UK Football

Several bowl scenarios for Cats

This much is pretty certain: The University of Kentucky football program will be going to a third straight bowl game for the first time in 57 years.

The uncertainty lies in the destination. The Wildcats close out their regular season at Tennessee on Nov. 29 with several bowl scenarios still hanging in the balance.

The Cats appeared to be in the driver's seat for a bid to the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta on Dec. 31, but last Saturday's 31-24 loss to Vanderbilt probably dislodged them from that seat and eliminated them from Outback Bowl consideration.

Right now, Kentucky's best bets seem to be either the Liberty Bowl or a third straight trip to the Music City Bowl. The Chick-fil-A Bowl is still in play, but the Wildcats would need help.

The Liberty Bowl has courted Kentucky intently for several years and has been a regular at UK games this season. The Liberty Bowl pits a Southeastern Conference team against the Conference USA champion and takes place on Jan. 2 in Memphis. The game will be televised by ESPN.

The bowl is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Former Kentucky coach and University of Alabama coaching legend Bear Bryant coached in the first Liberty Bowl in 1959, and he coached the last game of his career in the 1982 Liberty Bowl, a 21-15 victory over Illinois. UK junior defensive end Jeremy Jarmon is also from the Memphis area.

Liberty Bowl Executive Director Steve Ehrhart added that UK is also attractive because the school has never participated in the bowl. UK, Florida and Vanderbilt are the only three SEC schools that haven't played in the Liberty Bowl.

"There's some great tradition and history with this bowl," Ehrhart said. "We've had Alabama four times and Ole Miss four times, but never had Kentucky. That's one reason we've been interested in Kentucky and would love to have them."

While teams rarely go to the same bowl for three straight years, Music City Bowl Executive Director Scott Ramsey said his bowl wouldn't hesitate to have Kentucky back. The Music City Bowl would put an SEC team against an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent on New Year's Eve at 3:30 p.m. in an ESPN-televised game.

"We wouldn't be afraid to go that way at all; it really wouldn't bother us one bit," Ramsey said. "The way we look at it, if it's not broke, don't fix it. I don't think anybody would have guessed after last year that this would be an option, but there's a certain uniqueness about the relationship we have with the University of Kentucky and its fans."

While six wins usually doesn't guarantee a bowl berth, it will be enough to get the Cats in this year. The SEC champion gets an automatic BCS berth, and the league has tie-ins with eight non-BCS bowls: The Capital One, Cotton, Chick-fil-A, Outback, Music City, Liberty, Papajohns.com, and Independence. The loser of the SEC championship game between Alabama and Florida is in a good position to get an at-large BCS bid.

The SEC has six bowl-eligible teams other than Florida and Alabama. Assuming those two teams go to BCS bowls, for the league to fill all of its bowl slots, Arkansas would have to win its final two games (at Mississippi State, Louisiana State in Little Rock) while Auburn would have to upset Alabama on Nov. 29. If neither of those things happen, the Papajohns.com and Independence Bowls would have to go outside the SEC to fill their slots.

Georgia (9-2, 6-2) seems headed for the Capital One Bowl. The Cotton Bowl typically chooses an SEC West team, and LSU (7-3, 3-3) would be the most likely choice if that holds true this year.

Wildcats fans need to keep an eye on Vanderbilt because the Commodores will have a lot of say in where UK ends up. Vandy (6-4, 4-3) hosts Tennessee this weekend before closing the season at Wake Forest. If the Commodores win out, they would be in line with South Carolina for either the Outback or Chick-fil-A. South Carolina (7-4, 4-4) closes at Clemson on Nov. 29, but the Commodores did beat the Gamecocks 24-17 on Sept. 4.

Kentucky still has a chance at the Chick-fil-A, but they need to beat Tennessee and hope Vanderbilt loses at least one of its final two games. If UK and Vandy finish with identical overall records, the Chick-fil-A would have to make a choice.

The Chick-fil-A Bowl usually sells most of its tickets well in advance of the game, which could partially negate the UK fan base's reputation for traveling well to bowl games and the city of Atlanta.

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