It will be the latest edition of that age-old rivalry of cats versus dogs when the Kentucky Wildcats meet the No. 23 NC State Wolfpack in the Gator Bowl on Saturday. One can only hope that, whether cat or dog, both are wary around gators in Jacksonville, Florida.
Anyway, while cats and dogs might be traditional rivals, these two schools aren't too familiar with one another. This will only be the third time they've met in football, and the last meeting was 50 years ago. Kentucky beat NC State 27-2 in 1970, in what I can only guess was an all-time classic based on the final score. I'm sure it was plenty cathartic as well, as the win allowed the Wildcats to get revenge for the 15-6 NC State win back in 1909. So, I suppose if history is any indication, with 61 years between the first and second meeting, then another 50 before the third, these two are due to meet again in 2060.
It's an interesting matchup of ACC and SEC teams, given the circumstances under which it is being played. Kentucky wouldn't have made a bowl game in a normal season after finishing 4-6, but because of the pandemic and lessened requirements, the Wildcats will take on the 8-3 Wolfpack. So who wins this showdown on Saturday afternoon in Jacksonville? Let's take a closer look at the storylines and matchups to follow before making some expert picks both straight up and against the spread.
NC State: It'd be hard to quantify NC State's 2020 season as anything other than a success. The Wolfpack enter the final game of their campaign at 8-3 and ranked in the top 25. This was not expected to be the case. After a 4-8 season last year, there were whispers that coach Dave Doeren was on the hot seat in Raleigh. The Pack started hot, winning four of their first five games, but an injury to starting QB Devin Leary threatened to derail the season. NC State dropped its first two games following Leary's injury, but the losses were to North Carolina and Miami, two of the ACC's best teams. After that, Bailey Hockman and the offense settled in to win their final four games and set up this showdown with Kentucky in the Gator Bowl. A win would give Doeren three nine-win seasons in the last four years. So much for that hot seat.
Kentucky: In any other season, Kentucky isn't bowling. There are two different ways of looking at the Wildcats 2020 season. If you wanted to, you could point out that four of their six losses came to teams ranked in the top 10 at the time of the game. You could also point out that the team's four wins came against teams that finished 2020 with a combined record of 8-31. However you want to look at it, it's hard to ignore that it's the second consecutive season the Wildcats have regressed since their 10-win campaign in 2018. Still, as disappointing a season as it's been, finishing the year with a bowl win over a ranked team would raise spirits heading into the offseason. Especially in a year where it doesn't look like Kentucky's basketball team will provide much of a distraction.
Game: Gator Bowl
Date: Saturday, Jan. 2 | Time: Noon ET
Location: TIAA Bank Field -- Jacksonville, Florida
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Gator Bowl prediction, picks
Yes, even though NC State is ranked, and Kentucky is 4-6, it's the Wildcats favored in this game. How is that possible? Well, for one, public perception has a lot to do with it. When the general public looks at this game, they'll see an SEC team going against an ACC team that isn't considered one of the conference's elite programs, and that will push them to the SEC team. Now, I won't lie. The fact that Kentucky is favored does cause me to wonder if there's something the oddsmakers know that I don't, but I'm going to ignore that inkling and go with common sense. Take the team that's been better all season long. Pick: NC State +2.5 | NC State 24, Kentucky 20
So who wins NC State vs. Kentucky? And which side of the spread hits well over 50 percent of the time? Visit SportsLine right now to see which side of the Kentucky vs. North Carolina State spread to back, all from the advanced model on a 56-36 run on its top-rated college football picks this season.