Kentucky football now knows which sunny Florida bowl destination they are heading for and for coach Mark Stoops it will be even more special preparing to face his alma mater the Iowa Hawkeyes on New Year’s Day in the Citrus Bowl.
That was made possible thanks to Alabama embarrassing Georgia on Saturday for the Southeastern Conference Championship ensuring both schools would be in the College Football Playoffs.
Number 1 seed Alabama will face No. 4 Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl while No. 2 Michigan and No. 3 Georgia will square off in the Orange Bowl. That meant that Ole Miss moved into the Sugar Bowl matching up with Baylor.
Kentucky (9-3) was the next highest SEC team moving into the most prestigious of the other games and the VRBO Citrus Bowl. The other option was the Outback Bowl that will now pit Arkansas and Penn State.
Kentucky football and Iowa will meet for the first time in an old-school game
The No. 22 ranked Wildcats and the No. 15 ranked Hawkeyes have never met on the gridiron before so it’s fitting that it will be in the 75th-anniversary edition of the bowl that has always been played in the same location.
Stoops, like his brothers Bob and Mike, played for the Hawkeyes with Mark playing under the great Hayden Fry from 1986-1988. However, a serious leg injury in 1988 ended his playing days. Since he couldn’t play, he instead served as a graduate assistant from 1989-1991.
But while he was on the field as a defensive back he had 69 tackles and picked off three passes.
If and when current Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz retires Big Blue Nation and Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart should fully expect Iowa to come calling for Mark as a replacement.
However, all is calm for now as Stoops and Barnhart agreed to a contract extension on Saturday.
We will dive into all that in the future.
For now just a quick glance at the matchup.
Kentucky can top off a stellar and memorable season if they can notch their tenth win of the season which would also be their fourth win in a row. For the Wildcats, it will be their sixth straight bowl trip which has never happened at UK, and they are seeking their fourth straight bowl win which too would be a first.
It seems we talk about a lot of firsts with Stoops and his troops.
After starting the season with six straight wins including victories over Florida and LSU, the Cats dropped three straight to Georgia, Mississippi State, and then Tennessee. Both Mississippi State and Tennessee could have and should have been won by Kentucky. They finished the season with a 52-21 rout of Louisville.
That would have been remarkable and most likely replaced Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl.
Iowa won the Big10 West division and faced off with Michigan for the conference title. Like Georgia, they too were embarrassed by the Wolverines 42-3.
The Hawkeyes too opened the year with six straight wins before losing headscratchers to Purdue and Wisconsin where they scored just a single touchdown in each. Like Kentucky, they regrouped to win the next four but they were battles with Northwestern, Minnesota, Illinois, and Nebraska.
The Hawkeyes have won three straight bowl games including the Holiday, Outback, and Pinstripe Bowl. There was no game played last season. Prior to that though they lost five straight bowl games. Overall they are 17-15-1 playing in post-season bowls.
Ferenze has been at the helm of the Iowa program for 23 seasons building a 178-109 record, including a 9-8 record in bowl games. He is the all-time winningest coach at Iowa.
Stoops, the second longest-tenured coach in the SEC, is on the cusp of becoming the winningest coach of all time at UK. His 58 wins are just two short of Paul “Bear” Bryant’s record, and this win would make it even more special when the 2022 season starts next September.
These are two stubborn and disciplined coaches who both like to do it their way. This is one game we have all been waiting to see and should be a lot of fun to prepare for.
According to the Kentucky Athletics website tickets for the Vrbo Citrus Bowl are available via Ticketmaster or by visiting bigtime.games/2022vcbtix. Groups of 10 or more may call the Florida Citrus Sports offices at 407.423.2476.