UK football's new goal: a better bowl

Eight wins could mean upgrade to Chick-Fil-A or Outback

ccosby@herald-leader.comOctober 26, 2010 

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Georgia safety Alec Ogletree (9), right, drags down Kentucky running back Raymond Sanders (4) in the second quarter. Kentucky hosted Georgia Saturday, Oct. 23, 2010 at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington. Photo by Jonathan Palmer

JONATHAN PALMER

  • SEC Bowl Tie-Ins

    Bowl Championship Series (one automatic bid; one possible at-large bid)

    Game Date Site Opponent TV Time

    Capital One Jan. 1 Orlando Big Ten ESPN 1

    Outback Jan. 1 Tampa Big Ten ABC 1

    Cotton Jan. 7 Dallas Big 12 Fox 8

    Chick-fil-A Dec.31 Atlanta ACC ESPN 7:30

    Gator Jan. 1 Jacksonville Big Ten ESPN2 1:30

    Liberty Dec. 31 Memphis C-USA ESPN 3:30

    Music City Dec. 30 Nashville ACC ESPN 6:40

    Birmingham Bowl Jan. 8 Birmingham Big East ESPN noon

  • Saturday

    UK at Mississippi St.

    When: 7 p.m.

    TV: ESPNU

Kentucky's dreams of an SEC East division title pretty much died with the 44-31 loss to Georgia last Saturday.

And while there is a sense of disappointment, the Wildcats insist they have plenty to play for down the stretch.

UK (4-4, 1-4 SEC) still has a chance to win eight games in the regular season for the first time since 1984.

And most importantly, the Kentucky players say they want to improve their bowl profile as much as possible. UK's four-season bowl streak has included three trips to Nashville for the Music City Bowl and a visit to Memphis for the Liberty Bowl.

If Kentucky wins its final four games and finishes 8-4, it could conceivably get out of the SEC's triumvirate of lower-tier bowls (Music City, Liberty and Birmingham) and move up a notch to the Chick-fil-A or Outback bowls.

The first of the season-ending four-game set figures to be the toughest as Kentucky travels to No. 23 Mississippi State on Saturday.

"Our goal has got to be the best bowl game we can get to," UK senior quarterback Mike Hartline said. "And right now, it could still be a good one. That's the thing we're talking about, and we're playing another ranked team. If we can get a crucial win over them, it will put us in pretty good position to get to a really good bowl game at the end of the season."

"That's all there is to look forward to at this point," junior left tackle Chandler Burden said. "We're just trying to get to the best bowl game we can. I'm not saying it would be a letdown going back (to Tennessee), because a bowl game is a bowl game. But I personally want to go to a better bowl game, and I know these guys here do, too."

The Wildcats feel good about their chances of winning out.

"It's not impossible," Hart line said.

"We truly expect to win eight games," UK Coach Joker Phillips said.

The Bulldogs come in on an uptick, having won five consecutive games. They also appear to be a bad matchup for the Wildcats. UK has been vulnerable against the run all season, and MSU is second in the SEC in rushing (219.2 yards per game). The Bulldogs' defense allows just 17 points a contest. MSU is UK's permanent opponent in the West division, with Kentucky leading the all-time series 21-16. The road team has won the past four contests.

"Obviously, this is a little bit of a rivalry game because they're our crossover game every year and that definitely adds to it," Mississippi State Coach Dan Mullen said. "It's two teams fighting to take steps and stay in the top part of the SEC for bowl selections. They are a very talented team and may be the most explosive offense we've played this year."

Phillips admitted to disappointment that UK is no longer in the SEC East race, but he said he's confident his team can re-adjust its goals without losing any fire.

"Every week you've got to change your goals," he said. "My goal is to try to lose weight sometimes. Next week I'll try to lose one pound, and if I don't lose it I'll change it to a half a pound. If you don't reach it, you've got to change it."

Injury report

Phillips said he's hopeful senior tailback Derrick Locke will be ready to play against Mississippi State after missing the past two games with a stinger. Locke ranks second in the SEC in rushing yards per game (95.7).

Also, Phillips said sophomore La'Rod King (sprained knee) is expected to return to practice Thursday and would likely play Saturday. King has four touchdown receptions in the past two games.

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