One of the many New Year’s Day traditions includes college football bowl games.
While several powerhouse schools highlight the slate of games, there’s one particular team that’s new to the club. The Kentucky Wildcats, led by a complete unit of hard-nosed football players, will enter 2019 by facing the Penn State Nittany Lions for rights to the VRBO Citrus Bowl.
The 2018 football season became destiny as early as Week two when the Wildcats went down to The Swamp and snapped their three-decade losing streak to the Florida Gators. Kentucky moved on by soundly defeating multiple SEC opponents en route to becoming bowl-eligible in Week seven.
Considering Kentucky’s veteran-heavy roster, Benny Snell Jr., Josh Allen and many other familiar faces of the Bluegrass state are primed to shine in their final game as Kentucky Wildcats.
Here is a look at where Kentucky ranks nationally in major offensive and defensive categories:
- Points/Game: 24.6 (#90)
- Yards/Game: 352.3 (#108)
- Points/Play: 0.374 (#73)
- Yards/Play: 5.4 (#77)
- 3rd Down Conversion %: 40.44% (#51)
- Red Zone Scoring %: 75.86% (#115)
- Opponent Points/Game: 16.8 (#7)
- Opponent Yards/Game: 329.3 (#18)
- Opponent Points/Play: 0.254 (#10)
- Opponent Yards/Play: 5.0 (#32)
- Opponent 3D Conv %: 37.18% (#43)
- Opponent Red Zone Scoring %: 78.12% (#28)
Out of the Big-10 come the Nittany Lions, finishing the regular season with an identical 9-3 record that boasts wins over Iowa and Michigan. However, Penn State failed to claim victory over their superior competition. They suffered narrow losses to Michigan State and Ohio State while being blown off the field by Michigan.
Here is a look at where Penn State ranks nationally in major offensive and defensive categories:
- Points/Game: 34.6 (#22)
- Yards/Game: 424.3 (#37)
- Points/Play: 0.48: (#16)
- Yards/Play: 6.0 (#25)
- 3rd Down Conversion %: 37.65% (#76)
- Red zone Scoring %: 92.31% (#4)
- Opponent Points/Game: 20.0 (#16)
- Opponent Yards/Game: 354.9 (#32)
- Opponent Points/Play: 0.253 (#9)
- Opponent Yards/Play: 4.5 (#9)
- Opponent 3rd Down Conv %: 34.34% (#24)
- Opponent Red Zone Scoring %: 71.88% (#8)
Kentucky finished the season ranked as the 14th-best team in the country, while Penn State ended their slate as the 12th-best team. With the point-spread being bet all the way to -6.5 in favor of the Nittany Lions, but that shouldn’t phase the Wildcats. Kentucky closed as an underdog in six games this season and won five outright.
Odds and Betting Trends
Penn State opened as seven-point favorite in most sportsbooks. The lowest it got was four points, but most oddsmakers have the Nittany Lions favored by 6.5.
Kentucky has been great at beating the spread this season, going 4-2 as underdogs, including wins at No. 10 Florida, at No. 23 Missouri and vs. No. 18 Mississippi State. Their lone defeats as underdogs this year was at home to No. 5 Georgia and on the road at No. 19 Texas A&M.
Here are some betting trends for both teams:
- The total has gone UNDER in 6 of Kentucky’s last 9 games.
- Kentucky is 2-5 ATS in its last 7 games.
- Kentucky is 4-2 SU as an underdog this season.
- Kentucky is 5-1 ATS as underdogs this season.
- Kentucky is 9-3 SU in its last 12 games.
- Penn State is 7-5 ATS this season.
- Penn State is 2-3 ATS away from Beaver Stadium this season.
- Penn State is 5-1 SU in its last 6 games.
- The total has gone UNDER in 4 of Penn State’s last 5 games.
Bill Connelly of SB Nation has the Nittany Lions, 28-19, to cover the spread.
Mark Story of the Lexington Herald-Leader, though, is calling Kentucky in a 28-27 upset by the Wildcats.
A panel by 247Sports saw 12 experts side with Penn State. None took Kentucky to win in an upset.
The weekly A Sea of Blue roundtable actually provided more confidence for the Wildcats, though, including three “Kentucky” predictions to four for “Penn State”.
Yahoo! Sports, though, concluded a lopsided list of predictions in favor of the Nittany Lions, providing three Penn State selections and zero for Kentucky.
Overall, straight-up predictions look to be 4-20 against the Wildcats.
Kentucky has certainly earned their right to face a top-tier football team like Penn State. In fact, Kentucky’s defense has had the Wildcats in that “upper-echelon” grouping for most of the year. The Wildcats’ offensive outburst at Louisville seems to have some convinced that this could be an exciting display of decent scoring.
However, that will be far from what you watch for three and a half hours. Kentucky’s strong suit is defense. A majority of their best players are on the defensive side of the football and even their head coach has a defensive background.
Kentucky’s offense shouldn’t scare the Nittany Lions, either, which will assert more significance on the defense’s performance. Expect a heavy dose of Snell but not enough “big plays” to get the job done. Kentucky is intelligent and experienced, but talent could easily win this matchup for Penn State.