Kentucky is bowl-eligible but that's not the only goal

John Clay
John Clay

Now that the Kentucky football team has reached its goal, where might it go?

Hold your horses.

As Rich Brooks correctly pointed out after his Cats beat Mississippi State 14-13 on Saturday to improve to 6-3, just because UK is bowl-eligible doesn't necessarily mean they are bowl-certain.

Ask South Carolina, which was left at home with a 6-6 record last year, even though the Gamecocks owned a 38-23 victory over Brooks' bunch.

Six wins is nice, especially for a school that hasn't been to three consecutive bowls since the 1950s. But seven victories is much better. And eight wins is better, still. But we'll get to that in a second.

Also, my estimation is that this Kentucky team is not quite as good as last year's team, but it could still get to a better bowl game.

First, with four weeks of the regular-season remaining, here's a look at the SEC landscape:

Not only do Florida and Alabama appear near locks for the conference title game, the two appear good bets to both make it to a BCS bowl. If that happens, then the second-place East Division team, Georgia, would probably be a fit for the Capital One Bowl. As the second-place West Division team, Louisiana State would probably be ticketed for the Cotton Bowl.

Next up on the pecking order is the Outback Bowl. As of now, South Carolina looks like the best bet here. The Gamecocks are 6-3 overall and 3-3 in the league. A split with Arkansas and Florida would send Steve Spurrier's team to 7-4 before the season finale at struggling Clemson. A win over the archrival Tigers and the Gamecocks might be headed for Tampa.

A South Carolina slip, however, and a sudden surge by the Cats could send UK back to Tampa and the Outback Bowl for the first time since 1984. If Kentucky could win two of its last three, the Cats would be 8-4 overall and 4-4 in the conference. If both teams are 8-4, Carolina would probably receive the nod over the Cats. But if UK is 8-4 and South Carolina is 7-5, the tables could be turned.

But even if South Carolina ends up in sunny Florida, the Cats' cause is still helped by the usual powers who are surprisingly not in this year's mix.

Tennessee would have to sweep its final three games to become bowl eligible. Unless Phil Fulmer is dumped for a new coach, there's no reason to believe that Vol Nation is going to follow its 2008 team to a bowl destination.

Same story at Auburn. The Tigers should improve to 5-5 with a win over Tennessee-Martin on Saturday but must finish with Georgia and Alabama. Tommy Tuberville's team will be hard-pressed to get bowl eligible and maybe even harder pressed to draw its fans to a bowl.

So Kentucky might need just one more victory for the next game in line, the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta. There, the Cats would play on New Year's Eve against a team from the ACC.

A couple of disclaimers: If Mississippi wins out, which would include a victory at LSU on Nov. 22, the Rebels could well be headed to Atlanta.

Talk around the league is that the Liberty Bowl would love Vanderbilt, but the Commodores need one more win to get bowl eligible. If that doesn't happen, then Mississippi could be making the 80-mile drive up the road to Memphis.

If Tennessee gets six wins, the Vols could end up in the Music City Bowl. At 4-5, Arkansas has an outside shot. If not, the SEC might not have a team to fill that slot.

The Music City is UK's old slot, of course, and this team's mantra has been that it not only wants to go to a bowl, it wants to go to a better bowl.

The way things are breaking, that could happen.

But now that UK has six wins, it could really use seven.