No. 24 Kentucky faces Vanderbilt with bowl games in sight Print
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Friday, 09 November 2007 13:03
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 NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -For years, Kentucky and Vanderbilt have tried to climb out of the SEC East basement.
Stuck in a logjam of talented teams, the traditional bottom dwellers have struggled to compete against Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.
Wildcats vs. Commodores. Not exactly a marquee matchup, right?
But Saturday Vanderbilt will be playing for bowl eligibility, while No. 24 Kentucky still has a chance at the Eastern Division title.
``They will definitely be fired up for us,'' Kentucky receiver Keenan Burton said. ``We will be fighting, too. Just because we have six wins does not guarantee us a bowl game. What they are going through trying to get to a bowl game is the same thing we are going through.''
Kentucky (6-3, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) surged into the national spotlight this season, knocking off No. 1 LSU on its way to being ranked in the Top 25.
The Wildcats' surprising run - ranked as high as eighth this season - has proved a team can rise up from the bottom of the SEC East.
Vanderbilt (5-4, 2-4) has taken notice.
``We'd like to be able to do that,'' Commodores coach Bobby Johnson said. ``Kentucky's a state school. They've got a lot of resources, and they've taken advantage of them. Mostly it's hard work - get out and recruit, coach the heck out of them and try to convince them they can be a good team.
``They've done a good job of that. Their guys think they can play with anybody, and they have.''
Kentucky is already bowl-eligible for the second straight year - the first time the Wildcats have accomplished that since 1998-99.
Reaching a bowl would be a bigger feat for the Commodores, who haven't been to a bowl since 1982. One more win for Vanderbilt would clinch a non-losing season, but not necessarily a bowl berth.
The SEC could have as many as 11 bowl-eligible teams, making this game all the more important.
``We really have to come back out and prove that we are still one of the teams to beat in the SEC,'' Wildcats linebacker Braxton Kelley said. ``We aren't the old Kentucky team who always had the ability to do something but never came out with victories.''
Kentucky running back Rafael Little will return Saturday after missing three games with a thigh injury. Burton also returns after missing the Wildcats' loss to Mississippi State on Oct. 27 with a sprained ankle.
The duo should give the Wildcats a big lift after consecutive losses.
``It's always nice to get playmakers back,'' Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. ``Everybody knows how many plays Keenan Burton and Rafael have made on our offense. Having those two guys back in the lineup will be a big boost for us.''
Kentucky's high-powered offense will present all kinds of challenges for Vanderbilt, which gave up 49 points last week to Florida. Except for SEC career reception leader Earl Bennett, the Commodores don't have the offensive talent t match the 'Cats.
Vanderbilt hopes for a low-scoring game, similar to its 17-6 win over South Carolina last month.
That won't be easy.
Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson, who is averaging a league-best 270 yards passing per game, leads a team scoring more than 38 points a game.
``We haven't lost our confidence,'' Vanderbilt linebacker Jonathan Goff said. ``This team is a mature team with a lot of great character.''
 

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