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Gators face big SEC test

Kentucky may have just knocked off the top-ranked team in the country, but its next challenge is just as daunting - ending a 20-game losing streak against the defending BCS champion Florida.

The eighth-ranked Wildcats look to follow up one of the biggest victories in school history with another one on Saturday when they host No. 14 Florida, which is enduring an emotional week.

Kentucky (6-1, 2-1 SEC) brought more havoc on the national title picture by upsetting LSU 43-37 in triple overtime last Saturday. It marked the first time the Wildcats beat a top-ranked team since a 27-21 win over Mississippi in 1964.

"It proved we're a team that obviously earns a lot more respect now," said quarterback Andre Woodson, who threw the winning touchdown pass to Steve Johnson in the final overtime. "We've come a long way from being a doormat in the SEC to competing with the best teams in the SEC and getting some wins."

While Woodson feels the Wildcats are starting to gain respect, coach Rich Brooks isn't so sure. He was surprised the No. 5 Tigers are still ranked higher than his team, and that Florida (4-2, 2-2) is favored in its trip to Commonwealth Stadium as the Gators look to avoid a third straight loss.

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

One reason the Gators are favored is their 20-game run against the Wildcats, who haven't beaten Florida since a 10-3 home win in 1986.

However, it has been a difficult season on and off the field for the Gators, who have lost their last two games to Auburn and LSU to dash hopes of a second straight BCS title.

Florida did not play last week, but was reeling after the news that walk-on defensive back Michael Guilford died early Friday when his motorcycle hit a curb at high speed. Also killed in the crash was Ashley Slonina, the girlfriend of freshman cornerback Joe Haden.

The players attended a private memorial service Monday.

"It's a terrible tragedy," Florida receiver Percy Harvin said. "Our team's really in shock right now. It really hasn't hit us yet. A lot of us will be down. We've just got to lean on each other and lean on our teammates to get us through this tragedy."

Coach Urban Meyer called on close friend and former NFL star Cris Carter to help the team grieve, and explain how he dealt with the deaths of teammates Jerome Brown and Korey Stringer.

"It is obviously a very, very difficult situation," Meyer said.

Meyer hasn't decided whether to reinstate senior safety Tony Joiner as a team captain. Joiner was stripped of his captaincy after he was arrested on Oct. 2 for a felony burglary charge, a blow for a team lacking in experience with an SEC-low 28 combined juniors and seniors.

"A lot of it depends on, we're halfway through a season and there's not a whole lot of leadership, not a whole lot of older players on this team so he's a guy that our team is counting on to provide some leadership and he acted like we don't want a captain to act on a Monday night," Meyer said.

Florida hasn't lost three straight since the final three games of the 1999 season. Meyer is 22-2 when his team has had more than a week to prepare.

Oddsmakers from SBG Global  have made Florida -6.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Thursday's game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 53% of bets for this game have been placed on Kentucky +6.5 (View College Football bet percentages).

This is the Gators' first visit to Lexington since the worst game of Woodson's career two years ago. Woodson went 11-of-27 for 124 yards, no touchdowns and a career-high three interceptions in a 49-28 loss on Sept. 24, 2005. It also marked his lowest completion percentage in a home game.

Woodson played much better in last season's 26-7 loss at Florida, completing 26-of-37 for 210 yards and one touchdown. He wasn't helped by his line, getting sacked six times.

The quarterback was named SEC player of the week after his big effort against LSU. He went 21-of-38 for 250 yards and three touchdowns, and also scored on a 12-yard run.

While Woodson is emerging as a Heisman Trophy contender for Kentucky, counterpart Tim Tebow also has been stellar in his first season starting with the Gators. Tebow has thrown for 13 touchdowns, run for nine scores and thrown just three interceptions.

"He is better than I thought he would be at throwing the football," Brooks said. "After last year, you knew what a force he was running the ball, and you questioned it a little bit because you didn't get to see that much. He's the whole package; I mean he can flat throw it."

The Wildcats will be without leading rusher Rafael Little for the second straight game. Little is out indefinitely with a thigh bruise and the Wildcats will continue to give more carries to Derrick Locke and Tony Dixon, who combined for 109 yards last weekend.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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