Kentucky a Football State? In 2021, You Better Believe It
Before we begin, I'll level with you. As much as I enjoy college football, I am not as well-versed in the particulars of the sport as I am with basketball.
IN 2021, KENTUCKY IS ABSOLUTELY A FOOTBALL STATE
But I love watching it and it's been an incredibly fun season, and not just because of the success Kentucky and Western Kentucky have enjoyed. And yeah, I need to throw Louisville in there, too; at 6-6, the Cardinals WILL be playing in a bowl game. But we all know they've had better seasons.
But that's the thing. Kentucky, long a soaked-through-the-skin hoops Commonwealth, will have THREE schools in the college football post-season. What's noteworthy about this season and the coming bowl games is that there are MORE Kentucky universities participating in bowl games this year than made the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Indeed, UK, WKU, and U of L all have rich, basketball traditions, yet it was Morehead State that was the sole representative of the Bluegrass State in last spring's Big Dance. And the Eagles didn't stay long, getting bounced in the first round by West Virginia by 17 points.
KENTUCKY WILDCATS VS. IOWA HAWKEYES -- A BIT OF A HOMECOMING
These are exciting times. Kentucky under Mark Stoops is heading to its SIXTH CONSECUTIVE bowl appearance--not something anyone has been able to say with any frequency over the decades. In fact, Stoops is the first UK football coach to lead Kentucky to 6 straight post-seasons. On January 1st, the 22nd-ranked Wildcats will take on the No. 15 Iowa Hawkeyes in the VRBO Citrus Bowl in Orlando and will be a homecoming, of sorts, for Mark Stoops who played for Iowa in the 1980s, graduating in 1989. The 'Cats have won each of their last three bowl games--NC State last year with Virginia Tech and Penn State before that. I have NO plans for New Year's Day so I will be front and center at high noon (Central Time) when UK and the Hawkeyes square off. Interestingly, both teams have won 15 consecutive games against non-conference opponents, so something is going to give. This will be the first meeting between Kentucky and Iowa.
WESTERN KENTUCKY HILLTOPPERS' BOWL SEASON
My alma mater Western Kentucky put up a good fight but ultimately fell to UTSA (University of Texas-San Antonio) in the Conference USA championship, 49-41. That will send the 8-5 Hilltoppers to south Florida for the Boca Raton Bowl on December 18th to take on the Appalachian State Mountaineers. It's the eighth post-season appearance for WKU since they joined the FBS in 2009, but it's just the second all-time meeting with App State for the Tops. They lost both games.
LOUISVILLE CARDINALS ARE GOING 'BOWLING'
I remember back in the 2000s when the Louisville Cardinals were ranked as high as No. 2, but recently, U of L has experienced much leaner years. Nonetheless, the Cards will go bowling in 2021. On Tuesday, December 28th, Louisville will be in Dallas to face the Air Force Falcons for a 2:15 CST kickoff. The Cardinals and the Falcons have never met and LOUISVILLE hasn't played a bowl game in Texas in 63 years.
This has been an exciting season, concluding with some enticing match-ups and a couple of teams in the four-team College Football Playoff (Michigan and Cincinnati) who have never been there before. And while NOTHING can match the single-elimination excitement of the three weeks of the NCAA Tournament in March and April, I don't mind bowl games stretching out for nearly a month in December in January.
Not one bit.