UK Recruiting

Did UK’s loss to Florida actually improve the Cats’ chances at a better bowl game?

UK football players and coaches made it clear following Saturday night’s devastating loss to Florida that they weren’t into “moral victories” and were eager to move on to this weekend’s game at Mississippi State.

Had the Cats been able to finish off the Gators, they would’ve shot into the Top 25 rankings and — with a favorable remaining schedule — could have found themselves in great shape for a prestigious postseason bowl game.

Apparently, they still did enough Saturday night to win some new believers.

Going into last weekend, the national bowl projections all had Kentucky in mid-tier postseason games. ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports, the Sporting News, USA Today, 247Sports, and longtime college football reporter Brett McMurphy all predicted the Wildcats would end up in one of three games: the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, or the Texas Bowl in Houston.

Those games would be a step down from recent postseason destinations like the Citrus Bowl and TaxSlayer/Gator Bowl.

This week’s bowl projections — and, yes, it’s still incredibly early for this — offered a twist. A few outlets are now projecting that Kentucky will end up in a better bowl game, even after its loss to No. 9 Florida.

Both of ESPN’s designated bowl pickers — Kyle Bonagura and Mark Schlabach — had UK going to the Belk Bowl on Dec. 31 entering the Florida game. Now, Bonagura has the Cats in the Outback Bowl against Michigan on New Year’s Day, and Schlabach placed them in the Gator Bowl (against Mark Stoops’ alma mater, Iowa) on Jan. 2. also elevated UK’s bowl status following its Week 3 loss to Florida, moving the Wildcats from the Liberty Bowl to the Gator Bowl (also choosing Iowa as the opponent).

Other national outlets are sticking with earlier bowl scenarios for the Cats.

CBS Sports switched UK from the Texas Bowl to the Liberty Bowl (against Kansas State) on Dec. 31, Sports Illustrated moved the Cats from the Liberty Bowl to the Belk Bowl (against Syracuse), the Sporting News kept Kentucky in the Liberty Bowl (against Oklahoma State), USA Today kept UK in the Belk Bowl (against Florida State), 247Sports kept the Cats in the Belk Bowl (against Syracuse), and McMurphy kept them in the Texas Bowl (against Texas Christian) on Dec. 27.

Kentucky is a seven-point underdog at Mississippi State on Saturday, but the Cats have just one game against a ranked team — at No. 3 Georgia on Oct. 19 — remaining on their regular-season schedule.

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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