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Kentucky vs. Penn State: Citrus Bowl preview and predictions

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No. 14 Kentucky (9-3) vs. No. 12 Penn State (9-3)

Location: Orlando | When: Jan. 1 (1 p.m.) | TV: ABC | Line: PSU -6.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

Kentucky: This has been one of Kentucky’s best seasons in decades. The Wildcats started the year 5-0 with upset wins over Florida (their first win over the Gators since 1986) and Mississippi State. UK lost in overtime on the road to Texas A&M, but was 7-1, ranked No. 9 and in the mix for the SEC East title when it hosted Georgia. However, UGA won that one, 34-17. A disappointing loss to Tennessee followed before UK closed the year out with wins over Middle Tennessee and Louisville to reach nine wins for the first time since 1984.

Penn State: After a great start to the season, Penn State’s College Football Playoff hopes were spoiled yet again by back-to-back losses to Ohio State and Michigan State. Last year, PSU lost those games by a combined four points. This year, it was just five points. From there, the Nittany Lions won five of their final six games, but had an embarrassing 42-7 loss to Michigan mixed in. In PSU’s last three games, the defense allowed a total of 20 points.

Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley (9) reacts after scoring his second rushing touchdown against Maryland on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Chris Knight)
Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley (9) reacts after scoring his second rushing touchdown against Maryland on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Chris Knight)

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

Kentucky was one of the best stories in college football this season. It has taken Mark Stoops five years to build the Wildcats up to this point, and you know his team will be motivated to close out the year with a win. You’ll also get to see consensus All-American and likely first-round pick Josh Allen, who put up 84 tackles and 14 sacks this year. On Penn State’s side, it’ll be the last time to watch star quarterback Trace McSorley, who has been one of the most exciting players in the country the last three seasons.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Benny Snell, RB, Kentucky: Snell has consistently carried the load for Kentucky since he arrived on campus. He put up 1,091 yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman, 1,333 yards and 19 TDs as a sophomore and enters the Citrus Bowl with 1,305 yards and 14 scores. How’s that for production? This will be his last game for Kentucky. He has already declared for the NFL draft.

Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State: In a year when he has been hampered by injuries, McSorley, PSU’s record-setting senior quarterback, has not been as productive as recent years. He has 2,284 yards and 16 touchdowns passing, but has completed only 53.4 percent of his passes. On the other hand, he has a career-high 723 rushing yards. Now healthy, McSorley’s final college game could be one of his best of the year.

Kentucky running back Benny Snell Jr. (26) runs for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Middle Tennessee in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Kentucky running back Benny Snell Jr. (26) runs for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Middle Tennessee in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Kentucky: Kentucky has reached the 10-win mark only twice in its history. The Wildcats went 10-1 in 1977 and 11-1 all the way back in 1950. A win over Penn State would give UK a 10-3 record while also marking the program’s first bowl win since 2008. UK should be plenty motivated.

Penn State: Not only would a win end McSorley’s storied career on a high note, it would give Penn State three straight seasons with at least 10 wins. PSU hasn’t done that since 1980-1982.

PREDICTIONS

Nick Bromberg: Penn State 23, Kentucky 20
Sam Cooper: Penn State 26, Kentucky 21
Pat Forde: Penn State 27, Kentucky 19

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