Cats shift focus toward getting a better bowl game


UK tailback Derrick Locke gets pushed out of bounds by Auburn defensive back Mike Slade during Saturday’s game. The Wildcats faced the Tigers at the Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala.Photo by Zach Brake

The primary goal for the UK football team has changed.

Through spring practice, the two-a-days of summer and the first eight games of the 2010 season, the Cats (4-4, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) had hoped to compete for the SEC East division crown.

With four losses, a division title, though mathematically still possible, seems unlikely for the Cats. Thus, UK head coach Joker Phillips and the available players at Monday’s news conference stated their new intentions for the home stretch of the season: getting an invite to one of the better bowl games.

“We want to get this program in the best available bowl for us,” Phillips said. “That’s our goal, try to get in the best available bowl for us that’s out there.”

Phillips said that a bowl invitation is never a bad thing, but the players were more forthcoming about their definition of what would be considered a good bowl game.

“Better than the Music City (Bowl), I’m not going to complain if we go back there, but I don’t want to go back there,” junior offensive tackle Chandler Burden said. “I don’t want to go back to Tennessee, I want to go the Outback Bowl or the Capital One Bowl. I want to go to a better bowl. I want to play better competition.”

UK has made a trip to a school-record four consecutive bowl games; three of those games have been Music City Bowl appearances in Nashville. The other was a 2009 Liberty Bowl appearance in Memphis.

If UK wants to avoid another postseason trip to the Volunteer State, a lot of work remains to be done.’s Mark Schlabach has UK projected to go to the Liberty Bowl versus Conference USA’s East Carolina, while Andrea Adelson, also of, has the Cats penciled in to play in the Liberty Bowl against Central Florida, also from Conference USA.

Four games remain on UK’s schedule, two of which need to be victories for the Cats to become bowl eligible. After this Saturday’s road contest at No. 23 Mississippi State (6-2, 2-2 SEC), which has won five straight games, the Cats close the season against three teams all currently 2-5 (Charleston Southern, Vanderbilt and Tennessee).

Senior quarterback Mike Hartline said his team’s mindset has to be geared toward sweeping the games left on the schedule.

“8-4 is still a really good season and it can be a really great bowl game for us,” Hartline said. “It’s not impossible and we think it’s very accomplishable.”

Burden said that, if for no other reason, he thinks getting to a different bowl game would be a nice reward for fans wanting to travel to a new place.

Taking the next step up the bowl ladder would also reveal rewards for the program later on down the road.

“For this program to get where we want it to be, to start pushing the levels of recruitment, to start doing better things, we have to win games and we have to get to better bowl games,” Hartline said.

Injury and roster news

Phillips is hopeful that senior tailback Derrick Locke can return to action this Saturday. Locke, who has missed the last two games with a shoulder stinger and bruised elbow, will practice this week in a non-contact role.

Sophomore wide receiver La’Rod King, who sprained his knee making the second of his two touchdown catches versus Georgia, will resume practicing Thursday and is expected to be available in a limited role Saturday.

The receiving corps will be weakened by the absence of junior Matt Roark, who was suspended one game for a violation of team rules.

Ailing cornerbacks Cartier Rice (ankle) will return to practice Wednesday or Thursday and Martavius Neloms (concussion) should play Saturday after participating in non-contact drills this week.