Any time you play a night football game in late December anywhere north of Florida, weather is going to be a concern.
Kentucky and Clemson are scheduled to kick off the Music City Bowl at 8:30 p.m. EST, with the temperature expected to be in the mid-20s by the time the second half rolls around.
But both UK Coach Rich Brooks and Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney said on Saturday that the wind and field conditions were bigger issues than the temperature itself.
The playing surface at LP Field was re-sodded shortly before the 2006 Music City Bowl, and the combination of that and cold weather left the field a disheveled mess during UK's 28-20 win. The San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans played at LP Field on Christmas night, but both coaches said that the field was in much better shape than it was in 2006.
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"It's Augusta National compared to three years ago," Swinney said.
"It was better when we came back to play Florida State (in the 2007 Music City Bowl), and it's in even better shape now than it was then," Brooks said.
Winds at 10 miles per hour are expected from the northwest during the course of the game, but that's tame compared to the 50 mph winds present for Brigham Young's Las Vegas Bowl win over Oregon State. The gusts were so strong that the Beavers had one punt that traveled just 6 yards.
"I just hope every time we punt, pass or kick that the wind is at our backs," Brooks said with a laugh.
Swinney familiar with Newton
Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney is familiar with UK freshman quarterback Morgan Newton. The Tigers tried to recruit Newton out of Carmel, Ind., and were among his finalists before he committed to Kentucky.
"I thought he was an outstanding prospect," Swinney said. "He's found a way to win, and he's just a freshman. He's just going to get better. He'll be a great quarterback when all is said and done."
Newton is coming off a rough performance against Tennessee. While Brooks said he has looked good at times in practice, he wants to see it carry over into Sunday's game.
"His last outing was not very good," Brooks said. "It was his worst game of the year. We'll see if he's learned and how he responds. I like to see things in practice, but it has to translate over to the game for it to be clear in my mind."
Brooks: Cats will kick to Spiller
Clemson return man C.J. Spiller has returned an NCAA-record seven kickoffs for touchdowns during his career, but Brooks said he won't totally avoid kicking to Spiller because doing so could result in a squib kick or kick out of bounds that would give the Tigers premium field position.
"We'll mix it up; you'll see us do both," Brooks said. "Hopefully when we kick it to him, it won't be a disaster. You're always taking a chance because you can also have a disaster when you kick it away from him. The only thing we hope is we have a lot of chances to kick off. I'm not real confident about that right now."
The official UK Alumni Association Tailgate Party at LP Field will take place on Sunday from 4:30 p.m.- 6:30 p.m. (CST) The tent will be located in the LP Field Parking Lot (South End Zone), Titans Way. Admission is $15 for students, $20 for members and $25 for nonmembers.
Fans wishing to participate in the "Cat Walk," cheering the Wildcats when they enter LP Field prior to the Music City Bowl, should gather at 5:15 p.m. (CST). The buses will stop at the corner of Victory Avenue and South 2nd Street.
New to this year's walk, the team will stroll down the middle of South 2nd Street, which will be closed to traffic. The team will enter the stadium at the East Service entrance.
Kentucky the visitors
UK will be the visiting team for the 2009 Music City Bowl and will wear its road white jerseys. Kentucky was the home team against Clemson in the 2006 edition.