Return trip to Nashville music to football team’s ears

Keenan Burton can’t help it. He just can’t get enough of country music.

“I love country music,” he said jokingly, “and country music loves me.”

Winning three straight games in Nashville, home of the Country Music Hall of Fame, tends to have that effect on the senior wide receiver. The Cats have won back-to-back games against Vanderbilt in Nashville and beat Clemson 28-20 in last year’s Music City Bowl.

So forgive Burton and the rest of the Cats for getting a little excited for a return trip to the Music City Bowl for a second consecutive season.

“A lot of seniors who have left the University of Kentucky cannot say they’ve been to back-to-back bowl games,” Burton said. “It’s just a great feeling to be talking about it and to be practicing right now and to not be at home watching games and waiting for the next season to start.”

While Burton and the rest of the Cats are eager to play in the program’s 12th bowl game in school history, they were disappointed with the way they finished the regular season.

Victories over then-No. 9 Louisville and then-No. 1 Louisiana State pushed UK as high as No. 7 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings midway through the season.

With a 6-1 record, the Cats not only had aspirations of competing for a Southeastern Conference title, but they also were realistically in the hunt for a national championship.

But UK stumbled to a 1-4 record down the stretch to finish the regular season, squashing any notions of competing for either title. Although the Cats had to settle for the Music City Bowl after such high expectations, they are coming off a much stronger year than last season, head coach Rich Brooks said.

Brooks said that although this season’s 7-5 record is the same as last year’s, they are not identical. He pointed to a much tougher schedule and said a good portion of the teams they played this year are headed to postseason play.

“There were some difficult disappointments along the way, obviously,” he said. “There were also some of the more exciting games in Kentucky football history, some of which will be on ESPN Classic for a long, long, long time. I’m as proud of this team as I have been of any team that I’ve coached.”

The Cats might have had their fair share of disappointments down the stretch, but Brooks emphasized that going to a bowl game each and every year is important for the program to “turn the corner.” He added that the Cats need to continue to make bowl games year in and year out.

And if returning to a bowl game weren’t incentive enough for the players to get excited about heading back to Nashville, they also have the extra motivation of playing against legendary coach Bobby Bowden and the Florida State Seminoles, a team making its 26th consecutive bowl appearance.

“When you think about Florida State, you think about national championships,” Burton said. “You think about Warrick Dunn, Peter Warrick and so many great players that have graced the field there. To play them, all you can do is get excited. If you can’t get excited for this, then you don’t have a pulse.”

Still more than three weeks away from actually taking the field on Dec. 31, it appears Burton’s pulse is pumping already. And while it probably won’t be for the country music — Burton admitted at the time that he couldn’t name his favorite country artist — he’s anxious to return to the Music City.

“We have something to play for, so I’m just excited,” Burton said. “I’m really going to enjoy it.”