In the days leading up to what could be his final time wearing a University of Kentucky football uniform, Benny Snell finally got a chance to look back at what he's experienced the last three seasons.

There's been a lot for him to digest, from becoming the program's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns with 46 to putting together a third consecutive season of rushing for more than 1,000 yards while playing in the vaunted Southeastern Conference.

The former Westerville Central High School running back, who rushed for more than 3,900 yards over his final two seasons with the Warhawks, is one of the big reasons the Wildcats will compete in a New Year's Day bowl game for the first time since 1998.

Kentucky faces Penn State on Jan. 1 in the Citrus Bowl.

"It's been a blessing, really fun and really exciting," Snell said. "A lot of it is happening so fast and I really don't get to take it in much, but especially now, I've been able to take it in. I've been living my dream."

Kentucky, which crushed rival Louisville 56-10 on Nov. 24 in its regular-season finale to improve to 9-3, will play in a bowl game for the third consecutive season after not playing in one the previous five years.

The Wildcats lost to Northwestern 24-23 in last year's Music City Bowl, a game in which Snell ran for a touchdown but was ejected for contact with a referee in the first half.

After rushing for 1,091 and 1,333 yards the past two seasons, the 5-foot-11, 223-pound junior has rushed 263 times for 1,305 yards and 14 touchdowns and added 17 receptions for 105 yards this fall.

With 3,729 career rushing yards heading into the Citrus Bowl, Snell ranks second in Kentucky history behind Sonny Collins (1972-75), who finished with 3,835 yards.

Snell, who could enter the NFL draft in the spring, said his plan as of early December was to play in the bowl game.

"(Making the Citrus Bowl) shows how good of a team we've become over the years," he said. "Coming in, nobody expected us to make the progress like we did. You can tell how far we've come. I was telling somebody that the Big Ten was all I knew growing up, so it's exciting (to play Penn State)."

Snell, who was named first-team all-SEC, is joined on the Wildcats by former Dublin Coffman standout Gunnar Hoak.

Hoak, a sophomore, has been Kentucky's No. 2 quarterback this season, appearing in five games and completing 13 of 26 passes for 167 yards with two touchdowns.

Penn State also is 9-3 and has three players from central Ohio on its roster, including Westerville North graduate Antonio Shelton. The junior defensive lineman has 13 tackles.

*ACC SUCCESS -- After not making a bowl game last year, Pittsburgh has had a bounce-back season in which it reached the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game and will face Stanford in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31.

It will be the final college game for redshirt senior defensive back Phillipie Motley, a 2014 Hilliard Davidson graduate who is a part-time starter and has five pass breakups this season.

Junior linebacker Anthony McKee, a 2014 Marion-Franklin graduate, has seen action in seven games this season for the Panthers, who take a 7-6 record into their bowl game.

"It's been great," Motley said. "There's been a lot of change from my freshman year when we (changed) coaches (before the 2015 season). Making it to the conference title game is never a bad time. We started off the season (losing four of seven games), but we really just stuck with it and had a plan. No one ever expected us to make it to the ACC championship game. I can't even believe this is my last college game coming up. But when you look back, we had a lot of growth and accomplished a lot."

Another team from the ACC with a central Ohioan on its roster is Wake Forest, which plays Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 22. Grove City graduate Brandon Chapman is a redshirt sophomore tight end who has 11 receptions.

*ALSO FROM THE B1G -- In what will be Ohio State's first Rose Bowl appearance since 2010, 16 players from central Ohio will be on the sidelines Jan. 1 against Washington.

Coffman graduate and wide receiver C.J. Saunders has 10 receptions while appearing in 10 games. Walnut Ridge graduate and linebacker Malik Harrison leads the Buckeyes in tackles with 74 and has 8.5 tackles for loss and one interception and Olentangy Liberty graduate and defensive back Brendon White has 38 tackles. Worthington Kilbourne graduate Liam McCullough is the team's long snapper and defensive linemen Jonathon Cooper from Gahanna and Davon Hamilton from Pickerington Central also have contributed.

Ohio State is ranked sixth and is 12-1 after winning its second consecutive Big Ten championship.

Michigan takes a 10-2 record into the Peach Bowl on Dec. 29 against Florida. Gahanna graduate Camaron Cheeseman is the Wolverines' long snapper.

Michigan State is 7-5 heading into the RedBox Bowl on Dec. 31 against Oregon and has nine players from central Ohio on its roster. Pickerington Central graduate and defensive back Xavier Henderson and Westerville South graduate and defensive back Dominique Long have seen action in all of the Spartans' games, contributing 15 and 11 tackles, respectively.

*MAC POWER -- Once it hit Mid-American Conference action, Ohio lost two games by a total of five points and ended up tying Miami for second in the East Division.

The Bobcats take an 8-4 record into the Frisco Bowl on Wednesday, Dec. 19, against San Diego State and are one of seven MAC programs that will compete in bowl games.

Pickerington Central graduate and senior wide receiver Andrew Meyer has 34 receptions for 445 yards and four touchdowns and Groveport graduate and redshirt senior Durrell Wood starts at right guard. Liberty graduate and redshirt senior Jake Hale is the long snapper on punts, and Pickerington Central graduate and freshman safety Jeremiah Wood has played in eight games.

"We just have a bunch of leadership on this team," Durrell Wood said. "It's a bittersweet feeling for me because I missed all of last year (with an injury), but I'm happy to make it through the year injury-free."

Toledo has nine players from central Ohio on its roster, including Liberty graduate and sophomore tight end Drew Rosi and Westland graduate and junior tight end Reggie Gilliam.

*IN OTHER DIVISIONS -- Two other college programs with links to central Ohio that have enjoyed successful seasons are Notre Dame College in Division II and Mount Union in Division III.

Notre Dame, which is in South Euclid, fell to Valdosta State 30-24 in a national semifinal Dec. 8 to finish 13-1. Valdosta State plays Ferris State on Saturday, Dec. 15, for the championship.

Gahanna graduates Vasean Davis (RB) and Tanner Harding (K) and St. Charles graduate Davionn Johnson (DB) are among the key players for the Falcons, who have 16 players from central Ohio.

Mount Union beat Johns Hopkins 28-20 on Dec. 8 in a national semifinal to improve to 14-0. It will play Mary Hardin-Baylor on Friday, Dec. 14, for the championship.

Hilliard Darby graduate Trevor Cox and Beechcroft graduate Robbie Williamson have played key roles at defensive back for the Purple Raiders.

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek