If you took a poll among Kentucky fans about which Southeastern Conference losing streak they'd like to end first, South Carolina would probably finish behind Tennessee and Florida on the wish list.
But if you ask the Wildcats players, the Gamecocks are numero uno.
Florida and Tennessee have historically held a higher spot on the totem pole than Kentucky. But the Cats see no logical reason for having lost nine in a row to the Gamecocks. They don't have the tradition of a Florida or Tennessee. The talent levels between UK and South Carolina have been somewhat similar. And the games usually have been close, with South Carolina either making game-winning plays late or UK making game-costing mistakes.
"That's one game in three years that I've been here that I can't remember saying, 'We just lost that game; they were better than us," senior defensive tackle Corey Peters said. "That's what is extremely tough about it, and that's what makes this game so important, more important than Florida or Tennessee. There have been some games against Florida where they completely dominated us, but this team hasn't. I personally feel like we've been better than them the last couple of years. We've just killed ourselves with mistakes. I think it's more important because there shouldn't be a streak at all. We're going to go down there and try and end it this year."
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"We have to get over this hump," said senior tailback Alfonso Smith. "It seems like we battle with them to see which bowl game we're going to every year. This is a game we can win. We need to go down there and take it."
Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks wouldn't place more emphasis on the South Carolina streak than the others but said the Wildcats need to find a way to knock off the Gamecocks if they want to make any noise in the SEC East.
"I don't know that one is any bigger than the other, because streaks are streaks," Brooks said. "But all I know is that South Carolina and Kentucky are in the bottom of the middle of the food chain in the SEC East, and if either one of us wants to climb that ladder, we have to beat each other. If we beat South Carolina, we end up climbing that food chain a little higher. If they beat us, they climb it. And they've had us pretty well pegged for several years. This is a big game. There isn't any getting around it."
The Cats aren't in an ideal situation to pull off an upset. They'll be without their star cornerback, Trevard Lindley, who's out with an ankle injury. Their other starting corner, Paul Warford, also won't make the trip because of a quadriceps injury. And UK's starting right tackle, Justin Jeffries, will miss the game with an Achilles problem. Plus, they're coming off back-to-back blowout losses to Florida and Alabama that have raised the level of fan unrest. Brooks isn't expecting any sympathy.
"Somebody once told me that people don't want to hear about how you loaded the wagon, they just want the wagon loaded," Brooks said. "We've got to load the wagon, regardless of who we have loading it. That's part of the deal."
While Kentucky lost to Florida and Alabama by a combined score of 79-27, South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier is expecting another nail-biter.
"They happen to have just played Florida and Alabama the last two weeks," said Spurrier, who has never lost to Kentucky in 16 career meetings. "That is why they are 2-2. If they had a different schedule, they could have come in here 4-1 just like us. Kentucky is a good team. This is not a 'When you get ahead, put some players in' kind of game. We know this is going to be a good one."
After a hectic past couple of weeks at home, Smith said playing a road game might not be a bad thing. And it would be even better with a win.
"This could swing all the momentum in the other direction," he said. "Once you start winning it becomes contagious. If you keep losing, things keep going downhill. For the first time since I've been here, it feels good to get away."