Kentucky football: Wildcats heading to sunny Jacksonville for the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl

Kentucky wide receiver Josh Ali. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Kentucky wide receiver Josh Ali. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Kentucky football can take a bite out of No. 23 NC State in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl.

The Kentucky football team will have an opportunity to finish the 2020 football season hoping to pin a loss on North Carolina State at Noon on January 2 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, FL in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl on ESPN.

It has been 40 years since the teams have met with Kentucky winning 27-2 in Lexington and before that, it was 1909 where the Wolfpack won 15-6 in Raleigh. The team at the time was known as NC A&M.

In a year that has brought many moments that the average person would love to forget we have relished that the Kentucky football program did everything right and played every game without cancellation or postponement.

So this team should pack their bags, load the semi’s and head the 716 miles south and enjoy ringing in what hopes to be a happier 2021.

Stoops spoke about the excitement of the invitation.

"“I want to thank the Gator Bowl for the invitation and I want to thank our administration, Dr. Eli Capilouto and Mitch Barnhart, for their unwavering support this season. It’s been a very trying year for all of us and our team is ready to move forward with a fifth straight bowl game. We look forward to playing a great team in NC State. I’ve known Coach (Dave) Doeren a long time and I have great respect for him and his program.”"

With 22 teams opting out of bowl games and 16 being canceled the Kentucky football players had no doubt they wanted to play one more game after the regular-season finale win over South Carolina. They are one of 56 teams playing another game.

The players had taken a vote the following morning after a 41-18 win over the Gamecocks on Dec. 5. Head coach Mark Stoops had left the decision up to his team. Not one thus far has chosen to opt of playing in the bowl game and they have practiced twice since the last game.

It is doubtful anyone will opt-out and should that hold true it would continue a trend of players not opting out.  Two years ago when Benny Snell Jr. had already declared for the NFL draft he still played in the Citrus Bowl. Unfortunately thanks to the referees ejecting him for a bogus penalty he didn’t have a very memorable experience.

Not to mention other draftees on that squad that played were Josh Allen, Mike Edwards, George Asafo-Adjei, and Lonnie Johnson. Then last year keeping the team loyalty motto intact Lynn Bowden played in the Belk Bowl.

Stoops is completing his eighth-season at Kentucky where he is 48-50, second all-time in wins only behind Bear Bryant (61). He has taken the Cats to four straight bowl games losing the first two (TaxSlayer and Music City) but has won the past two (Citrus and Belk).

For those players who have redshirted during the past five years, they have the chance to compete in their fifth bowl.

What player wouldn’t want that chance?

Stoops even took the entire team to Malibu Jacks on bowl selection day. That is just how much comradery they have.

These 21 seniors have given the Commonwealth a lot to be proud of this year despite the usual angst and celebrations we grow to expect. Every bowl committee knows that Big Blue Nation will travel in droves no matter where and honestly fans love to guess where it will be.


Kentucky is 10-9 all-time in bowl games. Their first appearance was in 1947 when they beat Villanova 20-19 in the Great Lakes Bowl in Cleveland in a game that drew 14,908 people.

Their other bowl appearances have come in the Orange (0-1), Sugar (1-0), Cotton (1-0), Peach (1-0), Hall of Fame (1-1), Outback (1-1), Music City (2-3), Liberty (1-0), BBVA Compass (0-1), TaxSlayer (0-1), Citrus (1-0), and Belk (1-0).

Just when you couldn’t think the Youngstown, Ohio coaching branches couldn’t get anymore entwined it will for this game.

When Stoops hired new offensive line coach Eric Wolford on Tuesday it made four coaches on the Kentucky team from the same town. Stoops, Vince Marrow, and Frank Buffano all when to Cardinal Mooney and Wolford Ursuline Academy.

They will face an NC State offense that is coached by Tim Beck who also attended Cardinal Mooney. There must be something in the water or a Twilight Zone kind of thing going on.

The Wildcats finished 4-6 this year and what would have happened had they not dropped the 42-41 decision to Ole Miss where Asim Rose slowed up and was tackled at the 10-yard line and Matt Ruffolo missed an extra point and field goal. Then the apathetic 20-10 loss to Missouri.

Sandwiched in was a gutty 14-3 loss to No. 5 Georgia and win 34-7 over No. 18 Tennessee which always makes for a great year to silence Old Rocky Top.

Another question will be just who coaches the offense as offensive coordinator Eddie Gran and quarterback coach Darrin Hinshaw were both let go. They are still searching for an offensive line coach, and hopefully, a special teams coach as well.

New offensive coordinator Liam Cohen won’t move to Lexington until after the NFL season concludes. You have to expect Wolford to finish his final game at South Carolina.

The Big Blue Wall will need to be ready to protect Terry Wilson as N.C. State is tied for 9th in the country with Alabama in quarterback sacks.

Ticket Information

The University of Kentucky released the following ticket information in a press release.

All fans wishing to attend the Gator Bowl, including season ticket holders and K Fund members, should purchase their tickets directly through UK Athletics will not be taking requests and selling tickets through the UK Ticket Office and K Fund Office this year. Due to COVID-19 restrictions and stadium capacity restrictions, ticket availability will be limited and stadium safety protocols will be in place at TIAA Bank Field.

The stadium should have approximately 16,000 tickets available for fans to attend being at 25-percent limits due to Covid-19.