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Kentucky vs. Virginia Tech: Belk Bowl preview and picks against the spread

Nick Bromberg

Kentucky (7-5) vs. Virginia Tech (8-4)

Location: Charlotte | When: Dec. 31 (Noon ET) | TV: ESPN | Line: Virginia Tech -2.5

HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE

Kentucky: The Wildcats got here with some ingenuity and old-school offense. After quarterbacks Terry Wilson and Sawyer Smith were injured, wide receiver Lynn Bowden moved to QB. And UK rebounded from three straight SEC losses to get to 7-5 and post a 3-5 record in conference play.

The Wildcats were 4-5 after losing 17-13 to Tennessee on Nov. 9 but ended the season on a three-game win streak with victories over Vanderbilt, Tennessee-Martin and Louisville.

Kentucky's Lynn Bowden Jr. has been a multi-purpose weapon for the Wildcats. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Kentucky's Lynn Bowden Jr. has been a multi-purpose weapon for the Wildcats. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

Virginia Tech: It was hard to figure out the Hokies at the end of September. Tech had lost to Boston College and Duke and its wins were over Furman and Old Dominion.

Well, it turned out that Virginia Tech was pretty good. The Hokies won three straight games in October before losing to Notre Dame to start November. A win over Wake Forest followed that Notre dame loss and then shutouts of Georgia Tech and Pitt preceded a Commonwealth Cup loss to Virginia. That stung because it broke a 15-game win streak for the Hokies and also earned Virginia a spot in the ACC championship game.

WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH

There’s no better way to end the year by starting the day with some football. And the Belk Bowl typically features a lot of points. Virginia’s 28-0 win over South Carolina in 2018 was the first time since 2009 that the winner of the game didn’t score at least 30 points.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Kentucky WR/QB Lynn Bowden: You may not have seen much Kentucky football this season. If you have, you can skip over this section. You know how awesome Bowden is. If you haven’t, now you’ll learn that Bowden has rushed 151 times for 1,235 yards and 11 touchdowns while primarily operating as a single-wing QB. He’s thrown 62 times with 29 completions for 330 yards and also has 30 catches for 348 yards. He’s a multi-faceted playmaker for the Wildcats and surely has a place somewhere in the NFL.

Virginia Tech's Hendon Hooker has thrown 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Virginia Tech's Hendon Hooker has thrown 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Virginia Tech QB Hendon Hooker: The sophomore emerged as VT’s primary QB as the season went on and has performed admirably. The two interceptions he threw against Virginia were his first two picks of the season. He’s thrown 11 touchdowns against those two picks and he’s also the team’s second-leading rusher with 306 yards.

NFL DRAFT PROSPECT

Kentucky G Logan Stenberg: An absolute mauler in the run game at left guard, Stenberg could be the highest-drafted 2020 prospect on the field here. He struggles to play with proper leverage at times, standing too upright in his stance, and is good but not great as a puller. Stenberg also has been flagged for a whopping 12 penalties, one of the highest totals for any interior blocker in the country. But Stenberg could still be a force in this game, against Tech’s solid run defense. Stenberg reminds us a bit of 2014 Jacksonville Jaguars third-rounder Brandon Linder — but with even more mass.

— Eric Edholm

WHAT’S ON THE LINE

Kentucky: A win pushes the Wildcats to 8-5 and would give UK back-to-back seasons with eight or more wins for the first time since 2006 and 2007. The bowl appearance is also Kentucky’s fourth consecutive postseason game. That’s the second-longest streak in school history.

Virginia Tech: A victory sends longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster out with a win and gives VT its first bowl win since a victory in the 2016 Belk Bowl.

PICKS

Nick Bromberg: Kentucky +2.5

Sam Cooper: Kentucky +2.5

Picks from the Yahoo Sports College Podcast

Pat Forde: VT -2.5

Pete Thamel: VT -2.5

Dan Wetzel: VT -2.5

Sean Sullivan: VT -2.5

– – – – – – –

Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.