2019 Belk Bowl Preview

2019 Belk Bowl Preview
The 2019 Belk Bowl will be a battle of the ACC and the SEC. The Kentucky Wildcats will take on the Virginia Tech Hokies.

Two Teams Looking To Finish Strong

When Kentucky and Virginia Tech meet on Tuesday both teams want to jump-start their 2020 campaigns with a win. On paper, the first meeting between these two teams in 32 years looks like one of the better bowl games. Who has the advantage and who gets the win? Let’s take a look at our 2019 Belk Bowl preview. First, let’s give you some history of the game.

The “Best Bowl”

The Belk Bowl began in 2002 as the Queen City Bowl, named for host city Charlotte, North Carolina. Over the years it’s had several sponsors including Continental Tire from 2002-2004 and Meineke Car Care from 2004-2010. In 2011 the Charlotte-based department store chain bought the rights to the game. It features the ACC versus the SEC.

Over the years the game has gained notoriety for having one of the best Twitter accounts in all of sports.

Sadly this is the last year for the Belk Bowl as it’s going to have a new sponsor next year. In addition, the Big 10 is joining as a participant for the game. They will play in even-numbered years while the SEC the odd. Now that we’ve caught you up on the history of the game let’s look at the teams starting first with Kentucky.

Bowden’s Swan Song

Five games into the season Kentucky sat at 2-3 and the 2019 campaign looked hopeless. Starting quarterback Terry Wilson was lost for the season with a torn patellar tendon. In addition, back up Sawyer Smith was also injured. Head coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Eddie Gran went to extreme measures by inserting wide receiver Lynn Bowden at quarterback. The junior, who played quarterback in high school, went on as impressive a seven-game run in recent memory.

The Wildcats went 5-2 down the stretch as Bowden ran for 1,235 yards which puts him third in the SEC. In addition, his 8.2 yards per rush is first in the league and second in the nation. Even though he hasn’t played receiver in seven games he still leads the Cats in receptions by a wide margin.

As a result of his incredible season, Bowden won the Paul Hornung Award as college football’s most versatile player. Shortly after the final regular-season game against Louisville he declared for the NFL Draft. However, he will play in the Belk Bowl.

Scouting The Hokies

Under head coach Justin Fuente the Hokies come into the Belk Bowl at 8-4. They dropped their season finale 39-30 to Virginia. A loss which cost them a spot in not only the ACC Championship but the Orange Bowl as well.

The leader of the offense is quarterback Hendon Hooker. Playing in only nine games the sophomore has thrown for 1,415 yards. In addition, he had 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He’s also a threat on the ground running for 306 yards and five scores. Hooker threw for a career-high 311 yards in the loss to Virginia and ran for 44 yards and a touchdown.

Junior Deshawm McClease is the main man in the backfield. He’s run for 717 yards and six touchdowns in 2019. When Virginia Tech throws the ball Hooker has several good targets. On the season the Hokies have four players with 20 or more receptions. Sophomore Tre Turner leads the team with 33 receptions and 544 yards. However, Damon Hazelton Jr has seven touchdowns.

Last Game For A Coaching Great

Of course, when you think of Virginia Tech you think about their defense. One name synonymous with the school is defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Before the season began Foster announced this season would be his 33rd and final one in Blacksburg. A native of Somerset, Kentucky Foster played football and then began his coaching career at Murray State. It’s only appropriate he faces his home state school in his final game.

As mentioned earlier Virginia Tech’s defense is always good and this year is no exception. They rank 41st in the country in total defense and had back to back shutouts before the Virginia game. However, they are even stingier against the run giving up only 123 yards per game, which ranks 27th. The question is can they stop Bowden?

Continuing on with our 2019 Belk Bowl Preview let’s look at the history between the two teams. In addition, we’ll look at their history in bowl games.

Bowl And Series History

Kentucky and Virginia Tech have played 19 times in history. The Wildcats hold an 11-6 advantage with two ties. However, it’s been 32 years since they last met with Kentucky winning 14-7. Ironically that was Foster’s first game in Blacksburg, and now he comes full circle with his last game also against Kentucky. One more interesting note the inaugural contest in what was then Commonwealth Stadium was between the Cats and Hokies. In Fran Curci’s first game at Kentucky the Cats won 31-26 on September 15th, 1973.

Tuesday’s Belk Bowl is Virginia Tech’s 32nd bowl game all-time. However, it’s their 27th straight which is the current longest streak in college football and fifth-longest in history. The last time the Hokies didn’t play in a bowl game George H.W. Bush was finishing up his term as President.  They are 13-19 overall in bowl games and have lost their last two. A season ago they lost 35-31 to Cincinnati in the Military Bowl.

On the other side of the ball, this is Kentucky’s 19th bowl game in history and they are 9-9 overall. They broke a four-game losing streak in last year’s Citrus Bowl with a 27-24 win over Penn State.

Who Wins The Belk Bowl?

As we finish up our 2019 Belk Bowl Preview it’s prediction time. As mentioned in the beginning both teams, of course, look to finish the season with a win. For Kentucky, they want to send Bowden out on a positive note. On the other hand, the Hokies want to win one for Foster.

The Wildcats are going to do the same thing they’ve done over the last seven games, run with Bowden. He’s gone for over 100 yards in six games and the one he didn’t he gained 99 against Georgia. In their win over Virginia Tech Cavaliers quarterback Bryce Perkins ran for 164 yards and two touchdowns. If Kentucky gets similar numbers out of Bowden then they should win.

With all the talk about Bowden, and rightfully so, the Wildcat defense also deserves a great deal of credit. Currently, Kentucky has the second-longest streak in college football holding teams to under 30 points at 16 games. Iowa is first with 17 following their Holiday Bowl win against USC. Kentucky’s defense rises to the occasion once again at the Cats win a close one.

Kentucky 24-20

Thanks for checking out our 2019 Belk Bowl preview here at Last Word On College Football. Don’t forget we have previews and recaps of every bowl game leading up to the championship on January 13th.

 

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Kevin lives in Lexington, Kentucky with his wife Dr. Rachel McGuffey and two kids Ryan and Mary Beth. He can be heard talking SEC Football On The Hill with Pat Jenkins and with Mark Rogers of Mark Rogers TV. He also is a contributor to the Hey Kentucky program that airs on WLEX-TV in Lexington. He is a fan of Kentucky football and basketball along with the Cincinnati Reds and Bengals, Green Bay Packers and Golden State Warriors. He can be reached via Twitter @KevinMcGuffey

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