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Kentucky football to face Clemson in TaxSlayer Gator Bowl

Travis Fannon
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops stands coaching his team during the Kentucky vs. Florida football game on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 33-14. Photo by Travis Fannon | Staff

Kentucky football (7-5) is set to face the Clemson Tigers (8-4) in the 79th annual TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, it was revealed Sunday.

The Wildcats finished the season 7-5 overall, concluding their season with a 38-31 win over No. 10 Louisville, while the Tigers finished 8-4 with their final win knocking South Carolina out of bowl eligibility.

Prior to the reveal Kentucky had been projected into matchups such as the Duke’s Mayo Bowl against the likes of Duke and Virginia Tech before the College Football Playoff Committee made the shocking decision to leave Florida State, a 13-0 power five champion, out of the playoffs, sending the ACC scrambling.

Ironically both teams were considered to have underperformed in the 2023 season, with Kentucky finishing its second consecutive season with a losing conference record and Clemson, a team that has won multiple national championships more recently than any teams from the Pac 12, Big 12 and Big Ten, finished 4-4 in conference play.

The Tigers’ biggest wins included a 31-23 win over then No. 15 Notre Dame, a 31-20 win over then No. 20 North Carolina at home and the win over South Carolina in Columbia.

Clemson suffered defeats against the likes of the aforementioned Florida State Seminoles at home and Duke, Miami FL and NC State on the road.

As for Kentucky, the Wildcats’ biggest wins include No. 10 Louisville on the road and then No. 22 Florida at home.

The Wildcats suffered defeats against then No. 1 Georgia, then unranked Missouri, then No. 21 Tennessee, then No. 8 Alabama and South Carolina.

The Wildcats themselves are no stranger to the Gator Bowl, defeating the NC State Wolfpack in the 2021 edition of the bowl following the shortened Covid season. The Cats (4-6) defeated the Wolfpack (8-3) 23-21 with Wildcat running back Asim Rose Jr. being crowned Co-MVP.

Kentucky is also no stranger to facing the Clemson Tigers in bowl games, with the Gator Bowl date marking the fourth time the pair have faced off in bowl competitions.

The first, in 1993, took place in the Peach Bowl where the Tigers (8-3) defeated the Bill Curry led Cats (6-5) 14-13.

The second, in 2006, saw the Wildcats (7-5), led by Rich Brooks, get revenge, defeating the Tigers (8-4), led by Tommy Bowden, 28-20 in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl.

Finally, in 2009, Clemson, now led by Dabo Swinney, finished 8-5 and beat the Cats, still led by Brooks, 21-13 in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl, giving the ACC school the 2-1 all-time lead.

The acceptance into the Gator Bowl will see the Cats participate in their eighth straight bowl game, a program record, and the eighth in 11 years under head coach Mark Stoops.

The TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, will be held in EverBank Stadium, the home of the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL, in Jacksonville, Florida on Dec. 29, 2023.

The matchup between the Cats and Tigers is scheduled for noon ET and will air live on ESPN.

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Cole Parke, Sports Editor

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