10:51:45UKvsSC2020FB

Kentucky Wildcats running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) celebrates a touchdown during the University of Kentucky vs. University of South Carolina football game on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 41-18. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

The Cats ended the regular season on a high note two weeks ago versus South Carolina. Now, they look to cap off their adversity-packed campaign against another Carolina squad.

Kentucky is headed to the Gator Bowl for a matchup with No. 23 North Carolina State. The appearance is a record-tying fifth straight for the Wildcat program, and makes Mark Stoops the only head coach in program history to appear in five bowl games.

The Wildcats have only once before participated in the Gator Bowl, which takes place in Jacksonville, Florida. They lost to Georgia Tech 33-18 in 2016. Overall, this is their 20th bowl game appearance.

Fans and media alike were unsure if Kentucky would elect to accept a bowl invitation after a season filled with turmoil. The injury to Chris Oats in May set a somber tone, which was only exacerbated when offensive line coach John Schlarman passed away. With those tragedies and the strain of continued but necessary COVID protocols impacting life off the field, nobody would have been shocked to see the team decline to continue the season.

But following the South Carolina victory and the release of offensive coaches Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw, Stoops said the players decided they were up to the challenge.

Through it all, the Cats battled their way to a 4-6 record through the ten-game, all-SEC slate, and now have another opportunity at a program record. With a win, the Cats would tie their longest consecutive season bowl game win streak* (three, from 2006-08).

The Gator Bowl is scheduled for 12:00 p.m. ET on January 2nd. The game will be televised on ESPN and the ESPN app.

*The Cats have won three straight bowl games another time in their history, but not in consecutive years. They won the Sugar Bowl in 1951, Cotton Bowl in 1952 and the Peach Bowl in 1976.