By LARRY VAUGHT
Was it Kentucky’s record and ranking? Or maybe was it Kentucky’s reputation as having a fan base that would travel to destination places for key athletic events?
Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart said it was a “variety” of reasons that got UK the Citrus Bowl berth in Orlando against Penn State on Jan. 1.
“One, we’re deserving. Our program is very deserving. We’ve been ranked — I’m not sure when we broke into the rankings, I want to say it’s the end of September, somewhere in that range, and we’ve been there ever since,” Barnhart said Sunday night.
‘We had the losses with Georgia and Tennessee back to back, but we never wavered out of the rankings and we hung in there. When the CFP (college football power) rankings came out, we cracked that egg and got in there and moved up to 14th today.
“So I think that in terms of where we were, if you look at their protocol and their procedures, we were supposed to be the team that was selected. I’m sure that they have choices and they could have gone outside that if they wished to. There were some other teams just below us in those rankings. I think they knew our team was deserving. We’ve got some guys on our team that are certainly worthy of that recognition and that attention.”
What about the fan base’s reputation for supporting the team?
Second thing is our fan base. There’s no question that our fan base plays a part in that. Our fan base follows — and this is an opportunity, again, for them to see the quality of the Kentucky fan base.
“We talk about the Big Blue Mist — you can talk about whatever you want to talk about, but they come,” Barnhart said. “And they’ve shown up when we needed them to show up. And we need them to show up in force.
“These guys deserve it. They deserve to have their fans out there in a big-time atmosphere, big-time game on New Year’s Day. Kentucky fans, this is a chance to show why the Big Blue Nation is as special as it is.”