When the Kentucky Wildcats and Tennessee Volunteers meet in Knoxville just after noon today it may appear to be two midrange SEC teams finishing out the season.
This is no normal ride out the season game, as this is a high stakes game for both teams.
Tennessee enters the season finale 5-6, and need a win to reach the .500 mark on the season and to secure bowl eligibility.
For Tennessee the norm has been to play in bowl games to complete successful seasons. Of late the Vols have been in unchartered water, as they have finished below .500 twice in recent seasons, 2005 and 2008. After bouncing back from a 5-7 showing in 2008 the Vols were bowl eligible by the time the season finale was played with the Wildcats in Lexington, with a win they secured a spot in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta. A loss today would give the Vols their third losing regular season in six seasons.
The Wildcats enter today's game already bowl eligible at 6-5, and a win propels them to a higher level bowl game than they will play in should they lose. 7-5 is far more appealing to bowl committees than is 6-6.
With a fifth consecutive bowl eligible season secured the Wildcats have a desire to top off the regular season by defeating the Vols, and ending a 25 game losing streak.
For junior Randall Cobb, of nearby Alcoa, Tennessee, this could be the final opportunity to end the Vols streak during his Kentucky career. To end the streak in Knoxville, in front of his family and friends has to be an intoxicating desire of Cobb's; although the Kentucky speedster is unlikely to admit it. Cobb rejected late overtures by the Vols to sign with Kentucky, and in his three seasons as a Wildcat has racked up numerous Kentucky records. The Kentucky junior will explore NFL options when the season concludes, and it is quite possible he will not return for his senior season.
Kentucky seeks redemption for 25 years of futility. The Wildcats have worn shirts with 517 imprinted on them. That number stands for the scoring differential in those 25 consecutive losses to the Vols.
Kentucky also seeks redemption for some losses that should not have been. A loss to Ole Miss early in the season now separates a continuation of recent seasons, and a step forward for the team.
Recent seasons have witnessed the ending of long losing streaks to teams like Auburn and South Carolina. Two streaks now stand out, losing strings to Florida and Tennessee. It is too late to end the Florida streak this season, but the Tennessee streak remains a possibility as the Wildcats slowly struggle for SEC respectability.
Kentucky vs Tennessee, high stakes game
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