Whitesburg KY

Win would justify Cats’ high ranking


With his team ranked No. 8 in the country – Kentucky’s highest position in three decades – coach Rich Brooks says he still needs one last bit of proof to become convinced the Wildcats belong there.

“It might be high,” Brooks said of the ranking. “If we win this week, I would say it might’ve been right. Early in the season, rankings are very suspect in all categories.”

Kentucky checked into the Top 10 in a week that saw plenty of carnage among teams above them in the poll. In fact, the Wildcats are the only Southeastern Conference East team without a defeat so far, and only top-ranked Louisiana State is ranked higher among conference foes.

That’s fine, the players say, but this week a tall challenge awaits: a trip to No. 11 South Carolina, whose coach, Steve Spurrier, has never lost to Kentucky.

“You don’t stay in the Top 10 if you get beat,” tight end Jacob Tamme said. “If you’re jumping for joy about No. 8, then come next week, you won’t be No. 8 anymore.”

Defensive lineman Dominic Lewis says the stakes are clearly higher than they’ve been for a long time in Lexington.

“We’re playing for a lot more now,” Lewis said. “Guys are wanting to do a little extra in practice.”

In the past, Spurrier has feasted on Kentucky teams with some of his signature trick plays. This time, the veterans are determined not to let that happen.

“I think we’re more mature, more experienced,” safety Marcus McClinton said. “We’re not as amped up as we used to be. We know the dangers of the cutback.”

Brooks says part of Spurrier’s success comes with sniffing out blitzes and deciphering defensive formations before the ball is snapped.

“Most defensive players when you tell them they’re going to blitz, they start drooling and slobbering,” Brooks said. “It’s pretty difficult to pick up.”

Brooks, who has never had a team ranked so highly as a college coach, says he hasn’t beaten Spurrier on the golf course, besides Kentucky’s losing streak against him. The two have been friends for years, and Brooks says Spurrier hasn’t changed.

“Confident, cocky, brash and a winner,” he said.

But as the Wildcats travel to Columbia for the huge, nationally televised intradivision matchup, Brooks insists this game is far bigger than getting revenge against a coach who has always had his number.

“I’m not as interested in showing the people across the country what we’re doing or what we’re about,” Brooks said. “Even if it’s ugly, I’d like to get to 2-0 (in the Southeastern Conference).”

Wins against Louisville and Arkansas have highlighted the Wildcats’ 5-0 start that earned their highest ranking in 30 years and Brooks’ highest ever as a coach. But Thursday’s winner will be playing for something more – first place in the SEC East.

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