Mark Stoops takes responsibility for UK’s loss at Tennessee
A lopsided, lackluster loss in Knoxville on Saturday afternoon put quite the damper on Kentucky’s stellar football season, a fall campaign that appeared headed toward a berth in one of the prestigious New Year’s Six bowl games.
How much did the defeat hurt the Wildcats’ postseason outlook?
Kentucky is no longer being widely projected in a New Year’s Six game, but many of the national outlets that predict bowl assignments do still have the Cats in a major postseason game. If UK can win its final two games of the regular season — at home Saturday against a 7-3 Middle Tennessee team and on the road the following weekend against 2-8 Louisville, which fired head coach Bobby Petrino on Sunday — the Wildcats will finish their season 9-3 overall. That would make them no worse than the fourth-best team in the Southeastern Conference — by measure of record — heading into bowl season.
CBS Sports, SB Nation, 247Sports, CollegeFootballNews.com, the Orlando Sentinel, NJ.com and ESPN’s Kyle Bonagura all projected Sunday that Kentucky will ultimately play in the Citrus Bowl, a game scheduled for 1 p.m. Jan. 1 in Orlando with a national television audience on ABC.
All seven of those projections have the Cats playing either Penn State or Northwestern in the Citrus Bowl.
Kentucky has not played in a New Year’s Day bowl game since Tim Couch led the Wildcats to a 7-4 record 20 years ago, a season that ended with a loss to Penn State in the Outback Bowl.
The Citrus Bowl has first pick of SEC teams that are not included in the College Football Playoff game or the group of New Year’s Six bowls. Alabama is currently in line to make the four-team playoff, and Florida, Georgia and Louisiana State are all widely projected for New Year’s Six games.
In their Tuesday bowl predictions, however, veteran college football journalists Brett McMurphy (of WatchStadium.com) and Stewart Mandel (of The Athletic) both mentioned Kentucky as a possibility for the final New Year’s Six spot. Such berths are selected by the College Football Playoff committee.
McMurphy is actually still predicting that UK will play in a New Year’s Six bowl — against Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 1 — putting the Cats ahead of Florida, which he placed in the Citrus Bowl.
Mandel predicted that UK will face Michigan State in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., also set for Jan. 1.
The Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., on Jan. 1 would be an option if Kentucky is not selected for a New Year’s Six game or the Citrus Bowl, and that’s also where ESPN’s Mitch Sherman is predicting the Cats will play, matching them up in that game against Michigan State.
The last few weeks have opened the door for a lesser postseason game for UK, however.
Sports Illustrated is now predicting that outcome, with the Cats facing North Carolina State in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte on Dec. 29. That game is set to kick off at noon on ABC. The UK basketball team’s annual rivalry game with Louisville is scheduled for Dec. 29 at 2 p.m. on ESPN2, so there would be some overlap between the two games.
The Sporting News is projecting that Kentucky will play Michigan State in the Gator Bowl — the game UK competed in two years ago — set for Dec. 31 at 7:30 p.m. in Jacksonville, Fla.
The Outback, Belk, Gator, Music City, Liberty and Texas bowls are all included in the SEC’s Pool of Six games. For placement in these bowls, the SEC — in consultation with the remaining bowl-eligible teams and representatives from each bowl game — will make the assignments for which school goes to which bowl game.
Representatives for each bowl and each school can list a preference, and the league will assign placement after that. There would likely be mutual interest between UK and the Outback Bowl, though the Citrus Bowl remains the Cats’ most likely, best-case scenario with two games left in the regular season.
Middle Tennessee at No. 11 Kentucky
Noon Saturday (SEC Network Alternate)
SEC-affiliated bowl games
*-Notre Dame is possible opponent