- The North Carolina State Wolfpack will take on the Kentucky Wildcats in the Gator Bowl on January 2nd, 2021
- The Wildcats only won four games this season but earned a bowl invite due to opt-outs.
- NC State was 8-3 on the year but had issues with turnovers, which could turn this contest.
The No. 23 North Carolina State Wolfpack and Kentucky Wildcats will square off in the Gator Bowl on New Year’s Eve. It’s a bit of an unusual game in the sense that in a normal year, Kentucky – as a four-win team – wouldn’t be bowling. However, given the current bowl landscape, with the opt-outs due to COVID-19 and different bowls having to fill spots, the Wildcats got an invite.
What adds to the complexity here is that the 4-6 team is slightly favored against an eight-win opponent. Taking a closer look at this contest where Kentucky is favored, what’s the best bet?
NC State vs Kentucky Opening Odds
|North Carolina State Wolfpack||+114||+2.5 (-110)||Ov 49.5 (-114)|
|Kentucky Wildcats||-140||-2.5 (-110)||Un 49.5 (-106)|
All odds taken December 31 at FanDuel.
Wildcats Coming Off Rough Campaign
The Kentucky Wildcats’ 4-6 season is even worse than the 4-6 record might initially suggest. Kentucky’s four wins all came against teams that did worse than them in the SEC this season. Their four victims had a combined record of 8-31, and they didn’t beat a team that finished with a winning record.
The main issue is the offense, as Kentucky’s attack is only as good as the quality of its opponents. The Wildcats feasted on the four teams they defeated – averaging 34 points per game in those four wins – but then averaged more than 30 points less per game in their losses, which includes their 41-point outburst in a loss to Ole Miss.
NC State’s defense was hit-or-miss this season, giving up 45 to Virginia Tech, 44 to Miami, and 42 to Wake Forest, so Kentucky isn’t exactly going up against an elite unit. However, the Wildcats offense has made many average defenses look elite this season.
How Good Is North Carolina State?
North Carolina State won eight games this year, which was a pleasant surprise considering their regular season win total was set at five. The Wolfpack did particularly well in one-score games, going 4-1 in those close contests in 2020.
The flip side of it is that the Wolfpack had the benefit of avoiding both Clemson and Notre Dame – the two top teams in the ACC – on the schedule, so they never really had to measure up against elite competition. At the same time, they did beat Liberty, who ended the season ranked, holding their high-powered offense to just 14 points.
The Wolfpack just have to be careful with turnovers. They threw 12 interceptions in 11 contests and had 1.3 fumbles per game this season. They had seven fumbles in their last games alone but only lost one of them. If they are going to stick to these averages, they’re not going to win this bowl.
What’s The Best Bet?
The Wolfpack defense should do its job. Wolfpack quarterback Bailey Hockman has not been great as the replacement for injured starter Devin Leary, but he has been competent. Competence is basically what State needs to fend off a Kentucky team that wouldn’t be bowling in a normal year.
As long as the Wolfpack limit their turnovers, they’re going to be competitive here and likely win the game outright.
Prediction: NC State +2.5