Belk Bowl: Virginia Tech (8-4) vs Kentucky (7-5), Dec. 31, noon Eastern (ESPN)
Line: Virginia Tech by 3.
Series record: Kentucky leads series 11-8.
WHAT'S AT STAKE
This is Virginia Tech’s 27th straight bowl game. The Hokies will be looking for their first bowl win since 2016. Kentucky is looking for back-to-back bowl wins after beating Penn State last year in the Citrus Bowl.
Virginia Tech QB Hendon Hooker vs. Kentucky pass defense: Hooker leads the Hokies offense with 1,445 passing yards and 11 touchdown passes, but will face a stiff test against the Wildcats pass defense that ranks fourth in the country. Hooker replaced Ryan Willis as the Hokies starting QB after a 2-2 start. ... The Hokies may need to rely more heavily on the running game led by Deshawn McClease, who has run for 717 yards and six touchdowns.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Virginia Tech: WR Damon Hazelton Jr. possesses good speed on the outside and is the team’s leading receiver with 30 catches for 506 yards and seven touchdowns.
Kentucky: QB Lynn Bowden Jr. is the Wildcats’ go-to guy on offense. He started the year as a wide receiver, but moved to quarterback. He leads the team with 1,235 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns and is also first with 30 catches for 348 yards and a touchdown.
FACTS & FIGURES: This is the final year of the Belk Bowl. The game is looking for a new title sponsor. ... Virginia Tech is making its second appearance in the Belk Bowl. The Hokies defeated Arkansas 35-24 in 2016 after falling behind 24-0 at halftime. It stands as the largest comeback in school history. ... The Hokies allowed Virginia QB Bryce Perkins to rack up 475 yards of offense in their final regular season. ... Kentucky will be making its first appearance in the Belk Bowl and in Charlotte overall. ... The Wildcats won three straight games, and four of their last five, to end the regular season. ... Kentucky has completed only three passes for 21 yards over its past two games. ... Kentucky is averaging 274.8 yards rushing per game, while the Hokies are allowing just 123.4 rushing yards per game. ... Kentucky DE Calvin Taylor has a team-leading 7 1/2 sacks. ... Kentucky won the last matchup 14-7 on Oct. 31, 1987.
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