The Liberty Bowl has emerged as the probable destination for the Kentucky football team this bowl season.
Bowl bids don't officially go out until Sunday, but the Wildcats are down to two options: the Liberty and the Music City.
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If UK and Liberty Bowl officials have their way, the Cats will be headed to Memphis for a game on Jan. 2.
"This is our 50th anniversary, and as the seventh-oldest bowl game, we'd love to have Kentucky," Liberty Bowl executive director Steve Ehrhart said. "We've been in close touch the last several years, and we have great respect for Coach Brooks and the job he's done at Kentucky."
If two bowls make bids on the same team, the team gets to pick which bowl it will attend. Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks said on his radio show Monday night that he and the players would rather go to the Liberty Bowl than make a third consecutive trip to the Music City.
Brooks cited the desire to experience something different as the main reason to opt for Memphis over Nashville.
The Liberty Bowl will begin at 5 p.m. EST Jan. 2 and will be televised by ESPN. The Wildcats (6-6) would take on the winner of Saturday's Conference USA championship game between Tulsa (10-2) and East Carolina (8-4).
The Liberty Bowl has courted Kentucky the last three years only to finish second to the Music City the last two seasons. Ehrhart and/or Liberty Bowl associate executive director Harold Graeter have been present at several UK games this season. Kentucky is one of three Southeastern Conference schools (joining Vanderbilt and Florida) that have never participated in the Liberty Bowl.
Former Kentucky and Alabama legend Bear Bryant coached in the first Liberty Bowl in 1959, and he coached the last game of his career in the 1982 Liberty Bowl, a 21-15 victory over Illinois.
"We've got great history in this bowl, with it being the last game that Bear Bryant ever coached," Ehrhart said. "We've had the privilege of having some great coaches in this game, from Coach Bryant to (former Georgia coach) Vince Dooley to (former Nebraska coach) Tom Osborne to (Penn State coach) Joe Paterno. We'd love to add Coach Brooks to that list."
Brooks played in the 1962 Liberty Bowl, when his Oregon State team defeated Villanova 6-0 when the game was played in Philadelphia.
Ehrhart also noted that the Liberty Bowl is one of only three bowl games scheduled for Jan. 2, sandwiched between the Cotton and Sugar bowls.
UK junior defensive end Jeremy Jarmon is from the Memphis area and is no stranger to the Liberty Bowl, having participated in the Liberty Bowl High School All-Star football game after his senior year. While many of the UK players expressed a preference for the Music City Bowl the last two years, Jarmon openly campaigned for the Liberty.
"Jeremy was one of the key guys in our All-Star game," Ehrhart said. "We've maintained a great relationship with him over the years, and he's been a great ambassador for our game."
Attractions in downtown Memphis include Beale Street, which has undergone renovations in recent years and features live music every night. The casinos of Tunica, Miss., the country's largest gambling area outside of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, N.J., is 30 minutes from downtown Memphis. A parade is scheduled on Beale Street on New Year's Day. Country music star Sara Evans is scheduled to perform at the Bowl President's Gala at the historic Peabody Hotel later that night and at halftime of the game.
UK hasn't been involved in a major sporting event in Memphis since it won the 1997 SEC men's basketball tournament at the now-vacant Pyramid.
"I remember Kentucky fans took over Beale Street that year," Ehrhart said. "They certainly left an impression on the city of Memphis. We'd be thrilled to have them back."
Six Cats on All-SEC team
Six UK players were named to the All-SEC team selected by Phil Steele's College Football. Cornerback Trevard Lindley was a first-team pick. Offensive tackle Garry Williams, defensive tackle Myron Pryor, defensive end Jarmon and linebackers Micah Johnson and Braxton Kelley were named to the second team.