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TaxSlayer Gator Bowl Preview: NC State Wolfpack vs Kentucky Wildcats

Despite finishing below .500 this season, Kentucky (4-6 SU, 4-5-1 ATS) is back in a bowl game for the fifth straight year. Standing in the way of the Wildcats’ third consecutive bowl victory is NC State (8-3, 7-4), which has won its last four games.

Gator Bowl: NC State vs Kentucky
  • Date/Time: January 2, 12 noon ET
  • Stadium: TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.
  • TV Coverage: ESPN
  • Opening Odds: Kentucky -2.5 | O/U 51.5 (Line History)
  • NC State vs Kentucky Matchup Report 

Gator Bowl Odds Analysis

Oddsmakers’ respect for the SEC was clear in the opening line as Kentucky was made a 2.5-point favorite despite winning four fewer games than NC State. If Kentucky closes as chalk, it’ll mark the first time the Wildcats have laid points in a bowl game since 2007. Meanwhile, NC State has covered just three of its last 13 games as an underdog.

NC State News & Notes

Led by a defense that improved as the year went along, the Wolfpack won their final four regular-season games for the first time since 2008. Quarterback Bailey Hockman threw for 309 yards in NC State’s 23-13 win over Georgia Tech on December 5, his second consecutive outing with more than 300 passing yards. The victory was also the Wolfpack’s seventh in ACC play this year, setting a school single-season record.

The defense has been vulnerable at times on the ground, however, allowing more than 276 yards per game in its three losses. NC State may also be without star lineman Alim McNeill, who has announced he will forgo his senior season to enter next year’s NFL draft. McNeill and linebacker Payton Wilson, who led the ACC with 10.8 tackles per game, were named all-conference second teamers this year.

Kentucky News & Notes

The Wildcats are making their fifth consecutive bowl appearance under Mark Stoops, who is the first coach in program history to accomplish that feat. Of course, a 4-6 record wouldn’t usually be enough to go bowling, but it might be a mistake to judge Kentucky solely by its sub-.500 record.

Four of the Wildcats’ six losses came to teams that were ranked at the time, including Alabama, Florida and Georgia. When they get outside of SEC play, the Wildcats have outperformed expectations recently, covering each of their last seven games against non-conference opponents.

All-American right tackle Darian Kinnard’s status for the Gator Bowl was uncertain at the time of writing with reports suggesting he may opt out for the remainder of the season to protect himself for next year’s NFL draft. Associate head coach and tight ends coach Vince Marrow will call Kentucky’s offensive plays after coordinator Eddie Gran was fired in early December.

Betting Pick: NC State +2.5

Kentucky has struggled to generate offense against quality opponents this year, scoring 10 points or less in four of its last six games. Expect those issues to continue against a Wolfpack squad that has allowed 19.5 points per game in its last four outings.

Shark Bites
  • NC State is 3-10 ATS in its last 13 games as a dog.
  • The total has gone OVER in NC State’s last 7 bowl games.
  • Kentucky is 7-0 ATS in its last 7 non-conference games.