Penn State is heading to the Sunshine State for postseason action. The Nittany Lions will face Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl, set for 1 p.m. New Year’s Day at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla.
Widespread speculation placed these programs together in this contest leading up to an announcement, and that sentiment was solidified Sunday afternoon. Penn State falls short of its third straight “New Year’s Six” matchup — Big Ten foes Michigan and Ohio State are headed to the Peach Bowl and Rose Bowl, respectively — but ends up with a quality consolation prize.
Kentucky, like Penn State, carries a 9-3 record. The Wildcats finished 14th in final College Football Playoff rankings, while the Nittany Lions landed at No. 12.
Penn State is one of six programs that placed top 15 in final playoff rankings in each of the last three seasons. The others are Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Washington. Each of these squads, except Penn State, has logged a playoff appearance during this span.
Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma are each back in the playoff, along with unbeaten Notre Dame. The semifinal round (No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Oklahoma; No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Notre Dame) occurs Dec. 29. A national champion will be determined Jan. 7.
Penn State, which finished the regular season with three straight wins, entered this weekend on the fringe of New Year’s Six inclusion. Ultimately, the Nittany Lions were not able to overcome No. 7 Michigan, No. 10 Florida and No. 11 LSU for three available at-large bids. Undefeated Central Florida, ranked eighth overall, earned an automatic at-large slot by finishing as the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion.
Penn State appeared in a New Year’s Six bowl each of the last two years. The Nittany Lions suffered a Rose Bowl loss to USC after earning the 2016 Big Ten title, then defeated Washington in the 2017 Fiesta Bowl.
Still, the Citrus Bowl represented one of the best possible landing spots for Penn State. There was some discussion about the potential of a clash vs. Mississippi State, led by former Nittany Lions offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, or perhaps a trip to the Outback Bowl (Jan. 1 in Tampa, Fla.), but odds were in favor of PSU ending up in Orlando.
Kentucky beat Louisville, 56-10, in its regular-season finale. It pushed the Wildcats’ win total to nine, a high under coach Mark Stoops, who has been in Lexington since 2013. It’s the program’s most victories since 1984.
The Citrus Bowl winner will finish its season with 10 wins. It’s a significant ambition on both sidelines.
Kentucky hasn’t won 10 games since 1977. Penn State, which reached 11 victories in each of the last two seasons, would secure double-digit win totals in three straight years for the first time since 1980-82, and the first time ever as a Big Ten member.
“When you talk about the Big Ten era, this has been one of the best three-year stretches in program history,” Nittany Lions coach James Franklin said Saturday. “We have a chance to do some really special things by winning the bowl game.”
Penn State’s last Citrus Bowl appearance occurred in 2010, when it was referred to as the Capital One Bowl. The Nittany Lions carry an all-time record of 2-3 in the event, most recently picking up a 19-17 win over LSU.
Stay tuned to Lions247 with FightOnState during the days and weeks ahead as we set the stage for this Citrus Bowl matchup!