Stoops expects most of current roster to be intact for UK’s bowl

Published 3:58 pm Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops expects his squad to be “pretty darn close to 100 percent” when the Wildcats take on Clemson in the Gator Bowl.

“Our guys are excited about this bowl game (and they) want to play in this bowl game,” Stoops said Monday.

That includes running back Ray Davis, cornerback Andru Phillips and other players who have either declared for the NFL Draft or have announced plans to enter the transfer portal.

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“I’m going to talk to (Ray) again,” Stoops said. “He’ll decide that … I’m not sure there’s not a possibility that he can come back and play in this game. But the majority of everybody else I’ve talked to is excited about this opportunity.”

Last year, Stoops made the decision not to include players who had declared or had planned to transfer, on the team’s travel roster. Without its key components, including quarterback Will Levis, Kentucky dropped a 21-0 decision to Iowa in the Music City Bowl.

“You just want to make sure they want to go, they want to help this team,” he said. “They deserve that opportunity, but they can’t be a distraction. It can’t just be a paid holiday. They can go do that somewhere else.”

Kentucky quarterback Devin Leary is expected to play in the contest and indicated his desire to compete in the postseason before the Wildcats defeated rival Louisville on Nov. 25.

“This one, I’m going to live it up,” he said. “I can’t wait for the experience — being able to go out and actually play in a bowl game is kind of like a dream come true.”

Kentucky finished the regular season with a 7-5 mark and defeated rival Louisville to reclaim the Governor’s Cup for the fifth straight season.

“Proud of our team (and) the way we finished,” Stoops said. “We needed that game, we needed to go play well against Louisville, a Top 10 team. There’s been some ups and downs through this season. I like this football team. They’ve stayed with it all year. Things haven’t always been pretty. Like most teams, there’s some ups and some downs but I like the way they fought and hung tough and found a way to win and bring the Governor’s Cup back to Lexington.”

Florida will be the Wildcats’ postseason destination for the fifth time in the past eight years. Under Stoops, Kentucky is 4-3 in bowl contests.

“Getting the invite to this bowl game and to play Clemson means a lot,” Stoops said. “It certainly does. To play a team of this caliber of Clemson and try to get a victory, we’ll invest a lot into it.”