At Kentucky, making a bowl game used to be a HUGE deal. That just never happens at Kentucky... right?
Well, that narrative has been flipped on its head under the direction of Mark Stoops.
The Kentucky Wildcats will be playing in their sixth straight bowl game on New Year’s Day, a feat which has NEVER been accomplished at the university. The Cats are riding a three-game bowl winning streak, which hasn’t happened since the 2006-2008 stretch, the only other three game bowl winning streak in school history.
Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, shall we?
2006: Kentucky 28, Clemson 20. Music City Bowl - Nashville, Tennessee.
The 2006 Music City Bowl was Kentucky’s first bowl win in 22 years. The Rich Brooks era at Kentucky got off to a rocky start, as the Cats were a combined 9-25 heading into his fourth season. This was the year Brooks broke through however, as the Cats finished with a 7-5 regular season record. However, only one of those wins came against a .500+ P5 team (9-4 Georgia). Because of this, it shocked many that the Cats came away with a 28-20 victory over Clemson in Music City. The Tigers got up to #12 in that year’s AP Poll, and were led by future NFL stars C.J. Spiller and Chris Clemons. Andre Woodson gave UK fans a glimpse of what was to come next season, as he torched the Tigers for 299 yards passing and three touchdowns.
Lexington Herald-Leader Headline: ARRIVAL TIME; Cats complete turnaround with first bowl win in 22 years; Brooks shows record crowd what he’s built
2007: Kentucky 35, Florida State 28. Music City Bowl - Nashville, Tennessee.
Kentucky wins consecutive bowl games for the first time in 56 years. Rich Brooks’ groundbreaking senior class finished a magical season with a 35-28 victory over the Seminoles in Nashville. A season remembered most by the triumphant Louisville and LSU wins really could have been something more special than it turned out to be. The Cats had a chance to end the then 20-year streak against the Tim Tebow-led Florida Gators on national television one week after the dethroning the #1 team in the nation, but fell just short. Still, a bowl victory over one of the most prolific college football programs of all time is nothing to scoff about. Andre Woodson cemented himself as one of the greatest Kentucky quarterbacks of all time, finishing with 358 yards passing and four touchdowns, two of which went to Stevie Johnson, another huge cornerstone of this magical 2007 team. Rafael Little, also had a monster day on the ground, rushing for 152 yards.
Lexington Herald-Leader Headline: SENIOR SEQUEL; First Back-To-Back Bowl Wins in Over 50 Years; Cats Overcome Mistakes, Late Seminoles Rally
2008: Kentucky 25, East Carolina 19. AutoZone Liberty Bowl - Memphis, Tennessee.
Kentucky’s first EVER three-game bowl winning streak. Easily the most forgettable of Kentucky’s six bowl wins this decade, the Cats won a thriller in Memphis over the East Carolina Pirates. Heading into the Liberty Bowl, these two teams were heading into two completely opposite directions. The Cats had lost their last three games of the season and the Pirates had won their last three games of the season, including a Conference USA Championship over Tulsa. Although they were down 16-3 with 8:47 remaining in the second quarter, the resilient Cats would battle all the way back and take the Liberty Bowl thanks to a Ventrell Jenkins 56-yard scoop and score to put the Cats on top with 3:02 remaining in the game. Kentucky was led by Mike Hartline’s 204 yards passing and Tony Dixon’s 89 yards rushing. This would be Rich Brooks’ final bowl win at Kentucky, as he retired after next season’s Music City Bowl loss to Clemson.
Lexington Herald-Leader Headline: Cats hit historic high; Second fumble return counts as Cats grab 3rd trophy in row
2018: Kentucky 27, Penn State 24. VRBO Citrus Bowl - Orlando, Florida.
One of the greatest seasons in Kentucky Football history ends with the Cats claiming their first bowl win in nine years, easily their biggest bowl win since the 1976 Peach Bowl. In the year the Cats ended the 31-year losing streak to Florida, it wasn’t even the biggest win of the season. The Cats trotted out one of college football’s best defenses this season, led by Top-10 NFL Draft pick Josh Allen and future NFL players in Super Bowl Champion Mike Edwards, Jamin Davis, Lonnie Johnson Jr., Josh Paschal, Phil Hoskins, and Quinton Bohanna. Running back Benny Snell Jr. was named All-SEC First Team and broke the all-time Kentucky rushing record in the third quarter of the Citrus Bowl. Things got a little hairy in the fourth quarter, but this game was never really in doubt. The Cats held on to win 27-24, led by Snell’s 144 rushing yards and two touchdowns. This was the second ever 10-win season at Kentucky, with the other coming in 1950.
Lexington Herald-Leader Headline: New Year’s Day dream: A historic win for UK; Snell breaks school’s career rushing record, is named MVP as the Cats make all kinds of history
2019: Kentucky 37, Virginia Tech 30. Belk Bowl - Charlotte, North Carolina.
The year of the QB draw. After starting quarterback Terry Wilson tore his patellar tendon in his left knee against Eastern Michigan, Troy transfer Sawyer Smith became the starter. He started in three games before succumbing to a shoulder injury at South Carolina. With no other options, the Cats turned to star wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. under center. The Cats were 2-3 with a small pulse when Bowden took the reins, but he would propel them to a 7-5 regular season record, including stellar performances against Missouri and Louisville. In a heated Belk Bowl matchup against Virginia Tech, Bowden would put in his one of his best performances of the season, rushing for 233 yards (sixth most in a single game all time at Kentucky) and two touchdowns. In a season defined by the run, a pass would win the penultimate game, as a Bowden floater to Josh Ali with 15 seconds left, helped by a Jordan Wright 28-yard fumble return would put the game on ice and send Bud Foster into retirement.
Lexington Herald-Leader Headline: Wildcats strike back! Bowden audibled on UK’s game-winning touchdown
2020: Kentucky 23, NC State 21. TaxSlayer Gator Bowl - Jacksonville, Florida.
Pandemic football. A year where Kentucky had preseason New Year’s Six aspirations quickly turned into “I hope we make a bowl game.” After Covid-19 turned the country upside down, the Wildcats’ schedule was re-arranged to an all-SEC schedule. Games against Eastern Illinois, Eastern Michigan and Kent State were turned into Auburn, Ole Miss and Alabama, a tough deal of hand to the Cats. The Cats finished the regular season 4-6, where they wouldn’t have even made a bowl game in a regular season, but this was no regular season. However, the Cats were impressive enough to earn a bid to the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, which was the site of Stoops’ first bowl game appearance back in 2016. In his final game in the blue and white, AJ Rose Jr. rushed for 148 yards, and Chris Rodriguez Jr. rushed for 84 yards and two touchdowns, one of which gave the Cats the lead with three minutes remaining. The Kentucky defense showed out in this one, picking off State’s Bailey Hockman three times. This was Kentucky’s third straight bowl win, marking their first three game bowl winning streak since 2006-2008.
Lexington Herald-Leader Headline: In spite of itself, Kentucky escapes Gator Bowl with 3rd straight postseason win