Wildcats Seek Respect

Kentucky coach Rich Brooks usually doesn't check national rankings or point spreads, but he admits taking a peek after the Wildcats knocked off top-ranked LSU in triple-overtime.

What he found was not only does LSU have a higher national ranking (No. 5) than his Wildcats (No. 8), but Kentucky's next opponent - Florida - is an early touchdown favorite for Saturday's game in Lexington.

``Those guys in Las Vegas, I guess they don't get fooled very often,'' Brooks said Monday.

``Florida's a 7-point favorite and we just beat the No. 1 team in the nation? How does that equate? It's pretty interesting stuff.''

Brooks isn't necessarily complaining. He says it takes more than one colossal upset, or even one or two breakout seasons, for a team long regarded as a bottom-feeder of the Southeastern Conference to be considered among the big boys.

``I think it is very hard any time you're trying to make a transition from a cellar-dweller to a contender and trying to go for a championship,'' Brooks said. ``There is always going to be lag time.

For the programs everybody thinks are great teams, they think they're great teams a lot longer than they are great teams. That's just human nature.''

Brooks says that reference isn't to the defending champion Gators, whose versatile quarterback Tim Tebow gives the Wildcats many matchup problems.

``He can run around you and he can run through you,'' Brooks said.

In fact, Saturday's game will feature a matchup of two bona fide Heisman candidates , Tebow and Kentucky's Andre Woodson, whose TD pass to Steve Johnson in triple-OT was his third late game-winning drive this year.

Kentucky's players know that knocking off the Gators a week after their stunner against LSU could help them soar, not just in the polls but in the BCS and national title picture. Lose, Brooks says, and the Wildcats will ``fall like a big boulder.''

When the first BCS rankings came out Sunday, Kentucky (6-1, 2-1) checked in at No. 7, eight spots above the Gators. With another huge game looming, the players are viewing the ranking as little more than midseason decoration.

``It's nice to look at, but I try not to pay much attention to it,'' offensive lineman Justin Jeffries said.
Lost amid Saturday's on-field celebration at Commonwealth Stadium, in which thousands of fans rushed the field and 22 were arrested, there were more subtle hints that Lexington has finally arrived as a football town.

First, new basketball coach Billy Gillispie threw the annual Big Blue Madness party Friday night, yet Monday, the talk of this town was all about football.

Second, by racking up their sixth win Saturday, the Wildcats became bowl eligible. Just two years ago, that would have been cause for celebration. Now, it's almost an afterthought.

``That wasn't our goal this year,'' tight end Jacob Tamme said. ``Our goal was to compete for the SEC championship.''

Brooks points out his Wildcats are still very much alive in that race, but so is practically everybody else in this year of parity for the conference.

Yet, Kentucky players say while the national pundits might be shocked by their ascent, they're not surprised.

``We're a tight knit group,'' defensive end Jeremy Jarmon said. ``I'm a realist. I know when I'm playing with guys who are great football players, and we have a lot of them on our football team.''
by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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