For the Kentucky Wildcats, Andre Woodson is more than a student assistant coach.
As the quarterback who led UK to Music City Bowl victories over Clemson and Florida State in 2006 and '07, Woodson is a living, breathing symbol of the teams that started Kentucky's current five-year bowl run.
A streak that, with the Cats at 3-4 (0-3 Southeastern Conference), is very much in jeopardy in 2011.
"I think the guys now realize they don't want to be the first team in the last six years not to go (to a bowl)," Woodson says. "I think they have a lot of pride. I think they understand what it is going to take."
Beating Mississippi State in Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday night in a game UK is marketing as a blackout — including, for the first time ever, black football uniforms worn by Wildcats players — would not ensure Kentucky a sixth straight bowl trip.
It would be a giant step in that direction.
"None of us, we don't want to let the seniors down," said Kentucky junior safety Martavius Neloms. "We're going to try to prepare hard and do everything we can to keep that streak alive."
With 16 starters returning from last season's 9-4 team that beat Georgia, Florida and Michigan (a 52-14 mauling in the Gator Bowl), Mississippi State was hoping to emerge as a dark-horse contender for the SEC West title in 2011.
Instead, the Bulldogs (3-4, 0-4 SEC) come to Lexington in pretty much the same situation as UK.
"Obviously a huge game," MSU Coach Dan Mullen said. "Could be a turning-point game for both of us this season."
Though UK and MSU are winless so far in SEC play, State has been the far more competitive team. The Bulldogs lost to Auburn by seven, to LSU by 13, to Georgia by 14 and South Carolina by two.
In its conference losses to Florida, LSU and South Carolina, Kentucky has been outscored a demoralizing 137-20.
However, after an open date to salve its wounds, UK showed improvement in a 38-14 victory last Saturday over the same Jacksonville State program that beat Mississippi in Oxford in 2010.
Mississippi State, meanwhile, has shown signs of playing to the level of its competition. It went to overtime before beating Louisiana Tech and trailed woeful UAB (1-6) at halftime before rallying to win.
Recent history says UK and MSU will play a tight game. In the last six meetings between the annual inter-division rivals, the contest has been decided by seven points or less five times.
The statistic to watch Saturday night is the turnover column. Under Mullen, State is 15-0 when it has a positive turnover margin. When it is tied or negative, the Bulldogs are 2-15.
For UK, an upset win over Mississippi State would make hopes of sustaining the bowl streak instantly more viable.
"Kentucky came from a pretty rough past," junior guard Larry Warford said. "So trying to keep this streak alive and letting it progress on to the next team is really important for this program."