Finishing with the program’s most regular-season victories since 1977, the Kentucky Wildcats have been rewarded on football’s version of Selection Sunday.
Coming in at No. 14 in the final College Football Playoff Rankings, the 9-3 Wildcats have been selected as the SEC representative in the Citrus Bowl. And they’ll be taking on a big-name opponent in the No. 12 Penn State Nittany Lions.
So what should we know about not only Kentucky’s bowl opponent, but the bowl itself?
When? Where? Against whom?
No. 14 Kentucky will take on No. 12 Penn State on January 1, 2019 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida.
It will be the program’s first New Year’s Day bowl since the 1998-99 season when they took on the Nittany Lions in the Outback Bowl.
— VRBO Citrus Bowl (@CitrusBowl) December 2, 2018
Penn State took home the 26-14 victory in the 1999 Outback Bowl matchup, but 20 years later to the day, Kentucky will be looking for revenge.
It’s Kentucky’s most prestigious bowl in 25 years
Kentucky has played in the Outback Bowl (1999) and the TaxSlayer Bowl (2016), but their appearance in the Citrus Bowl will be the program’s most prestigious bowl in a quarter-century.
25 years ago, Bill Curry’s Wildcats took on Clemson in the Peach Bowl in 1993, coming away with a 14-13 loss in Atlanta.
If Kentucky can win on New Year’s Day, it will be the program’s most prestigious bowl victory since their matchup with North Carolina in the Peach Bowl in 1976, where the Cats shut the Tar Heels out by a score of 21-0.
Kentucky plays poorly in Florida bowls, but thrives against elite competition
Florida may be considered the Sunshine State, but Kentucky hasn’t had too many bright experiences in their time there during bowl season.
The Wildcats are 0-3 all-time in Florida bowl games, with their three losses coming in the 1950 Orange Bowl against Santa Clara, the 1999 Outback Bowl against Penn State, and the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl against Georgia Tech. They do have solid momentum going for them in Florida this season, however, as they took home a 27-16 victory against the Gators in The Swamp on September 8.
On the flip side, Kentucky has performed extremely well against elite competition in past bowls, defeating No. 1 Oklahoma 13-7 in the 1951 Sugar Bowl and No. 11 TCU 20-7 in the 1952 Cotton Bowl. These are the only two times Kentucky has played against teams in the top-13 of the AP Poll.
In other interesting Kentucky bowl statistics, this will be the second time Kentucky faces a team from the same conference in a bowl game in consecutive seasons. The Wildcats faced ACC programs Clemson and Florida State in 2006 and 2007 under Rich Brooks. They faced Northwestern last season in the Music City Bowl, which could have been UK’s opponent this year in the Citrus Bowl had Georgia been selected with the No. 4 spot in the College Football Playoffs.
They are also 1-2 all-time in bowls against Big Ten opponents, defeating Wisconsin in the 1984 Hall of Fame Bowl, but losing to Penn State in the 1999 Outback Bowl and Northwestern in the 2017 Music City Bowl.
(H/T to Corey Price of UK Athletics)
How did Penn State fare this season?
The Nittany Lions finished with a record of 9-3 (6-3 in the Big Ten), closing out the season on a three-game win streak. Their most impressive wins came against Iowa (30-24) and Wisconsin (22-10), while their worst losses came against Michigan State (21-17) and Michigan (42-7). They also lost to Ohio State by a final score of 27-26.
Penn State is led by senior Trace McSorley, the winningest quarterback in program history, who has thrown for 9,653 yards, 75 touchdowns, and 24 picks, along with 1,622 yards and 29 touchdowns on the ground over the course of four seasons. This year, McSorley threw for 2,284 yards, 16 touchdowns, and six interceptions, to go with 723 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.
Running back Miles Sanders led the Nittany Lions with 1,223 yards and nine touchdowns, with his longest rush being for 78 yards. Ricky Slade has also added 230 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.
Ten Penn State receivers finished the regular season with over 100 yards, with 5-foot-9 freshman KJ Hamler leading the way with 713 yards and five touchdowns on 41 receptions. Freshman tight end Pat Freiermuth leads the team with seven touchdown receptions, proving to be an elite red zone target for the PSU offense.
Head coach James Franklin has led Penn State to four straight bowl games, with his fifth coming against Kentucky on January 1.
Where can you buy tickets?
Kentucky football season ticket holders and eligible K-Fund donors with Citrus Bowl requests in during the priority request period will receive tickets, with confirmation emails being sent this evening. Those with ticket orders during this period will be allocated into the best seat locations in Kentucky’s official allotment, assigned in order of K-Fund priority point ranking this week.
After these ticket holds are fulfilled, remaining tickets will go on sale Monday, December 3 at 9:00 a.m. ET, online at UKFootballTix.com or by calling (800) 928-2287, option 4. Tickets in Kentucky’s allotment will be located in the Plaza level corners and in the Terrace level between the 30-yard lines. These tickets will also be sold on a first-come, first-served basis, while supplies last.
Fans will be able to select their specific seat locations upon purchase.
Student ticket information will also be available this evening, online at UKFootballTix.com.