“We’re ready to play and ready to go to Charlotte.”
Mitch Barnhart’s words Sunday evening weren’t what many expected to hear around 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon. Brett McMurphy reported Kentucky was bound for the Gator Bowl. A few late changes put Kentucky in the Belk Bowl.
“At the end of the day, we’ll always be appreciative of where we go,” Barnhart said. “We knew that there were two or three options available, basically two options that were available to us, dependent on how many teams got up in the (New Year’s Six) bowl situation. We knew that in terms of order of choices and how people pick bowls that there was about two places that we were going to get to go. There’s also a non-repeat rule in our league. They try and keep people from repeating within a two-year period of time going back to those bowls unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
The non-repeat rule essentially eliminated Kentucky from Music City Bowl contention. The Gator Bowl and the Belk Bowl would come down to Kentucky and Tennessee. Reading between the lines, Phillip Fulmer played the trump card to the league office. That’s not exactly how Barnhart described the situation.
“There’s a geographical piece in where you fit, where fans go and those kind of things. I knew that we’d get a phone call mid-afternoon after the rankings came out and they’d say, this is where it sort of landed and we would probably not have a lot of room in that, and that’s okay. We haven’t been to Charlotte. We’re excited about that. New experiences are good.
“The Gator Bowl was much talked about and there was that conversation. And then you get into opponents and things like that that happen and then you talk about the Belk Bowl. This is a bowl that has been good to our league. It has been supportive of the SEC… It’s a really good matchup for us against a really good opponent. I’m excited for our players to get something new and I’m excited that our fans can get there fairly easy. It’s a six-hour trip from Lexington.”
As the situation unfolded, Logan Stenberg never got too invested in a return trip to Florida, what could have been UK’s third in four years.
“It didn’t matter to me honestly. I mean, Florida would be cool just because it would be warmer. Other than that, it didn’t make a difference,” he said.
All that matters for the seniors is that they finish their careers with a win.
“That’s your last time playing, our last time playing with our team,” said Calvin Taylor Jr. “It’s always good to go out on a high note with a victory and give our fans, everybody that traveled and supported us, to cap off a season with a nice eight-win season.”