By LARRY VAUGHT
Just making a bowl game seemed an unrealistic goal to most — well, maybe not coach Mark Stoops — after Kentucky opened the season 0-2.
Even when the Cats got to 6-5 going into the regular-season ending game at Louisville, anything but a lower tier bowl seemed unlikely.
But a 41-38 win over Louisville certainly has changed a lot. I thought UK might get a spot in the Music City Bowl, but a source tells me now that barring any last-minute changes — and that’s always possible — that UK will play in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., Dec. 31.
That’s a huge step up for Kentucky. The payout is not different from the Music City Bowl and I doubt that Jacksonville can host a better game than Nashville. However, playing in a Florida bowl game just resonates a little different. It sounds better. Recruits like it. Kentucky gets exposure in a state where football is king.
Sure, some fans that could go to Nashville might not be able to make Jacksonville. But Stoops and his players deserve a trip like this after what they have done this year.
The TaxSlayer Bowl was once known as the Gator Bowl. It’s not a BCS bowl but it’s well above an average bowl and that’s what UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart wanted for this team.
Kentucky is really a good story, too. Starting quarterback goes down with an injury and little-known junior college transfer quarterback steps in to lead team to bowl game. Kentucky goes from a pass-first team to a run-first team. Fans go from calling for Stoops to being gone to overflowing the Stoops bandwagon.
It’s been a fun ride and if my source is right, bringing in the new year in Florida is going to be a lot more fun for UK players, fans and coaches.