Belk Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. Kentucky Picks

By: Tim Thomas | @TimThomasTLP | Dec 31, 2019

After a dramatic comeback in 2016, Virginia Tech returns to the Belk Bowl looking for another big win to build momentum ahead of a 2020 season that could be Tech's best in a long time. Meanwhile, Kentucky is looking to finish their season off with a victory led by All-American all-purpose player Lynn Bowden Jr who's midseason move from wide receiver to quarterback combined with a transformed offense turned Kentucky's season around.

With that said, here's our picks for the 2019 Belk Bowl and all our pregame coverage from Charlotte.

Tim Thomas

This has always been a fascinating matchup that on paper, seemed favorable for the Hokies given how one-dimensional Kentucky is offensively. However, Lynn Bowden Jr has proven to be a unique talent with Kentucky's rushing offense being quite in depth and something that will test Virginia Tech's defense.

Meanwhile, this game isn't exactly a great matchup for the Hokies' offense facing the 4th ranked pass defense in the country. Kentucky has done in large part due to great defensive line play to go with a talented secondary that has made plenty of plays. For the Hokies, it will be pivotal for them to get their running game going in a diversified, unpredictable way. That also includes using screens in addition to jet sweep to horizontally stretch the field, prevent Kentucky from loading the box, and keep the Wildcats on their heels.

Though the Hokies may be without both Caleb Farley and Jermaine Waller, Tech has a favorable matchup with Bowden being limited as a passer. However, the issue could be with those cornerbacks having to have a large role defending the run given Kentucky's fairly complex rushing game. Given that, don't be surprised to see a veteran like Jovonn Quillen fill in a lot given his wealth of past experience against different run-heavy teams like Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh.

Overall, this feels very much like a toss-up of a game that could go either way, but this is Bud Foster's final game, and given how he has been able to purely focus on game-planning for Bowden, I think Foster will have plenty of things up his sleeve. In the end, this will be a fairly low-scoring game, but Tech will do just enough to get the job and finish with 9+ wins for the third time in four season under Justin Fuente after having 0 9+ win seasons the previous 4 years.

Pick: Virginia Tech 24, Kentucky 21

Grant Atkinson

The 2019 Belk Bowl is set up to be a great one. Each team has strengths corresponding to the other, which means this game could be a battle.

Virginia Tech's wide receivers will go up against a stout Kentucky secondary, and Kentucky's rushing attack will meet a much improved Virginia Tech defensive line.

Kentucky will definitely have some big offensive plays, especially on the ground. However, I expect the Hokies to be able to fend those off and dig deep for Bud Foster's final game.

Pick: Virginia Tech 28, Kentucky 24

Andy Loce

As the Virginia Tech Hokies look to close out the 2019 season; this matchup against the Kentucky Wildcats could be the start for something special in 2020.

Taking a look back at the Hokies, after the 45-10 defeat at home against Duke; the thought of playing in a bowl game seemed absurd. But after going 6-2 since then, the Hokies picked up momentum and secured a spot to return to the Belk Bowl for the first time since 2006.

This Hokies team will be in a very peculiar position heading into this matchup following their first loss to rival Virginia since 2003. It will be intriguing to see how the Hokies have put that result behind them as they prepare for the Wildcats with players confident at yesterday's media day that they have done so.

For Kentucky, their team had a very similar start to conference play losing their first three SEC matchups, but rallied in the second half of the season winning their last three games.

Looking at some key players for the Belk Bowl, all eyes will be on the quarterback position. Both the Hokies and Wildcats possess strong rushing quarterbacks which can move the ball with their feet.

Hendon Hooker has been the answer for the Hokies after the rough start to the season and has become a fan favorite with dual-threat presence and electrifying play-making abilities. Hooker has kept a pretty clean sheet in his passing with 11 TDs and 2 INTs for the season with both interceptions coming against Virginia. Hooker also has been able to add 5 rushing TDs to his name, making defenses stay on their toes for the Hokies’ offensive schemes.

Lynn Bowden Jr. carries a special talent playing in a variety of positions for the Kentucky offense, and has taken over the quarterback role with his feet. Last time out, he tallied 284 rushing yards and 4 rushing TDs in their regular season finale against the Louisville Cardinals.

I believe both of these teams will provide the fans a spectacular Belk Bowl as both teams look to finish off the season strong following their own disappointing starts. The running game by both squads will be pivotal in the outcome between these two teams.

I think the Hokies will walk away from this matchup as victors of the 2019 Belk Bowl as the Hokies will be able to use games against Bryce Perkins & Virginia, and James Graham & Georgia Tech as preparation for Bowden and Kentucky's rushing offense. All 3 seem to be lethal with their feet, and the Hokies should be more prepared at how to attack this matchup given that experience.

And who knows, maybe there is still some Belk Bowl magic from 2016.

Pick: Virginia Tech 34, Kentucky 31

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