Cats' goals extend beyond a bowl

ccosby@herald-leader.comNovember 17, 2009 

  • Saturday

    Kentucky at Georgia

    When: 7:45 p.m.

    TV: ESPN2

Don't get the Kentucky football players wrong. The bowl-eligibility-clinching win over Vanderbilt last week was nice and all, but the Wildcats have made it clear they want much more.

The mood on the team bus following the Vandy game was subdued compared to that of 2006, when the Cats clinched bowl eligibility for the first time in seven seasons with a win over the Commodores.

"It was unbelievable elation not only among our team, but among the fan base when we got that sixth win" back in 2006, Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks said. "I think, that time, we were celebrating so long we almost came back and lost to Louisiana-Monroe. "There was no major celebration (Saturday), but what it did do was put us in position to continue what we all want to do on this football team and in this program, and that's climb the SEC East ladder while knowing we have a chance to be somewhere in the post-season."

"I remember when we won that sixth game and felt like we were on top of the world," senior offensive lineman Christian Johnson said. "You couldn't tell us nothing. Now it's not enough. We need more. We're trying to improve and get better, and we're not trying to stay in the lower or middle half of the SEC East. We want to work our way up to the top."

Technically, six wins don't guarantee a bowl bid, but the Cats seem to be all but assured of going somewhere for the holidays. There are nine SEC teams that are bowl eligible, and Tennessee could make it 10 if it beats Vanderbilt at home this weekend. Florida and Alabama look like safe bets to make the BCS. And with the SEC having tie-ins to eight other bowls, all the league's bowl-eligible teams figure to have a place to go. The only potential glitch would be if Mississippi State (4-6, 2-4) wins its last two games and becomes bowl eligible, which would leave 11 teams for 10 spots if Tennessee also qualifies.

The bigger issue right now is where Kentucky ends up. If they lose their last two games and finish 6-6, the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., could be in play. The two other lower-tier SEC bowls, the Liberty Bowl and the PapaJohn's.com Bowl, appear to be long shots because they will take place on Jan. 2, the same date as the Kentucky-Louisville basketball game.

A win in one of the final two games could mean a return trip to the Music City Bowl in Nashville, where the Cats bowled in 2006 and 2007.

What the Cats really want, though, is to win both games and possibly bump up to the Outback or Chick-Fil-A bowl.

"We want to get out of Tennessee," Durham said. "We'll be happy with any bowl because any bowl is better than no bowl but, personally, we want to take care of business this week and next week and possibly go farther south."

A better bowl destination isn't all that's at stake these next couple of weeks. If Kentucky can win at Georgia on Saturday and follow that up with a win against Tennessee on Nov. 28, they'd finish second behind Florida in the SEC East.

Brooks said that if the players want to achieve those goals, now's the time to get it done. UK let two opportunities slip away earlier this season with close losses to South Carolina and Mississippi State.

"As I told them Sunday, all of those guys that were talking about wanting to climb the food chain and get to a better bowl, it's in their lap," Brooks said. "They can do it if they choose to do it and, if they don't do it, they've only got themselves to blame."

But Brooks doesn't want the players focusing so much on the big picture that it affects their preparation. A week after winning at Auburn, the Cats came out and laid an egg against Mississippi State.

"I think that was a problem the week of the MSU game," Brooks said. "They thought, since we beat Auburn, we'd be rockin' and rollin', and we were on our way. And the focus and attention to detail was not there that week.

"I believe we'll be ready to play this week. I believe they understand the importance of it and the magnitude of what they can accomplish, but you never know. It's my job to get them to do it, and obviously I haven't done it correctly each and every week. Some weeks are a bigger challenge. I would think this week shouldn't be a big challenge."

Peters, McIntosh honored

Defensive tackle Corey Peters has been named Southeastern Conference Defensive Lineman of the Week for his performance in Kentucky's win over Vanderbilt. He made five tackles, including 11/2 for loss.

Also, kickoff man Craig McIntosh has been named the National Kickoff Specialist of the Week by the College Football Performance Awards. McIntosh kicked off five times at Vanderbilt, with a career-high three touchbacks. That helped limit Vandy's Warren Norman, one of the nation's top kickoff return men, to a 19-yard average on his two returns.

Tennessee-UK kickoff set

The Tennessee at Kentucky game has been set for 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 28, and will be televised by ESPNU.

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