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Kentucky Wildcats Morning Quickies: New Years Day Citrus Bowl Edition

Kentucky is playing in their first New Years Day bowl since the Outback Bowl in 1999, and against the very same opponent now as then. What the Wildcats need is a better result.

Music City Bowl - Kentucky v Northwestern Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, and welcome to the first quickies of 2019! Happy New Year to all, and may it be blessed.

This is an auspicious occasion for more than just a new year, however. For the first time since the Outback Bowl in 1999, Kentucky football will be playing on New Years Day in the VRBO Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida. Interestingly enough, the last New Years Day opponent for the Wildcats was the very same as it is this year — the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Kentucky has had a lousy bowl record in between, however. Out of the 8 bowl games it has played in since 1999, the Wildcats have only won three. UK is winless in its last four bowl appearances, and really needs to turn that around today despite being an underdog to Penn St. In fact, John Morgan Fracis wrote yesterday that only four out of twenty prognosticators figure the Wildcats to win today.

But Francis also pointed out that Kentucky has been the underdog six times this season, and has won four of those games with one of the two losses being in overtime to Texas A&M. Both teams are about as rested, healthy and prepared as they are likely to be. The loss of Jordan Jones on defense will hurt, but we have some young guys who have played well this season in support, and I expect the next man up to get the job done.

Reviewing Black Shoe Diaries’ predictions, they are all fixated on the Kentucky running game, which is doubtless important, but I have a feeling Terry Wilson’s passing game is ready to take a big-time leap forward. If that does happen, UK could surprise the Nittany Lions, who have to be focusing first, foremost, and almost exclusively on Kentucky’s powerful running game. You have to look through a lot of tape to find a confident Wilson throwing the ball downfield, but most of it is recent footage.

Win or lose, this New Years Day bowl appearance is a big step forward for the program. But it’s time for an even bigger step — beating a quality opponent in a bowl game. This is an opportunity to excel, and Kentucky would help the program even more by capitalizing on the opportunity to defeat a legendary program.

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Wouldn’t it be great to have a coaching staff that was successful, and stayed for decades? Probably too much to ask, but this is encouraging.

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  • Interesting, indeed.

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It’s still too early to tell what exactly Kentucky is, but we can comfortably say it’s not “one of the scariest teams in the nation”, as we wrote when we slotted the Wildcats in as the nation’s No. 2 team. The season-opening 34-point blowout at the hands of Duke made it very clear that Kentucky does not belong in 2018–19’s elite tier. The Wildcats don’t shoot threes and can’t defend them, and one of those two flaws historically bites them much later in the season than right now.

I’d hesitate to put UK in the elite tier yet as well, but if the current trend continues, they’re likely to be there shortly. That Duke loss still resonates with some, but for me, it is ancient history.

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It will be interesting to see who takes that job. The prestige of the John Wooden days are now firmly in the past, and UCLA has not been able to reprise his success to even a limited degree with only one NCAA championship since 1975. I question whether the program even belongs in the elite ranks anymore.

Gary Parrish has more here. This, I think, is right:

As has been the case with most, if not all, UCLA coaches post-John Wooden, UCLA fans never thought Steve Alford was good enough even when he was doing well. And when your fans don’t care much for you even when you’re doing well, well, good luck trying to make that last.

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