By PETE IACOBELLI
AP Sports Writer
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson remembers chuckling at the comments opposing coaches like Steve Spurrier putting down the Wildcats' finish a year ago.
At the Southeastern Conference preseason football gathering in July, the sharp-tongued Spurrier got in backhanded slap - probably more at rival Clemson than the Wildcats - when he said, "We thought we did something big beating Clemson, then Kentucky beat them also."
The Tigers lost to the Wildcats 28-20 in the Music City Bowl last December.
It was the Wildcats fifth win in their last six games and got them to 8-5, their best mark in 22 years.
Woodson knows it'll take a few more victories for the eighth-ranked Wildcats (5-0, 1-0 SEC) to sway the college football world that they can compete with the game's best. They'll get that chance Thursday night at No. 11 South Carolina (4-1, 2-1) in a nationally televised contest.
Woodson understands where Spurrier's coming from - South Carolina's ball coach is 14-0 all time against Kentucky. But he says a win at Williams-Brice Stadium would go a long way to changing the perception that Kentucky is the SEC's "doormat."
"We just have to continue to earn respect," Woodson said. "We have to really do a great job of coming away with a lot more wins. That way teams take you a lot more seriously and they accept you as one of the better teams in the conference."
Woodson and the Wildcats have done a good job already.
They're off to their best start since 1984. Beating the Gamecocks would mean Kentucky's first 6-0 mark since Bear Bryant's SEC champions did it in 1950.
"With a couple of wins against some great teams, the sky's the limit for us," receiver Keenan Burton said. "It shows we're not the same Kentucky team."
Despite what he said in the summer, Spurrier has noticed the Wildcats' improvement and feels a kinship with Kentucky coach Rich Brooks.
"He and I really have a lot of in common," Spurrier said earlier this week.
Brooks and Spurrier both left terrific college programs - Brooks at Oregon, Spurrier at Florida - to flop in the NFL, then got the chance to rebuild an SEC team that consistently finished behind Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the league's Eastern Division.
Plus, Brooks "likes to play golf in the offseason just like I do," Spurrier said. "He's a good guy. I'm glad to see they're up there challenging."
Spurrier and the Gamecocks hope to dent that challenge this week.
The game features Kentucky's standout quarterback going up against the nation's top passing defense.
Woodson, whose play has spurred Heisman Trophy talk, had his NCAA best mark of 325 pass attempts without an interception ended last week against Florida Atlantic. But he still set a career-best with five TD passes in Kentucky's 45-17 win.
He is second in the conference in passing yards (261.8 a game) and leads with 16 touchdown throws and just the one interception.
"For me, honestly, I really don't care about winning the Heisman at all," Woodson said. "I'm just very concerned about us trying to win games. That means so much more to me."
The senior passer remembers the sorry seasons he went through (Kentucky was 9-25 between 2003-05) before last year's success. To continue that this year, "that means the world to all of us," Woodson said.
Said Burton: "We can get our chance to say Spurrier 14, Kentucky one."
Burton, Woodson and the rest of the Wildcats offense will get a test against a Gamecock defense that is yielding just over 106 yards passing a game.
Spurrier knows, though, it'll be difficult to keep Kentucky out of the end zone. The Wildcats lead the conference in scoring at more than 46 points a game.
So Spurrier figures he'll need his offense to show a spark similar to last week when freshman Chris Smelley threw for 279 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-21 win over Mississippi State.
"We can't go out there and poop around like we did" earlier this season and expect success, Spurrier said. "We've got to stay on the field, make some first downs and make some third downs like we've been doing to give ourselves a chance."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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