What if Kentucky goes 7-3 or 8-2 this year, will there be a bowl game waiting for the Wildcats? What about if UK would go 4-6 — or worse? Could there still be a bowl game opportunity?
According to Kentucky native John Showalter, a committee member of the Taxslayer Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, the answers would be yes and yes.
“Information is kind of fluid right now about everything,” said Showalter. “Yes, there will definitely be bowl games. Each bowl game is doing things kind of different but we always do all operate independently. That’s why each bowl will operate differently this year like any other year.”
The Taxslayer Gator Bowl is played at TIAA Bank Field, home of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.
“We will follow whatever fan model the Jaguars have,” Showalter said. “For the first NFL game, they allowed 17,000 fans. We hope that number goes up because honestly because with 17,000 fans we (the bowl) will lose a lot of money quickly.”
Bowl game dates have not been announced but Showalter expects the date for the Taxslayer Gator Bowl and most other bowls to stay the same as other years.
What about picking teams? How will that work with every team likely not playing the same number of games or knowing exactly what might happen with the Big Ten and/or Pac-12?
“I know there are a few of the smaller bowls that have already folded,” Showalter said. “We are lucky. The Big Ten dropped off us and we are SEC-ACC affiliated.”
Since both the ACC and SEC have stood firm in plans to play, Showalter is hoping the Gator Bowl’s association with the two conferences will pay off at selection time.
He believes bowls will aim for regional matchups if possible. Maybe a Florida-Florida State Gator Bowl. Or perhaps a Kentucky-Louisville Music City Bowl in Nashville.
“For travel and ticket sales, regional matchups will just make a lot of sense this year,” he said. “I would think the Music City would be all over Kentucky-Louisville. That would seem obvious with them not playing this year and the regional aspect of the matchup.”
Normally a team must have six wins and at least a .500 record to play in a bowl. That should change this year even though the benchmark for wins has not been set yet for 2020.
“But the bowls that are left are going to want teams to play,” Showalter said. “Bowls need teams to play to have games.”
One bowl aspect that will definitely change is payouts to teams. With limited attendance at best, revenue is going to be down as Showalter noted even with TV contracts still intact.
“I know we are pushing back with a lot of other bowl games on the payouts. I know the payout issue is not unique to us. We are working with conferences on that. Leagues need to work with us so bowls don’t go bankrupt,” Showalter said.
“Teams are already saying that may not come for a whole week like past years. It will be more like an away game. Fly in the day before, do a walk through, play the game the next day and fly home.”
With limited attendance, bowl ticket prices likely will be higher this year for those who do attend.
“Fans know the demand will be there, so makes sense for us to raise ticket prices before secondary vendors do it,” Showalter said. “If we don’t raise prices, somebody else is going to do it.
“Bowls are not the lucrative games they were 10 to 15 years ago or 25 years ago when everybody sold out,” Showalter said.
Showalter says it only makes sense that TV ratings will increase for bowl games this year. He also wonders what limited attendance at bowls — or other college games — could mean long term.
“Home viewing has been a challenge for a long time,” Showalter said. “You don’t have to pay pay parking, buy tickets, spend on concessions. There are a lot of advantages to watching at home and I don’t think any of us know what impact this will have on bowl attendance long-term.”
Former Kentucky player Tyler Herro was not a McDonald’s All- American coming out of high school. He was not projected as a first-round draft pick before his freshman season at UK.
Yet Miami did make Herro a first-round pick after one year at Kentucky and he recently made the NBA all-rookie second team and was spectacular for the Heat once NBA play resumed.
Herro loves the underdog role that has always been put on him, including in the NBA.
“I think I’m not the only guy on the team who has been doubted. There’s a lot of undrafted guys, guys who have been in the second round, and I think that’s why we have a chip on our shoulder as a team,” Herro said during his team’s playoff battle with Boston in the Eastern Conference final.
“We all have been doubted at some point through our career and now we are all together in one locker room and feel like we can put it together and win games.”
Herro has enjoyed his rookie success.
“It’s just a blessing to be here. I never thought I would be playing in the Eastern Conference Finals with a chance to go to the Finals. I’m just taking every part of it with me and enjoying it. Taking advantage of my opportunity,” he said.
“We just got a great locker room. A lot of guys who want to win and our grit. Just championship DNA in our locker room.”
Herro learned one valuable lesson this season that has stood out to him.
“Just every possession matters. As a rookie, I think that’s the one thing I’ve learned throughout the playoffs is every possession matters. Everything matters, whether it’s in the first quarter, that can play a vital role in what’s going on in the fourth quarter,” Herro said. “Just really taking value of each possession and really taking care of the ball and making the right plays, taking the right shots and just being focused on the other end on defense.”
Justin Rogers was the highest rated recruit not only in Kentucky’s 2020 football recruiting class but also the highest rated recruit that coach Mark Stoops has signed at UK.
While Stoops and defensive coordinator Brad White have not yet said exactly how much Rogers will play when UK opens the season Saturday at Auburn, it seems obvious he’s going to be part of the defensive line rotation.
“He’s getting better. Like most of these freshmen, with each practice, he’s getting better and better. He’s got a great work ethic,” Stoops said. “It’s important to him.
“In scrimmage two, he reached out to the coaches, met with (UK defensive line coach) Anwar (Stewart) at 8 a.m. Sunday morning and wanted to watch film with him, go through things with him.”
That’s the work ethic coaches cannot teach but what great players have at any level of play.
What’s even better for UK is that Stoops is also really happy with two other freshmen defensive linemen, Octavious Oxendine and Josaih Hayes.
“They’ve got a great desire to be great,” Stoops said. “The great part about us now is that you could play them, you could bring them along, but you don’t have to rely on them.”
It will have been a little over a year since quarterback Terry Wilson took the hit that injured his knee and ended his 2019 season when he takes the first snap at Auburn Saturday in UK’s season-opening game.
Former UK running back Anthony White, who now is a sports radio host, doesn’t think that will be a problem for Wilson or UK.
“I know it sounds like a cliche but you don’t want your quarterback accustomed to being hit but there is something to say about your body getting acclimated to taking a hit,” White said. “In Terry’s case, it’s more advantageous to not get hit.
“The first hit is going to jar him. No doubt about that. Fortunately the quarterback is one position that you do not have to get acclimated to taking a hit. You can make a case he might be gun-shy because he’s not been hit but I would rather he be fresh and not taking hits during practice. The first hit, he’ll just have to shake it off.”
White says not to forget that Wilson doesn’t have to take a lot of his. He has the speed to get to the sideline to avoid hits if he wants.
“He’s a quarterback, not a running back,” White said. “If he sees danger, he can get down. That’s fine.”
White knows one of his former UK coaches, Bill Curry, would never have left Wilson go all preseason without taking a hit even if he was coming off an injury.
“Coach Curry liked to hit five days a week to make sure you could take a hit,” White said. “Terry doesn’t need that. It might take him a couple of hits to get back acclimated, but he will be fine, especially with that offensive line he has taking care of him.”
Quote of the Week: “Think about it. The guys that are becoming the face of the NBA … they’re our guys. I’m not surprised. The kids that come here are just built different,” Kentucky coach John Calipari in an interview with Jason King of Outkick.com