky is taking major steps toward a New Year’s Six appearance as the SEC East’s second-best team if this keeps up,” wrote 247Sports’ Brad Crawford.
Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News and SB Nation also put UK in a New Year’s Day bowl game — the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla. — with Sports Illustrated matching Kentucky against Michigan State, Sporting News pitting the Cats against Michigan, and SB Nation predicting UK versus Wisconsin.
Representatives from the Citrus Bowl were at Kroger Field for Saturday night’s game.
CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm, who had UK playing in the lower-tiered Liberty Bowl following last week’s victory over Mississippi State, has now bumped the Cats up to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., on New Year’s Eve, with Michigan as the opponent in that game.
Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples kept UK at No. 10 in his national college football rankings following Saturday’s game, teasing the possibility of even better things down the road for the Cats.
“This is already a special season for the Wildcats. Now we’re about to find out how special,” Staples wrote. “If they can beat Texas A&M this week, the idea of a 10–2 or 11–1 season becomes entirely plausible.”
The Cats also moved to No. 13 in the latest Associated Press poll Sunday.
UK’s recent success on the field has also carried over to recruiting, and the Cats have picked up a few recent commitments while also gaining ground with some of their top remaining targets in the class of 2019.
247Sports national recruiting director Steve Wiltfong told the Herald-Leader that playing in a high-profile game to end this season could only help UK’s recruiting efforts even more, especially with a certain group of players the Wildcats’ coaching staff has been targeting recently.
“I think it helps you in places like Florida and Georgia, because then those kids recognize that Kentucky had a really good year,” Wiltfong said. “And they see Kentucky as a school that’s playing in a major bowl game. So from a recruiting standpoint, that’s where I think it’s biggest — just more notoriety nationally.
“Kentucky’s not going to go into Georgia and beat Georgia for a guy. But they might be recruiting against Pitt for a kid they really like. And that kid sees that Kentucky is playing in a New Year’s Six game — all those elements help, I think.”
Nine of UK’s 18 commitments for the class of 2019 so far are from the states of Florida and Georgia, and the Cats are recruiting several players from that area for the class of 2020 and beyond.
This story will be updated as more bowl projections are posted.
SEC-affiliated bowl games
*-Notre Dame also a possible opponent in these games