Gator Bowl: Kentucky vs. North Carolina State odds and pick
Kentucky and North Carolina State will look for a winning start to 2021 in the Gator Bowl on Saturday, Jan. 2.
Kentucky went 4-6, with an all-SEC schedule, but the Wildcats never lost more than two games in a row. North Carolina State went 8-3 and finished the season on a four-game win streak, which included a non-conference victory over Liberty, which just took down previously undefeated darling Coastal Carolina in the Cure Bowl.
Here is our preview for the 2021 Gator Bowl.
Kentucky vs. #24 North Carolina State
Sat, January 2 2021, 5:00 PM
North Carolina State Wolfpack
Roller-coaster season continues for the Wildcats
It has been a strange season for the Wildcats, as they started 0-2, with major struggles in the secondary on defense. They bounced back and won two consecutive games with excellent defense, with defeats of Mississippi State and Tennessee by a combined margin of 58-9. Kentucky then lost four of five, including a 63-3 shellacking from Alabama. The Wildcats finished the season with a 23-point victory over South Carolina.
Kentucky relied on a strong defense and running game to carry it to victories in the up-and-down season. Kentucky finished 46th in the nation in rushing offense and 48th in passing defense. The Wildcats also finished 17th in red-zone defense, with only 26 touchdowns allowed on 40 red-zone opportunities from opponents.
Kentucky will need to rely on running back Chris Rodriguez, as North Carolina State is mediocre in rushing defense, at 64th in the nation. Rodriguez averaged 6.9 yards per carry this season and reached the end zone nine times, despite only having 102 carries.
How good is the Wolfpack?
NC State has an impressive record and has an impressive win over Liberty. However, how good is the ACC, outside of Clemson and Notre Dame? That question remains to be answered.
The Wolfpack did not have to face Clemson or Notre Dame this season, but it did face five teams that were ranked and NC State went 2-3 in those games.
Quarterback Bailey Hockman finished the season strong for the Wolfpack as the starter during the four-game win streak at the end of the year. Hockman threw for an average of 260.3 yards and 1.8 touchdowns per game over his final four starts.
NC State is a solid team converting third downs, as it ranks 36th in the nation at 44.3%. It was also excellent at stopping opponents on third down and ranks 39th in the nation at 37.6%.
Who will win the Gator Bowl?
The SEC will reign supreme
Kentucky is 4-6, North Carolina State is 8-3, and yet the Wildcats are the favorite.
The Wildcats have proven in recent bowl games that they should not be underestimated. They defeated both Penn State and Virginia Tech as underdogs in the previous two seasons.
Meanwhile, the Wolfpack is returning to the same bowl where it lost, 52-13, to an SEC team two seasons ago.
I like Kentucky to use its ground game to control possession and get a low-scoring victory.