LEXINGTON, Ky. – The University of Kentucky football team will be trying for a school record third-consecutive bowl victory as the Wildcats have accepted an invitation to play in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl against the East Carolina Pirates, the Conference USA champion.
The game will be Friday, Jan. 2, at 5 p.m. EST (4 p.m. CST in Memphis) at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. The Liberty Bowl is celebrating its 50th year, but will be playing host to Kentucky for the first time.
“We are honored to be selected to participate in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl,” said Mitch Barnhart, UK Director of Athletics. “This is a great opportunity for our young people to experience the hospitality of the city of Memphis.
“Our experience in back-to-back bowls shows the tremendous fan support given to Kentucky athletics, and specifically to Kentucky football. I congratulate Coach Rich Brooks, our seniors and all of the Wildcats as we try for a third-consecutive bowl win.”
Three-straight bowl wins is something never accomplished in school history. The Wildcats knocked off Clemson, 28-20, in the 2006 Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl, and then followed with a 35-28 win over Florida State in the 2007 Music City Bowl.
Just by playing in the game, the Wildcats duplicate a feat done only once before in school annals – participating in a third-consecutive post-season game. The 1949-50-51 teams played in the Orange, Sugar and Cotton bowls respectively, winning the last two.
This will be the 13th post-season appearance in school history, with the Wildcats carrying a 7-5 record in bowl games.
Kentucky comes into the AutoZone Liberty Bowl with a 6-6 record, marking the first time since 1954-55-56 that the Wildcats have won six games in three consecutive seasons. The Wildcats overcame massive graduation losses from last year and injuries to key players this season in qualifying for a bowl game.
UK will enter the bowl with a 13-game non-conference winning streak, the third-longest active streak in the nation behind Boston College (21) and Louisiana State (18). The 13-game streak is the school’s longest since a 17-game non-conference win stretch from 1954-60.
This will be the second meeting between Kentucky and East Carolina. The Wildcats defeated the Pirates, 6-3, in Lexington in the 1993 season. Ironically, it was that victory that gave UK its sixth win of the year and put the Wildcats into the ’93 Peach Bowl.
East Carolina has a 9-4 record this year. Coach Skip Holtz led his team to season-opening victories over ranked foes in Virginia Tech and West Virginia. The opening stretch put the Pirates among the nation’s top-25 ranked teams. East Carolina closed the regular season with three consecutive wins, including a 27-24 triumph at Tulsa on Saturday in the Conference USA championship game.
Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks will be participating in his third Liberty Bowl. He played in the game as a senior in 1962, helping Oregon State to a 6-0 win over Villanova. In 1976, in his last game as a collegiate assistant coach, Brooks’ UCLA squad was defeated by the Paul “Bear” Bryant-coached Alabama Crimson Tide, 36-6.
“It’s great that we’re playing in the 50th anniversary of a game that I actually played in when the game originated in Philadelphia,” said Brooks. “I think it’s an honor to play a conference champion, particularly one that was as hot to start the season as East Carolina was, and the way they finished the year will be a great test for our program.
“"East Carolina is an outstanding team," Brooks continued. "They had two of the most impressive wins that anybody had all year when they beat Virginia Tech and West Virginia back-to-back, and they beat a very good Tulsa team in their championship game. They've got an outstanding defense and an experienced quarterback. We'll have to play very well to have a chance to win the game."