Kentucky and Mississippi State both have yearly games that appear bigger on paper: The Cats have Louisville and Tennessee, and Mississippi State's got Alabama and Mississippi.
Natural rivalries aside, though, more often than not, the MSU-UK game ends up being the biggest difference-maker in how the two teams' seasons play out.
Rich Brooks' first bowl bid at Kentucky was spurred by a 34-31 win at Starkville in 2006, and Sylvester Croom returned the favor the following year, administering a 31-14 whipping on the Cats that got the Bulldogs to their first bowl game in seven years.
Last year, Kentucky finished 6-6 in the regular season, and MSU went 4-8 after UK's 14-13 win in Starkville. Brooks and the Cats went to a third straight bowl, and Croom was shown the door.
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"I think, when you're in the lower half of the league historically, to get to the upper half, you not only have to knock off some of those big boys up there, you have to knock off the guys that are like you," Brooks said. "And Mississippi State and Kentucky have been like each other for quite a while, and the team that has won has had the edge up on being able to climb that ladder a little bit."
Saturday night's game will once again be pivotal for the fate of the two teams. At 4-3 overall and 1-3 in the Southeastern Conference, Kentucky is hoping for a big finish and, if it can become bowl-eligible, a potential upgrade on the bowl food chain. Mississippi State sits at 3-5 and 1-3 and needs to knock off the Cats to have any realistic chance at a bowl in Dan Mullen's first year as head coach.
That fans and media have this penciled in as a "winnable" game for both teams adds even more pressure.
"It's difficult to do," Brooks said. "You look at your schedule, and you look at whether you're going to be favored or not favored, and you kind of look at say, 'Maybe they can beat this team or this team, and they have to beat this team and this team and this team. Well, guess what? They're looking at you the same way, 'We have to beat that team.' "
Brooks a no-go on black uniforms for 'Blackout'
Saturday's night Homecoming contest will be a "Blackout" game, with fans encouraged to wear black in recognition of Halloween. The players have been trying to convince Rich Brooks to allow them to wear black uniforms for the game, but so far Brooks has resisted. Kentucky has never worn black uniforms in football.
"I haven't seen black in our school colors," Brooks said. "They're blue and white. I'm an old traditionalist, I guess."
Defensive tackle Corey Peters said the players have occasionally campaigned for black uniforms ever since he arrived at UK in 2006.
"He just kind of walks away like he doesn't hear it," Peters said.
The players made their case for the benefits of wearing black uniforms during Monday's weekly press conference.
"I think it would be great to wear black jerseys," senior offensive lineman Christian Johnson said. "We've kind of had the same old thing, and I think it would pick us up and pick the fans up and surprise some people. But we're not going to stress out about it. No matter what jerseys are on, we have to go out and win."
"The guys are excited for a change, something new, something fresh," Peters said. "Anytime you get a new uniform, it's always exciting. I think it would help our recruiting."
Brooks did concede and allow the team to wear black cleats for the 2006 season opener at Louisville, and the Cats got plastered 59-28.
"That was before I got here, but I heard they talked Coach Brooks into letting them wear black shoes, and we got blown out," said sophomore cornerback Randall Burden. "Coach is pretty superstitious. I don't think we'll be seeing black anymore."
The players don't sound as though they're expecting Brooks to bend on the issue.
"I've kind of given up on it," Peters said. "It is what it is. He knows we want to do it. If he wants to do it, he'll let it happen."
Gonzalez named SEC Offensive Lineman of Week
Senior center Jorge Gonzalez was named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week for his performance against Louisiana-Monroe. Gonzalez graded at 86 percent for the game and did not allow a quarterback sack. Gonzalez is the fifth Wildcat this season to receive an SEC Player of the Week award.