After a whirlwind regular season, Kentucky earned a spot in the Belk Bowl against Atlantic Coast Conference member Virginia Tech. The Cats have never played in the Belk Bowl before, and the new experience is something UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart said he is looking forward to.
“Had a chance to chat with a couple other folks that have been to the bowl, and they say it's just a wonderful experience,” Barnhart said. “I'm looking forward to sharing that with our coaches and our team and our fans.”
Kentucky knew it would most likely not be in the Music City Bowl due to conference policies, which have the goal of sending teams to games they have not participated in over the previous two seasons, but it did not seem initially that it would be heading to Charlotte. It was first reported that the Cats would be headed to Jacksonville to match up with Indiana in the Taxslayer Bowl. But the Belk Bowl Twitter account confirmed Kentucky’s appearance there at 4:30 p.m.
“The Gator Bowl was much talked about and there was that conversation,” Barnhart said. “Then you get into opponents and things like that that happen, and then you talk about the Belk Bowl. And this is a bowl that has been good to our league. It has been supportive of the SEC. It's not even really in the SEC footprint, so to speak. It's out of our footprint. And so for them to jump into our footprint and be supportive of our league with the ACC, it's a really good matchup for us against a really good opponent.”
It has become common for potential NFL draftees to sit out of bowls the past few seasons, which has fueled speculation about Lynn Bowden Jr.’s status for the game. Senior offensive lineman Logan Stenberg told reporters he did not know what Bowden would decide, but that he’d do what’s best for him.
“It’s their decision,” Stenberg said. “No hard feelings if they don’t. We want them to obviously. It’s whatever is best for them.”
Stenberg and fellow senior Calvin Taylor Jr. both said they will be suiting up for what will be their last game in a Kentucky uniform.
“It’s always good to end on a victory if that’s your last time playing,” Taylor said. “It’s always good to go out on a high note with a victory. Just to be able to thank our fans for traveling, just everybody that supported us, just cap of a season with a nice eight-win season is always good.”
Virginia Tech went 8-4 this year, in what is legendary defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s last season in Blacksburg. He announced prior to the season that he would step down at its conclusion.
The Cats and Hokies have not squared off on the gridiron since 1987, where the Cats defeated another legendary Tech figure in head coach Frank Beamer. Kentucky leads the all-time series between the two schools 11-6-2.