UK Football

Kentucky’s bowl outlook looking brighter. What is the Cats’ most likely destination?

Back on track for postseason football following a blowout victory over Missouri on Saturday night, Kentucky’s ultimate bowl destination remains a mystery.

There are several possibilities — and a lot can still happen between now and the end of the regular season — for the Wildcats, who improved to 4-4 with Saturday’s win and now must win two of their remaining games to earn a bowl berth.

Still left on UK’s schedule are home games against Tennessee, UT Martin and Louisville, and a road trip to Vanderbilt. The Cats should be major favorites against UT Martin, and the other three matchups are all winnable games for Kentucky, which will get a bye week before facing the Volunteers at Kroger Field on Nov. 9.

National media outlets aren’t sure what to make of UK’s postseason prognosis.

Going into the Missouri game, 10 different national outlets had seven different bowl destinations for the Wildcats, ranging from no postseason at all to a trip to the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl on Jan. 2. Coming off a win over the Tigers, the projections are as muddled as ever. The Southeastern Conference’s bowl ties make it difficult to project a middle-of-the-pack (for now) league team such as Kentucky.

The SEC has agreements with nine bowls, not including the Sugar Bowl or College Football Playoffs, whose semifinals will be played at the Fiesta and Peach Bowls this season.

Under the league’s current postseason selection system, the Citrus Bowl — which UK played in last season — will have the No. 1 pick of the SEC teams that do not qualify for the national playoffs or one of the other New Year’s Six bowls.

After that, there’s a pool of six bowl games — Outback, Music City, Gator, Liberty, Texas and Belk — that will get one SEC team each. The conference will make assignments for those bowl games after consulting with the representatives from each bowl and the schools themselves. Kentucky now looks likely to make one of those six games, and the moving parts of that process make it difficult to figure out exactly where the Wildcats will land.

What bowl game will get UK?

Early projections from national outlets this week have UK heading to a variety of places.

CBS Sports and 247Sports both place Kentucky against Texas Christian in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis at 3:45 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.

One of ESPN’s bowl pickers has UK in the Music City Bowl against … Louisville. That seems an unlikely scenario. The rival Cats and Cards will play each other Nov. 30, exactly one month earlier than the bowl game in Nashville.

The Sporting News and ESPN’s other bowl picker have the Cats playing in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., at noon on New Year’s Eve, against Florida State and Virginia Tech, respectively.

CollegeFootballNews.com has the Cats playing Minnesota in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. on Jan. 2.

If Kentucky were to fall below that “pool of six” tier — something that seems rather unlikely at this juncture in the season — the SEC also has tie-ins with the Birmingham Bowl in Alabama on Jan. 2 and the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., on Dec. 26, with those two bowl games getting preference in that order.

Kentucky has played in both the Music City Bowl and Gator Bowl within the past three seasons, so it seems unlikely that the Cats would be sent to one of those postseason games again this year. The Liberty Bowl, which UK hasn’t played in since the 2008 season, would be a good fit, and Kentucky has never played in the Belk Bowl or the Texas Bowl.

With four games left on the schedule, UK’s postseason outlook could still go a few different ways.

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Ben Roberts covers UK basketball, football and other sports for the Lexington Herald-Leader and has specialized in UK basketball recruiting for the past several years. He also maintains the Next Cats recruiting blog, which features the latest news on the Wildcats’ recruiting efforts.
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