UK Football vs. Louisville

Garrett Johnson and C.J. Conrad celebrate after a scored touchdown during the game against the Louisville Cardinals on Saturday, November 26, 2016 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Hunter Mitchell | Staff

For six years now, the Big Blue Nation has anxiously awaited the day that their beloved UK football team was selected for a bowl game. And on Sunday, it was announced that the Cats will be headed to Jacksonville to face Georgia Tech in the TaxSlayer Bowl on New Year’s Eve.

“We’re extremely excited and proud for our team, our university and our fans, to be invited to the TaxSlayer Bowl,” UK head coach Mark Stoops said. “It’s a bowl with a rich tradition and we’re honored to become part of it. We’re also excited about the opportunity to play Georgia Tech, an outstanding team that will be a great challenge.”

Two weeks ago, many believed that UK would be headed to a bowl of lower prestige, but an upset victory over Heisman Trophy front-runner and No. 11 Louisville drastically boosted the Cats’ stock in the eyes of bowl committees.

The TaxSlayer Bowl, is relatively new in terms of name, but it was formerly known as the Gator Bowl with TaxSlayer taking full naming rights over the game in 2014. The SEC and Big Ten are the bowls two main conference tie-ins and last year’s matchup featured Georgia and Penn State. This year, UK will represent the SEC while the 8-4 Yellow Jackets will be representing the ACC.

For Stoops and UK, 2016 has been a roller coaster of a season, and after staring the year with two brutal losses, the Cats have bounced back in the biggest of ways to get themselves to bowl eligibility. And after changing its offensive identity after quarterback Drew Barker went down with injury in week three, the run game as well as quarterback Stephen Johnson have carried the team to a 7-5 record and possibly a bowl victory.

This game is sure to be one that carries a lot of meaning for the Cats, not only because a bowl win is big for any program. But for UK football, reaching and winning a bowl game would send a message that a culture change is in order for the Cats.

In terms of the match up, it is the first time since 1960 that UK will face Georgia Tech. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. between the Cats and the Yellow Jackets in UK’s first bowl appearance since 2010.