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 LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -Kentucky defensive tackle Corey Peters says winning a national title would have been nice, but this team is more motivated by ``baby steps.''
The No. 14 Wildcats' national championship hopes were likely dashed with their loss to Florida on Saturday, but several smaller goals - if you call winning a conference title ``small'' - remain.
Kentucky's players entered the season talking about making a bowl game, competing in the Southeastern Conference and even winning it. The discussion in Lexington about challenging for the national championship game came much later, after the Wildcats (6-2, 2-2) toppled then-No. 1 LSU.
If the Wildcats were LSU or Florida, Peters says, missing out on that goal would have been crushing. Kentucky, with a far more limited history of football success, has humbler objectives.
``I guess we have smaller goals,'' Peters said. ``I guess their fan base in football is kind of like ours in basketball. If they're not winning national championships, it's a failure. For us, it's taking baby steps. SEC first and national championship down the road.''
Although the Wildcats have two losses, so too do Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, the teams in front of them in the SEC East.
Win out, and Kentucky could be back in the picture for the SEC title. Lose Saturday to a much-improved Mississippi State team, and that's probably gone too.
During his news conference Monday, Kentucky coach Rich Brooks was asked whether his Wildcats were the ``real deal.''
``I think we're a team that can compete and can have the opportunity to beat anybody we play,'' Brooks said. ``If that's the real deal, maybe we're the real deal.''
Last year the Wildcats were reeling from a 49-0 loss to LSU when they headed to Starkville, Miss., to play the Bulldogs. They won there and four of their next five, including the Music City Bowl against Clemson.
Tight end Jacob Tamme recalls the momentum swing following that victory.
``We hadn't had a happy plane ride home in a long time,'' Tamme said. ``We said, 'Let's take care of business. Let's see what it feels like to come home on an airplane and not be sulking, have some fun.'''
This time, the season doesn't need to be saved. Kentucky has already qualified for a bowl game and almost certainly will play in one. However, its chance to remain part of the elite of the SEC is certainly on the line.
More injury woes could limit the Wildcats this week. Knee injuries will sideline linebacker Micah Johnson and possibly also receiver Keenan Burton. Backup running back Tony Dixon is questionable with an ankle injury, and starter Rafael Little missed the last two games and could miss at least two more.
Brooks says injuries are just part of playing college football, particularly in the grueling SEC. He's more interested in seeing how his team responds to the setback against Florida.
``You've been asking the question, 'How do we keep them up after a big win?''' Brooks said. ``Now we've got the opposite question: 'How do we keep them up after a tough loss?'''
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