The Music City Bowl has been good to the Kentucky football program. UK's back-to-back appearances and victories in Nashville have set the tone for Coach Rich Brooks' turnaround.
But if the Wildcat players had their druthers, they would like to do something different this year. UK currently sits at 6-3 overall and 2-3 in the Southeastern Conference, and with games left against Georgia, Vanderbilt and Tennessee, the Cats are thinking bigger and better.
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"I've got nothing against Nashville," defensive end Ventrell Jenkins said with a laugh. "But I don't want to go back there this year. Nice bowl, nice hotel, nice city, but three years in a row is a little much for me. I want to go somewhere warm."
"The focus right now is to win as many games as possible to get to a better bowl," senior cornerback Robbie McAtee said. "We've felt the last two years we could have gotten to a better one if we had won a couple of more games. In the end, you don't want to be looked at as the team that went to three straight Music City Bowls. We want to create a legacy for ourselves."
Brooks mentioned that his team is not a lock despite a bowl-eligibility clinching victory over Mississippi State last weekend. He used South Carolina, which stayed home last year despite finishing 6-6, as an example.
But it's hard to see the Cats not landing somewhere, especially considering that the SEC stands a good chance of not filling all of its 10 designated bowl slots.
Brooks said he is more focused on Kentucky establishing itself as a bowl team on a regular basis than on the bowl destination.
"I think the consistency is more important than climbing one little rung higher on the ladder," he said. "The fact that you're there and you can talk about which game you screwed up that could have put you in a better bowl rather than which game you screwed up because you aren't in a bowl game, that right now is where we need to focus.
"Hopefully we can win some games in the next three that can enhance our bowl position and put us in a little different pecking order than Kentucky is used to being in."
Brooks pointed to Michigan, which had its string of 33 years of bowl eligibility snapped with a loss at Purdue last weekend, as an example.
"I'm not saying we'll go to 33 straight, but you need to be a player on a regular basis in post-season if you want to have a real football program."
Bowl games, no matter which one you play in, offer an extra month of practice and positive talking points on the recruiting trail.
"That's a lot easier than trying to preach 4-8 or 2-9," Brooks said. "It was a hard sell when I came here. It's not as hard now, but its still difficult. The more consistency you can bring, the better chance you have to have that special year."
Kentucky was thought to be in rebuilding mode after losing the core of back-to-back eight-win seasons. But this year's Wildcats have put themselves in position to not only get a better bowl bid but also to win more overall games.
"Six wins is average at best," junior linebacker Micah Johnson said. "It's nothing special in my opinion. We need to push on and get seven, eight or nine wins. Then it will be the type of season we thought we could have."
Beets out for year
Senior Jess Beets' career is over after he tore an ACL at Mississippi State. He had started all nine games at right guard this season. Redshirt freshman Jake Lanefski will move into Beets' spot for the Georgia game. Lanefski played much of the second half against MSU and was complimented by Brooks on his play.
Jenkins top defender
UK senior defensive end Ventrell Jenkins was named the SEC's Defensive Lineman of the Week for his performance in the 14-13 win at Mississippi State. Jenkins had four tackles, including two of UK's four sacks.
Vandy-UK on ESPN2 at 8
The Vanderbilt-UK game Nov. 15 has been selected for an 8 p.m. telecast on ESPN2.