ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The winner of the Citrus Bowl will finish with 10 wins, and that would be a big deal for No. 13 Penn State and No. 16 Kentucky.
The Nittany Lions and Wildcats take 9-3 records into Tuesday’s matchup of teams from the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference, with the opportunity to finish with double-digits providing extra motivation for both.
Penn State is looking to wind up with at least 10 wins in three consecutive seasons for the first time since 1980-82.
Kentucky hasn’t done it in 41 years — and just twice in school history.
“Playing Penn State and competing against Penn State, playing on New Year’s Day, getting a 10th victory — it’s very important,” Wildcats coach Mark Stoops said. “It hasn’t happened very many times in the history of our program. So to get 10, hit that milestone, in another motivating factor.”
Stoops is completing his sixth season at Kentucky and has the Wildcats on the rise. The team’s 5-3 record in SEC play was the school’s first winning league mark since 1977, when Kentucky finished 10-1 overall.
Penn State has a richer football tradition, but coach James Franklin said reaching 10 wins again would be significant.
“I think it’s a benchmark. You probably have two different benchmarks for programs across the country. Some programs are benchmarked on going to bowl games, and that’s kind of the first level. And, then I think the next level is 10-win seasons,” Franklin said.
“We have been fortunate the last two years to be able to get 10 or more wins. We got a chance to do that for the third time in a row. That’s never happened at Penn State since joining the Big Ten,” Franklin added. “And I think at s place like Penn State, when you start making comments about things that have never happened in our history … it’s special.”
Some things to know about the Nittany Lions and Wildcats:
HUNGRY CATS: Kentucky seeks its first bowl win in three consecutive trips under Stoops. The New Year’s Day appearance is the Wildcats’ first in two decades. The Wildcats play multiple defensive fronts out of a 3-4 set that has allowed players such as linebacker Josh Allen to thrive.
HISTORIC FAREWELL: Senior quarterback Trace McSorley is set to become the first Penn State player to throw a pass in four bowl games. He’s thrown for 2,284 yards and 16 touchdowns vs. six interceptions this season. Miles Sanders leads the Nittany Lions in rushing with 1,223 yards and nine TDs.
HIGHLY DECORATED: Allen collected a bunch of awards this month, from Associated Press SEC Defensive Player of the Year to being a consensus first team All-American to winning the Chuck Bednarik and Bronco Nagurski trophies as the nation’s top defensive player. He enters the game with school records of 28.5 career sacks, including 14 this season.
SNELL ON THE CUSP: Junior running back Benny Snell Jr. enters his final game with Kentucky needing 107 yards rushing to break Sonny Collins’ career record of 3,835 from 1972-75. Another 100-yard effort would give the second team All-American 19 total and supplant Collins in that category before departing for the NFL draft.
AP Sports Writer Gary Graves in Lexington, Kentucky, contributed to this report.
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