SEC upstart Kentucky travels to Camping World Stadium in Orlando to take on Big Ten power Penn State in the 2019 Citrus Bowl on Tuesday, January first. The battle between the Wildcats and Nittany Lions could be one of the most competitive bowl games of the season.

Kentucky projected to finish behind Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Missouri, and possibly Tennessee in the SEC East Division. The Wildcats went 5-3 in the conference, though, and finished in third place behind Georgia and Florida.

Before the season started, Penn State had their sights set on a Big Ten Championship and a possible bid to the College Football Playoff. But, the Nittany Lions had a tough go of it in the middle part of the regular season. They finished strong to grab a New Year’s Day Bowl game.

Is Penn State the team to back as my 2019 Citrus Bowl free pick, or will Kentucky steal this juicy prize away?

CITRUS BOWL FOOTBALL BETTING
#14 Kentucky Wildcats vs #12 Penn State Nittany Lions
Tuesday, January 1st – Camping World Stadium – 1:00pm ET
Odds: Penn State -6.5 (47.5)

Kentucky Out to Prove Regular Season No Mirage

Kentucky showed right away that they were a team to deal with. The Wildcats beat tough Central Michigan 35-20 in Week 1. Even though they didn’t cover, they provided a clue as to how they might play during the rest of the season.

Facing a Top 20 ranked Florida Gators squad in their next, the Wildcats didn’t blink. They dominated the Gators 27-16 as a +13.5 road dog. UK used the win over Florida to leap into the national discussion. Kentucky rolled off 3 more victories, over Murray State, Mississippi State, and South Carolina before running into Texas A&M.

Losing to the Aggies didn’t deter the Wildcats from continuing to win games. They’d only lose two more times, to Georgia and Tennessee. Kentucky knows its regular season wasn’t smoke and mirrors. They believe they’re not only good enough to cover as a dog, but to beat Penn State straight up and they’ll be out to prove that they are a legitimate threat in an ever thickening SEC.

Penn State Ready to Show They’re Elite

Like Kentucky, Penn State started out strong. The Nittany Lions needed overtime to beat Appalachian State in Week 1, but in hindsight it makes sense. App State would go on to dominate the Sun Belt Conference.

After beating the Mountaineers, the Lions ran off victories over Pittsburgh, Kent, and Illinois. They hosted Ohio State as a 3-point dog in their next game. Even though the Buckeyes beat them, they still had hopes of winning the Big Ten Championship. But after the loss, the wheels fell off.

Penn State dropped games to Michigan State and Michigan. They had no chance of winning the division and gaining a spot in the Big Ten Championship. Many teams might have given up at that point. The Nittany Lions did not. Instead, they rallied off victories over Wisconsin, Rutgers, and Maryland.

There’s a lot of pride in the Penn State Nittany Lions, which is why it’s tough to lean away from them as I make my 2019 Citrus Bowl free pick. But the truth is that they’re facing a challenge that’s as tough as it gets.

Wildcats vs Nittany Lions Analysis and Pick

College football handicappers have bought into Penn State’s story. Penn State opened a -4 favorite. Even though the line’s jumped by 2.5 points, handicappers continue to back the Lions.

The trends support where the money’s going. Kentucky is 3-12 ATS in their last 15 non-conference games, 1-5 ATS in their last 6 following an ATS win, and 1-5 in their last 6 at a neutral site. Penn State is 6-1-1 ATS in their last 8 non-conference games, 12-3-1 ATS in their last 16 following an SU win of more than 20 points, and 7-1-1 ATS in their last 9 after allowing less than 100 yards rushing in their previous.

Although hot trends for the Nittany Lions are plentiful, the one cold trend that points to Penn State not covering, could be the most important: Penn State is 0-4 ATS in their last 4 versus a team from the SEC.

Kentucky has one of the top defenses in college football. Opponents averages less than 17 points per against it. Penn State should have a tough time stopping the Wildcats’ rushing attack while there’s no doubt UK played the tougher overall schedule. Kentucky gets the nod in my books, especially with a comfy point cushion in what should be a very close game.

2019 Citrus Bowl Free Pick: Kentucky +6.5