Cats reach # 8....a season of achievements

Admit it--how many of us thought that the next "#8" Kentucky would reach would be the basketball Cats 8th NCAA championship? Who knew it would be reaching # 8 in both the AP and Coaches Polls--in football? In a record-setting year, today Kentucky breaks a 30-year hold by breaking back into the Top 10 in both Polls. This is just the latest achievement earned in a season full of them.

Kentucky began this season in a different manner from previous years--they did not play Louisville in the opening game as they have done for several years in a row--and they did not lose that opening game. With victories over Eastern Kentucky and Kent, the Wildcats began 2-0 for the first time since 2002.

In the third game of the season--the former opening opponent, in-state rival Louisville--the Wildcats hosted the # 9 Cardinals in Commonwealth Stadium. Kentucky accomplished something they had not done since the 2002 season--beat the Cardinals. With a 40-34, last minute victory, Kentucky began 3-0 on the season.

Much was said about moving the game from week # 1 to week # 3 before the season began, and when the game was relegated to being nationally broadcast on ESPN Classic, even more was said. Few knew, though, that the event would set an all-time ESPN Classic ratings record for most viewers ever to watch that channel. The record was even more remarkable, considering WKYT and WHAS televised the game locally throughout the Commonwealth as well.

The victory over # 9 Louisville also brought national rankings to the Cats, as UK landed at # 21 in the AP rankings and # 23 in the USA Today/Coaches Polls. It represented the first time since 1984 that the Wildcats had appeared in an AP Poll, and the first time since 1999 that the Wildcats had appeared in the Coaches Poll.

Game # 4, a road contest against SEC rival Arkansas, showed many achievements come to light. First, senior quarterback Andre Woodson, who had already eclipsed the all-time SEC record for most consecutive pass attempts without an interception earlier in the season, broke Trent Dilfer's all-time NCAA record for the same thing. Woodson first approached Dilfer's record of 271 passes--and then vaulted past it in the win.

Offensively, Kentucky's 42-29 victory was the fourth consecutive game the Wildcats surpassed 40 points in a contest. That was the first time Kentucky had accomplished that feat since, well, ever.

Not to be outdone, though, defensively the Wildcats also had an individual accomplishment occur. Linebacker Wesley Woodyard had 17 tackles in the game, giving him 306 tackles for his career, and becoming the first Wildcat to surpass 300 tackles since Marty Moore accomplished the task in his 1990-93 career.

Following the contest, the Southeastern Conference honored offensive guard Jason Leger as its offensive lineman of the week, and Woodyard as its defensive player of the week. The honor was Leger's second of the season, and the dual Wildcats being honored represented the first time in UK history two Wildcats were honored by the SEC for player of the week awards in the same week.

With the win over Arkansas, the Wildcats began the season with an SEC road opener victory--the first time that has occurred since 1984. It was also Kentucky's second consecutive fourth quarter comeback victory, as the Wildcats scored three consecutive touchdowns late after trailing, and it represented UK's fifth fourth quarter comback win in the last nine games extending back to last season. The win moved the Cats to 4-0 on the season, and 1-0 in the SEC. That combination of four wins, including at least one win in conference play, had not been accomplished since 1950.

The 4-0 start also brought Kentucky to the highest national ranking it had enjoyed in 30 seasons, logging in at No. 14 in the Associated Press Poll and No. 15 in the Coaches Poll. Not since the 1977 team finished in the top 10 in the AP Poll had Kentucky enjoyed such ranking prominence.

Saturday the Wildcats hosted Howard Schnellenberger's Florida Atlantic University Owls, who entered the game on a two-game winning streak at 3-1, including a victory over Big 10 foe Minnesota. Woodson continued his interception-less pass attempt streak, surging past 300 passes in the first quarter, before finally giving way to interception after 325 consecutive passes, the new NCAA record. The Cats did not suffer with that lapse, though, as Woodson also set an all-time career high with five touchdown passes thrown in the game, including four in the first half. Woodson also threw for a season-high 301 yards in the victory.

A Micah Johnson interception return for a touchdown late in the 4th quarter of the contest also set a new record for Kentucky--one that had been established only the game before. The return pushed Kentucky's final margin of victory to 45-17, representing the fifth consecutive contest UK has scored 40 or more points in a game.

Sunday's Associated Poll and Coaches Poll both moved Kentucky up to # 8 in the country--their highest ranking since finishing the 1977 season at # 6. The Wildcats are currently one of only two teams undefeated in SEC play, sharing the honor with LSU. Not only are the two teams the only SEC teams who are still undefeated, but they are also the only two SEC teams who are undefeated in conference play. Although the Cats are only 1-0 in conference play, it's enough to put them alone in first place in the SEC Eastern Division, and matches them against LSU who is alone in first place in the SEC Western Division.

The Cats next face the No. 11 South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia, South Carolina Thursday night in a nationally televised ESPN contest. The Cats have never defeated a Steve Spurrier-coached team (0-14). In addition, South Carolina has defeated Kentucky seven consecutive times. But if Kentucky can snap both of those streaks with a win, in addition to those--and perhaps other records the Cats may acquire in the meantime--it would also mean UK would become the first NCAA team to become bowl-eligible this season with six wins.

As the clock closes in on midnight, and the pages of the calendar must be turned to October, these Wildcats continue to win, and set records. The pages of the record books are being rewritten, turned, and rewritten again. What team records will be broken this week? What individual accomplishments will be achieved?

Kentucky's Big Blue Nation--and a national television audience--will wait and watch, ESPN, 7:30 p.m. (ET) Thursday October 4.

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