Game week is officially here, with Kentucky preparing to take on Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala.
The Wildcats opened the New Year with a morning practice Saturday and will practice again Sunday before heading to Birmingham on Monday. Then things will fall into place like a regular game week, with full-pad practices Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at Hoover High School and a walk-through Friday before the game on Saturday at noon.
Things are quite a bit calmer in Lexington than they are in Pittsburgh, where UK's bowl opponent fired its coach Saturday. Mike Haywood, hired 16 days earlier to replace Dave Wannstedt, was removed one day after being arrested on charges of domestic violence.
There's still no official word from Pitt on who will coach the bowl game, but UK Coach Joker Phillips said at Saturday's practice that he expects to face Wannstedt.
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Phillips said none of Pitt's issues have affected his team's preparation and said he expects the Panthers to be motivated much like Maryland was for outgoing Coach Ralph Friedgen in a 51-20 Military Bowl win over East Carolina.
"You saw Maryland and how those guys battled for their coach in his last game, so we're expecting the same thing out of Pitt," Phillips said.
Phillips made it difficult for his players to party too hearty on New Year's Eve. He put the Wildcats through a late afternoon New Year's Eve practice that didn't end until 6:30 p.m. and then had them come back in the morning for an 8:30 practice. Several players appeared to be dragging a little.
"I didn't even go out and I'm tired," junior safety Winston Guy said. "I know some guys who went out and partied a little bit, and I can't even imagine how they feel."
The coaches spent a lot of time on the road in December, which gave Phillips a chance to implement new staff members Rick Minter and Steve Pardue on the recruiting trail.
With coaches unable to comment publicly about unsigned players, it's tough to get an official read on how many commitments UK actually has. There have been reports that South Carolina wide receiver Antonio Cannon has had his offer pulled. Also, there are conflicting reports on Alabama cornerback E.J. May, who is listed as a commitment by Scout.com but not Rivals.com. Also, Georgia defensive lineman David Washington is listed as a soft verbal by Scout.
Regardless, Kentucky is down to its final few scholarships, and Phillips listed linebacker and running back as two areas of need. The Cats are still targeting linebackers Lamar Dawson of Boyle County, Antonio Poole of Cincinnati and DeMarcus Rancifer of Florida.
Atlanta's Marcus Caffey and North Carolina's Justus Pinkett are the two known primary running backs the Cats are after.
Phillips also said he'll hold on to one scholarship all the way up until national signing day in hopes of getting in late on a talented player.
"You always need one in the pocket just in case something crazy happens," Phillips said. "We'll have one ready,"
Bowl seats available
Tickets are available to the BBVA Compass Bowl for both season-ticket holders and the general public. All tickets are $50 each, and all tickets from the UK allotment are sideline seats.
Tickets may be purchased at the UK Ticket Office in the Joe Craft Center, or by calling the ticket office at 1-800-928-2287. Visit UKathletics.com for further details.
'Operation Win' hits Birmingham
As part of his "Operation Win" initiative, Phillips and the UK players plan to sponsor children from elementary schools around Legion Field, as well as Birmingham-area military personnel.
Fans interested in contributing to the effort may contact the UK Ticket Office for additional details.