An Early Look at Potential Bowl Opponents for Kentucky

On3 imageby:Nick Roush12/01/23


Mark Stoops Talks Kentucky's 38-31 Win Over Louisville

Kentucky learns its postseason fate on Sunday. The final CFB Playoff Rankings will be revealed at noon. About an hour later the New Year’s Six will be finalized. Brett McMurphy will begin to report bowl destinations throughout the afternoon before schools make official announcements between 3-6 pm EST.

Over the last two weeks it’s become clear that Kentucky’s most likely bowl destination is the Duke’s Mayo Bowl in Charlotte. Matt Jones confirmed that Thursday night by reporting “Kentucky is almost certain” to compete for a postgame Mark Stoops mayo bath Dec. 27 at Bank of America Stadium.

“Almost certain” is a necessary way to describe it because weird things happen on bowl selection Sunday. The Big Blue Nation was preparing for a trip to the Gator Bowl to take on Indiana when Phil Fulmer called a late audible and used Tennessee’s spot in the pecking order to choose Jacksonville as the Vols’ preference. That shuffled the deck and slid UK into the Belk Bowl, a memorable win with Lynn Bowden at quarterback in Charlotte.

If there isn’t any funny business on Sunday, we could see a rematch of that 2019 game in Charlotte. A bowl game between SEC and ACC teams, Mark Stoops has only lost twice to ACC teams since 2016: Georgia Tech in the 2016 Gator Bowl and Louisville in 2017. Here are the most likely ACC opponents for Kentucky if the Cats do in fact punch their ticket to the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.

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Most Likely: Virginia Tech

The aforementioned McMurphy and The Athletic’s Scott Dochterman are savants when it comes to connections between teams and bowl games. Each have penciled in Virginia Tech to the Duke’s Mayo Bowl, echoing the Thursday night report from KSR’s Fearless Leader. If Georgia holds serve and wins the SEC Championship Game, expect to see the Hokies in Charlotte for the second time in five seasons.

You can expect an inspired performance from Virginia Tech. The Hokies have not made a postseason appearance since the J.C. Price served as the interim head coach in the Pinstripe Bowl following the termination of Justin Fuente.

The situation appeared dire for second-year head coach Brent Pry in September. The Hokies lost three straight non-conference games, capped off with a loss to a Marshall team that finished 6-6 this fall.

Virginia Tech turned the season around by rattling off wins in four of their last six, including a dominant rivalry win over Virginia, behind stellar play from duel-threat quarterback Kyron Drones. He passed for just shy of 2,000 yards, 15 touchdowns and only three interceptions, all while rushing for four scores and 642 yards to get the Hokies to 5-3 in ACC play. If the Cats square up against the Hokies, the key to victory is simple: contain Drones.

Could Happen: Duke

Plans for the organizers of the Duke’s Mayo Bowl could change if Alabama knocks off Georgia in Atlanta. A reshuffling of the deck could create a matchup that will be defined by most as a battle between college basketball bluebloods on the gridiron.

Based on the SP+ Power Rankings, Duke is the best potential Kentucky football bowl opponent, ranked No. 29 overall thanks to a stout defense constructed by Mike Elko. Here’s the problem for the Blue Devils: Mike Elko is now in College Station. That might not even be the biggest absence. Star QB Riley Leonard has entered the transfer portal. The Duke team that captured the nation’s attention in September will be a shell of itself this postseason.

Wild Card: Georgia Tech

Like Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech is 6-6 overall, but 5-3 in ACC play. At least one ESPN prognosticator believes the Ramblin’ Wreck could end up in Charlotte, but Kyle Bonagura appears to be on an island. If his prediction turns out to be true, Kentucky could be facing an offense that has been rolling as of late. Georgia Tech has the ACC’s top rushing attack and is averaging more than 31 points per game. Led by former Texas A&M quarterback Haynes King, the Yellow Jackets posted upsets over Miami and North Carolina to reach the postseason under first-year head coach Brent Key.

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