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Mitch Barnhart hoping for strong fan support at Belk Bowl

All-Americans Josh Allen and Benny Snell celebrated Kentucky’s Citrus Bowl win last year and UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart hopes for a big fan turnout in Charlotte for this year’s bowl. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Not long after Kentucky accepted a bid to play in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte Sunday, UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart met with the media to share his thoughts/insights on UK’s fourth straight bowl bid under Mark Stoops and the Cats’ first trip to Charlotte for a bowl game.

Here’s the opening statement Barnhart gave tonight at his press conference:

“We’re excited to, obviously, announce we have accepted an invitation to the Belk Bowl in Charlotte. Had a chance to visit with the executive director Danny Morrison this afternoon. And Danny, he and I have talked on a couple of occasions, and he’s been at a couple of our games, so we’re excited to spend some time with him. He’s a good man that’s really worked hard to put on a good bowl.

“Had a chance to chat with a couple other folks that have been to the bowl, and they say it’s just a wonderful experience. I’m looking forward to sharing that with our coaches and our team and our fans. So it will be really good.

“It’s our first time playing in this game. And we know that they create an experience that is uniquely different than some of the other bowls we have been to, which I think will be exciting for our players. We, obviously, can’t wait to the get to Charlotte and compete against Virginia Tech. Obviously, a program that’s had a lot of success and done a lot of really good things. Whit Babcock will bring their team, as athletic director. I’ve known Whit a long time, and they’re team will come down and, obviously, be well prepared. And a lot of history with their program.

“So, obviously, an ACC opponent. That’s always good when you can match up against another Power Five, Autonomy Five school and have a chance to compete. So it’s a great opportunity.

“Bowls have become a little bit of a regular thing under Coach Stoops’ era. We’re appreciative of being four years in a row now and an exciting time for us to just continue to take a step in our program. And 7-5. To go have a chance to get our eighth win is exciting. Don’t want it take them lightly. I think that you get, sometimes we get a little bit nonchalant about the things the that happen, the successes we have in our program, and don’t want to do that.

“The things that this team has accomplished this year took an incredible amount of work from a lot of people. There was a lot of injuries, a lot of things to overcome. And this team did a remarkable job of staying together, working hard together, changing the way they play, the personality of who they were, and found a way to get to a really remarkable spot in winning five of our last seven games to close the regular season. So I don’t want to forget about that. I also don’t want to forget about the incredible role that our fans played. The weather had an incredible impact on our year.

“It was an interesting year from a weather perspective. Short of my days in Oregon, I don’t ever remember a seeing as much rain as I saw in one football season. So to play in that and to overcome some of that time after time after time was pretty remarkable what our young people did. And so really happy that they get to take it one more step. And for our seniors to have an opportunity to go to bowl game again and walk out in post-season play. And I think that’s a remarkable deal.

“But make no mistake about it. The bowls are important to college football and it’s important to the growth of our program and to us being able to continue to be consistent in building the foundational piece to our program and building the opportunity for us to continue to climb up the mountain of things we want to do towards championships in the SEC.

“The other thing I would say is people have become accustomed to the crowds that our fans bring, our fan base brings. So we have been very — you look at the last three bowl games we have been to, we had an opportunity to go to, obviously, the Gator Bowl, we’ve had a chance to be in the Music City Bowl, we’ve had an opportunity to be in the Citrus Bowl. We have been in some really good bowl games and our fans have absolutely supported us.

“And we’re going to need that kind of support as we go to Charlotte. I know that Virginia Tech will have a strong fan base there. I would anticipate our fan base will support us. It’s drivable. We can get there in a good spot from Kentucky. We can, obviously, we’ve got a large fan base and alumni association base in Atlanta. It’s one of the largest we’ve have got in the country. I’m hoping they will drive up the highway from there and have an opportunity to get to that spot.

“Our tickets will go on sale tomorrow morning at 9 o’clock on utfootballtix — that’s T I X — .com. So everybody that wants to have an opportunity to get into that. We have, obviously, had the presale that went on for our fan base, and then a lot of people wait to find out where we’re going and what’s going on with that. And so now we encourage them to jump in on that so we can get moving along.

“But, again, the game is another step forward toward trying to build a championship-caliber program. And you build championships one bowl at a time and one step at a time. And so this is another step for our program and looking forward to doing just that. So it’s a national audience on December 31st at noon. A day that everybody’s sort of settles in and begins to watch a couple full days of football and we’re anxious to be a part of that. So anxious to represent the Southeastern Conference, and hopefully add another victory to a very storied history of bowls in the SEC.”

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