"What an honor it is to be here in the Liberty Bowl as conference champion. This is the road we talk about when we started the season. It starts for us with the road to Memphis. That's what everyone in Conference USA is striving for," Holtz said.
Somehow I don't think Kentucky, or any Southeastern Conference team, started the season with the goal of making the Liberty Bowl. For SEC teams, playing in the Liberty Bowl is the consolation prize. For the Conference USA winner, it is the big prize and a reason to be excited. The Wildcats openly talked about wanting to go a "bigger, better" bowl than the Music City Bowl where they had been the last two years. Instead, they are in what most perceive to be a lesser bowl even though they did turn down a chance to go back to Nashville.
So how will East Carolina's obvious enthusiasm for being in Memphis compared to UK's season-long wish to be in Tampa or Atlanta impact this game? "I have great respect for coach (Rich) Brooks and team he has. I had an opportunity to see his team when I was in the SEC (as an assistant coach). He always has a hard hitting, physical team. This will be a very physical game, but one we are looking forward to playing. We are excited to be playing Kentucky."
See, there Holtz goes again bringing up the excitement factor.
But wait. There's more.
"It is an honor not only to be in the game because it means we not only fulfilled our goal at the start of year, but we also have opportunity to play in the 50th anniversary game. It's really going to be neat experience," Holtz said.
"The exposure is huge, too. Everybody is trying to get a bowl fix. It is an exposure opportunity for us and having the opportunity in a bowl game against a SEC opponent like Kentucky is something special for us. This is game as our players grow up that they dream of playing in. For us, this is all about the Liberty Bowl and what we are trying to do with our program."
And that attitude is exactly why if there's an edge East Carolina has for this game that worries me, this is it. Kentucky had the same type edge over Clemson and Florida State in the Music City Bowl the previous two years when the Cats were excited to be there and the opponents were not. Each time the more enthusiastic Cats won.
That's why for Kentucky to be able to win this game, Brooks and his coaching staff have to find a way to inject that same type of enthusiasm back into the Cats before Friday.