Wildcats look to take Citrus Bowl over Penn State


Kentucky Wildcats linebacker Josh Allen (41), Kentucky Wildcats linebacker Jordan Jones (34) and Kentucky Wildcats cornerback Derrick Baity Jr. (8) celebrate after stopping a Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders play during the game on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, at Kroger Field, in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky defeated MTSU 34-23. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

Hailey Peters

New Year’s Day, 1999: The Kentucky Wildcats played the Penn State Nittany Lions in the first sold-out Outback Bowl in history. Through the battle, the Nittany Lions emerged victoriously by a 26-14 margin. Now, Kentucky looks for redemption. Exactly twenty years after their last meeting, the no. 14 Wildcats and no. 12 Nittany Lions will face off in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day, 2019.

Although the Nittany Lions have more experience playing in bigger settings comparable to the upcoming rivalry, the Wildcats have a lot to show for this past season that will prepare them for a competitive game. Ending the regular season with one of their best regular seasons in 41 years at 9-3, Kentucky football has cemented itself as one of the country’s top football programs during the 2018 season.

With both the offense and defense being led by dynamic players, Kentucky is projected to be an unforeseen threat against a seasoned PSU team. Junior running back Benny Snell Jr. has accumulated over 1,300 rushing yard this season, which sets him up to take over the school rushing record if he hits 107 against Penn State, while NFL top-10 draft prospect Josh Allen, senior linebacker, currently holds the school record for sacks in both a single season and career-wide, 13 and 26.5 respectively.

Piloted to this historic season by Associated Press’s SEC Coach of the Year Mark Stoops, the Cats tied for second place in the SEC East, outranked only by the Georgia Bulldogs. The history that this Kentucky team has made began in week 2, when the seemingly cursed Kentucky-Florida rivalry ended with the Cats on top for the first time in decades.

Penn State shares the same boastful season record of 9-3, landing the Nittany Lions a solid 3rd place ranking in the Big Ten East, trailing only behind two of the biggest names in college football, the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Michigan Wolverines.

One of the most dangerous threats for the Cats in the upcoming matchup is Penn State’s explosive quarterback and former Heisman candidate, senior Trace McSorley. Leading his team to 31 wins in his career, McSorley has offensive skill in which the Cats have not yet been exposed. With 27 total touchdowns, almost 2,300 passing yards and 723 rushing this season alone, McSorley is going to be one of the keys for PSU as he seeks to cap off his college career with a win.

Penn State leads the all-time record against Kentucky at 3-2. Though the two teams have a short-lived history together, the Lions’ head coach James Franklin has experience against the Cats, serving as Vanderbilt’s head coach from 2011-13. In every meeting over Franklin’s 3-season span, Vandy defeated the Cats by large margins (38-8, 40-0, 22-6).

The 2019 Citrus Bowl will kick off at Camping World Stadium in Orlando at 1 p.m. on Jan. 1, and will be televised on ABC.