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Mark Stoops, James Franklin, Mitch Barnhart & Wildcats discuss Citrus Bowl

Both sides are very excited to be playing in a big-time bowl game on New Year’s Day.

Aaron Gershon - Sea of Blue

On January 1st, the No. 14 Kentucky Wildcats will battle the No. 12 Penn State Nittany Lions in the Citrus Bowl.

The game will take place at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida.

This game is seen as the best possible game outside of the New Year’s Six, making it a huge accomplishment for Kentucky’s football team that won nine games for the first time in over 40 seasons.

Mark Stoops has now led the Wildcats to three straight bowl appearances, but this season, will look to leave a bowl game with a win. He talked about playing in the Citrus Bowl in a teleconference Sunday afternoon.

“We are honored to be a part of this great bowl and looking forward to it. It’s going to be a real challenge playing a great team in Penn State. We embrace that challenge and are looking forward to the opportunity of getting down there, getting in some sunshine, enjoying the weather and competing in a great game.

“We are very proud of this team and the work they have done and the coaching staff. To be able to represent our great university in a New Year’s Day game in Florida against Penn State … it means a lot.”

After the teleconference, UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart, who has had the joy of overseeing several successful athletic programs at Kentucky in 2018, met with the media to discuss the bowl bid.

Barnhart discussed the opportunity the Citrus Bowl presented:

“This is a step for our program as we try to move this thing forward, and I’m really excited about the chance to showcase our program on a national stage with a team like Penn State.

“We get to go to a destination that I think is a lot of fun.”

Joining Barnhart in the Kroger Field media room was quarterback Terry Wilson and linebacker Kash Daniel.

Both were happy with the team’s draw.

“I was excited,” Wilson said when he saw the bowl announcement. “It’s a huge deal for this program. We’ve worked so hard to get to this situation that we’re in right now. We’re thankful, we’re grateful and will work hard to go down there and show what we can do.

“As an athlete, you have to envision these things.”

As for the opponent, Penn State head coach James Franklin has a history with Stoops and the Cats.

Franklin was the head coach at Vanderbilt from 2011-2013. He beat Stoops and Kentucky in 2013.

On the same teleconference as Stoops, Franklin spoke highly of Kentucky’s football program.

“We’re looking forward to play Kentucky a program and a coach that we have great respect for,” Franklin said of Kentucky.

Franklin said he did not know all too much about Kentucky at this time, but he did talk about a couple of Kentucky’s players in Benny Snell and Josh Allen.

“I obviously know the defensive end/outside linebacker (Allen) and running back (Snell) are both really really talented players, and I’ve seen them on TV a few times and seeing their stats. I was actually at the running back’s high school a few days ago and saw his (Snell) picture on the wall.”

As for what Kentucky had to say about Penn State there was a lot of respect for the historic Big Ten program.

Daniel described them as a “football powerhouse.”

“Anytime anybody mentions Penn State football, everyone’s attention sparks up. They’re a really good football team. They’re really well coached. They’ve got some athletes. Being able to go compete against them is going to be fun. I can’t wait for the opportunity.”

Despite the Citrus Bowl being a great accomplishment, many Kentucky fans were upset with No. 10 Florida being ranked ahead of Kentucky and receiving a New Year’s Six bowl despite Kentucky having beat them head to head.

Barnhart, unlike those fans, wasn’t upset.

“I don’t think that’s appropriate,” Barnhart said when asked if he was upset with the committee. “I respect where they are in their deal. They are a committee that has to sit behind closed doors and they work at that; I know how hard that is, being on the basketball committee (NCAA Basketball Tournament). It’s hard.”

As for Kentucky’s NFL prospects such as Allen, Snell, Baity, and others, Stoops expects they will play in the bowl game, but also noted nothing was final.

“As of right now, I anticipate a full roster, but I can’t answer that 100 percent at this point in time.”

Kentucky will begin to prepare these upcoming weeks as they take on Penn State in a rematch of the 1999 Outback Bowl.