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Kentucky to take on Penn State in Citrus Bowl Jan. 1 in Orlando in ‘huge, huge deal’ for program

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Terry Wilson was elated when he heard about Kentucky’s bowl destination on his Twitter account on Sunday.

“I was excited,” he said. “This is a huge, huge deal for this program and we’ve worked so hard to get to this situation that we’re in right now. Like Mr. (Mitch) Barnhart said we’re going to be thankful and we’re going to be grateful and we’re deserving of it. We’re going to work hard and go down there and show everybody what we can do.”

The Wildcats (9-3) will take on Penn State (9-3) in their first appearance in the VRBO Citrus Bowl at 1 p.m. on Jan. 1 in Orlando, Florida. Wilson envisioned the Wildcats playing on New Year’s Day throughout the regular season.

Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson eludes a defender in a win over Middle Tennessee earlier this year. The Wildcats will take on Penn State in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Bill Thiry, Kentucky Today)

“As an athlete, you have to envision these types of things,” he said. “I feel like it helps when you’re in the heat, 103 degrees, you’re looking forward to something to get you past that hump. You’ve got to look big. You’ve got to look to want to win the SEC East. You’ve got to look to get to a big bowl game. I feel like we did that as a team. Everybody has put in so much effort and time to get into this predicament we’re in, so I feel like I envisioned it.”

Kentucky linebacker Kash Daniel agreed.

“This team’s worked really hard to get where we are,” he said. “I don’t like to use the word deserving, but I think this team has earned where we are, and I think we’ve earned the right to be playing this game. We’re very thankful that the Citrus Bowl wanted us to come and to be a part of this great bowl, and we can’t wait to get to work and get down there and experience it.”

Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart said the Wildcats were deserving of the bid and said the Citrus Bowl also took into consideration the team’s fan base when it came to a final determination on where the Wildcats would play their third straight bowl game.

“Our program is very deserving. We’ve been ranked — I’m not sure when we broke into the rankings, I want to say it’s the end of September, somewhere in that range, and we’ve been there ever since,” Barnhart said. “We had the losses with Georgia and Tennessee back to back, but we never wavered out of the rankings and we hung in there. When the CFP rankings came out, we cracked that egg and got in there and moved up to 14th today … There’s no question that our fan base plays a part in that. Our fan base follows — and this is an opportunity, again, for them to see the quality of the Kentucky fan base.”

Kentucky has a chance to get 10 wins for the first time in more than four decades. The Wildcats finished No. 14 in the final college football rankings and Daniel said reaching double figures in wins would “mean the world.”

“That’s something that hasn’t been done here in a very long time, and not only just to be a part of it now, but when I’m done playing football and all that stuff, I can look back and say that was my team and be proud of it and be something I can hold on to for the rest of my life,” he said.

The Wildcats played Penn State in the Outback in 1999 and dropped a 26-14 setback to the Nittany Lions in the last meeting between the two teams.

“Just the tradition that Penn State has, a football powerhouse for the longest of times, and any time that anybody mentions Penn State football, everybody’s attention sparks up,” Daniel said. “They’re a really good football team. They’re very well coached. They’ve got some athletes and going out there and being able to compete against them is going to fun, and I can’t wait for the opportunity.”

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21

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