ORLANDO -- The football programs at Penn State and Kentucky don’t share the same history and tradition. Their Citrus Bowl matchup Tuesday at Camping World Stadium will mark the Nittany Lions’ 49th bowl appearance, but just the 18th for the Wildcats.
Still, the urgency for each team to finish the 2018 season with 10 victories is strong. It would be a third consecutive 10-win season for Penn State, the first time it has strung that many together since beginning Big Ten competition in 1993. For Kentucky, it would mark its third 10-win season ever.
“I think at a place like Penn State, when you can start making some comments about things that have never happened in our history — and we’ve played a lot of good football at Penn State for a long time -- I think it’s special,” Lions head coach James Franklin said Monday at a joint news conference with Kentucky counterpart Mark Stoops.
“For us, you have the 10-win motivation. You have three ’10 wins or more seasons in a row’ motivation. You have sending these seniors out the right way and the legacy that they’ve left. And then the most important thing for us is just being 1-0 and playing well against a really, really good opponent. So it’s a combination of all those things.”
Stoops called a 10th win “extremely important.”
“Competing against Penn State, the history that they have, the storied program, that's very important to us and motivating for us,” he said. “Playing Penn State, playing on New Year's Day, getting a tenth victory … it hasn't happened very many times in the history of our program. So to get 10, hit that milestone, is another motivating factor.”
Franklin is an emotional coach and usually will shed a tear or two when saying good-bye to seniors. But there might be more than a few tears in seeing his current group of 21 seniors end their careers Tuesday.
Ten of the seniors were with the program for five seasons, meaning they came in right after Franklin began his tenure at Penn State when the program was trying to bounce back from NCAA sanctions that limited scholarships.
“To have this group really come in and battle through some early challenges,” he said, “and being at 65 scholarships and those guys kind of never wavering have really kind of been the foundation that we’ve built this thing on the last few years. Those guys will forever hold a special place in my heart.”
Athletic director Sandy Barbour said improvements at Beaver Stadium remain on hold while other priorities in her department’s master plan are addressed, including construction of new facilities for aquatics and tennis as well as a center to serve as the hub for the university’s student athletes, staff, and coaches.
“Kind of playing in the background, we’ve got to be, what’s the runway, what’s the plan how we phase Beaver Stadium and then obviously how we pay for it,” Barbour said Monday in a question-and-answer session with reporters.
Barbour said $70 million has been put into facilities in recent years, with $30 million going into renovations of the Lasch Football Building and practice fields outside Holuba Hall. As for fund-raising, she said two former university letter winners have donated the second- and fourth-largest gifts in the department’s history, but she did not identify the donors or how much they gave.