November football was not always been kind to Kentucky football. In years past, November was usually reserved for holding out hope that Kentucky could play postseason football. This year, we know Kentucky will be in the postseason and we have a good idea where they will play.
As you plan your holiday festivities, here’s an idea of what could happen in the final three games of the regular season and where it could take the Kentucky football team for New Year’s.
Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl
Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia
December 29 at Noon on ESPN
If the season ended today, ESPN’s Heather Dinich would put No. 11 Kentucky in the Peach Bowl against No. 9 West Virginia. Unaffiliated with a conference, the Peach Bowl will take the highest-ranked teams remaining after the other New Year’s Six Bowls are filled. Kentucky is currently the last team in, according to the latest CFB Playoff Rankings.
The Peach Bowl has its positives and its negatives. Tons of Kentucky fans will make the short six-hour drive from Lexington to experience a football game inside arguably the greatest stadium in the world. On the field, West Virginia would be a fun matchup. Off the field, seeing Appalachia take over Atlanta would be a spectacle.
The date is the kicker. It would free up people with New Year’s plans, but Kentucky tips off against Louisville at the Yum! Center two hours after the Peach Bowl kicks off.
Playstation Fiesta Bowl
University of Phoenix Stadium in Phoenix, Arizona
January 1 at 1:00 ET on ESPN
It could be the furthest west the Kentucky football team has ever played. The Fiesta Bowl committee will ultimately choose which top-ranked team to take, but they will be stuck with one opponent: Central Florida. If the Knights finish undefeated for the second straight season, they will not return to the Peach Bowl. It’s not an attractive New Year’s Six opponent, but when you’re Kentucky, you gotta take whatever they give you.
The Citrus Bowl presented by Overton’s
Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida
January 1 at 1:00 ET on ABC
The seventh-oldest bowl game in America has ties to the SEC and Big Ten. If Kentucky cannot secure a New Year’s Six bowl, Citrus Bowl reps want UK fans in Orlando. The national exposure will grow even more if Kentucky is playing a traditional Big 10 power like Penn State or Ohio State.
If Kentucky can win in Neyland Stadium for the first in 34 years and avoid a possible rivalry upset in Cardinal Stadium, a ten-win season will (knock on wood) get the Cats into a New Year’s Six bowl. The Playoff committee’s premium on strength of schedule has the Cats hovering around the top ten. More UK wins and more losses by teams ahead of the pack will solidify a spot in the nation’s top-tier of bowl games.
If Kentucky slips up and drops one of the final three games, prepare for New Year’s at Disney World (or Harry Potter World, if that floats your boat). In theory, UK could fall into the Outback Bowl, but Citrus Bowl reps want to take advantage of the opportunity to host the Big Blue Nation.
Teams to Cheer For (and Against)
Georgia — Enemies a week ago, now the Bulldogs are Kentucky’s ticket into the New Year’s Six. A Georgia win over Alabama in the SEC Championship will put them back into the Playoff. The selection committee will then be forced to place two SEC teams into the Playoff. It frees up a spot for a fourth SEC team to make a New Year’s Six Bowl.
Texas A&M — Kentucky’s top competition for a New Year’s Six Bowl, LSU, will travel to Aggieland on the final weekend of the college football season. Untested against Arkansas and Rice, Texas A&M is the last team that can knock down the Tigers a peg. A&M has not been great on the road, but they almost knocked off Clemson at home. Kyle Field took away a Kentucky win, but it could give UK a New Year’s Six bowl berth.
Ohio State — We want Ohio State. I can’t imagine a scenario where Benny Snell, Mike Edwards, Darius West, C.J. Conrad and the rest of the Wildcats from Ohio miss an opportunity to exact revenge on Urban Meyer. To do that, it will probably take a couple of Ohio State losses. Jim Harbaugh has home-field advantage to help him get his first victory over the Buckeyes, but they also need to lose to Michigan State this Saturday to fall out of the running for the Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl’s Big Ten ties and the committee’s lack of confidence in OSU makes the Citrus Bowl the only feasible option for the two teams to meet.
Best and Worst Case Scenarios
A lot can happen in the final three weeks of the college football season, but the SEC race has ended. Kentucky and LSU lost the de facto division title games, leaving the Tigers ranked four spots higher than the Cats. The No. 3 team in the SEC will get into the New Year’s Six, making UK’s best case scenario clear: win out and hope LSU falls to Texas A&M at Kyle Field.
The only problem with the best case scenario is that it could end up being the worst case scenario. A Fiesta Bowl berth would be a bittersweet pill to swallow. Nobody wants to travel 1,800 miles to watch a game against UCF. It’s the worst big-game bowl opponent imaginable. If you lose, you lost to an AAC school. If you win the game the national college football audience will say, “It was just UCF.”
Mark Stoops has not received the same bowl fortunes as Rich Brooks. Brooks beat two traditional powers, Clemson and Florida State, that were not very good football teams (FSU suspended half their team before the game). Stoops has been stuck with two boring opponents, Georgia Tech and Northwestern, who played above their status in college football hierarchy.
UCF is the Alabama of no-name, good college football teams. After his best season at Kentucky, it’s Stoops’ turn to play a bad team with a big name.