NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - It was a revealing, albeit sarcastic
plea for mercy from major college football's winningest coach to
his friend of nearly three decades.
"Don't you feel sorry for me?" Florida State's Bobby Bowden
asked Kentucky's Rich Brooks during a news conference Sunday.
Brooks and Bowden face each other for the first time Monday in
the Music City Bowl, a game that figures to be a role reversal of
sorts for the Seminoles, one of the nation's most storied programs,
and Wildcats, until recently perennial Southeastern Conference
Injuries and suspensions from an academic cheating scandal have
left Florida State's roster gutted, making Brooks' team a heavy
Just two years ago, the notion would have seemed absurd that
Kentucky, trying for its first back-to-back postseason wins in 55
years, might risk complacency against a team that has ended 26
straight seasons with a bowl appearance and won two national
But these aren't the Wildcats of two years ago, and with three
dozen Florida State players inactive, these aren't even the
Seminoles of three weeks ago, let alone the dominant 'Noles of the
"We want our football program to be held and seen like where
they are," Kentucky linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. "We want to
do everything in our power to make sure our program is headed in
the right direction."
Considering the current woes of Florida State (7-5), victory is
all but expected for the Wildcats (7-5). Of course, a loss was
expected in last year's Music City Bowl against Clemson, coached by
Bowden's son, Tommy. But Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson led the team to an upset to showcase his arrival as one of the nation's top
passers, a mantle he has built on this year with 36 TDs - one shy
of Tim Couch's team record.
"We changed the expectations last year," senior tight end
Jacob Tamme said. "I think that's a good thing. But, at the same
time, we're here for a second straight year, and nobody's down
Woodson scares Bowden, whose team has already faced two of the country's best quarterbacks this season - Heisman winner Tim Tebow of Florida and Boston College's Matt Ryan, considered by some to be the top passer in next year's NFL draft.
"He's just as dangerous, maybe more so because he can probably
run better," Bowden said of how Woodson stacks up with Ryan.
As matchups go, the Seminoles' defense would probably be better
equipped against a different kind of offense. They ranked 15th in
the nation in stopping the run but only 74th at stopping the pass.
Standout cornerback Patrick Robinson is among those not suiting
up for Florida State, along with five key linemen and two top
"It's been a struggle but you have to push forward," defensive
tackle Kendrick Stewart said. "For the players that are here, we
are trying to win this game. We miss those players that are not
here but we have to go out and do what we can for the team and show
everybody that we are still Florida State."
The Seminoles' roster is so thin, Bowden acknowledges a few
unfortunate injuries could force him to play guys on both offense
"So far we haven't been that desperate, and that is
desperate," Bowden said. "And I guess that could happen."
Yet Woodson says he won't allow his teammates to fall into the
trap of assuming this is a weak Florida State roster.
"It's still going to be a dogfight," Woodson said. "It's not
like we're going to be going against guys who don't belong on the
field with us."
Brooks doesn't have the same problems with depth as his friend,
but Kentucky will be without top offensive lineman Jason Leger,
suspended for an undisclosed rules violation.
Playmaking receiver Keenan Burton was expected to miss the game
with a knee injury, but Brooks said Sunday he expects him to try to
Kentucky's players insist a second straight Music City
appearance isn't a letdown, even in a season that began with far
greater promise, including a triple-overtime win against then-No. 1
LSU. The Wildcats found themselves back in Nashville after a
late-season swoon that included four losses in five games.
Brooks inherited the team still reeling from probation, and
Woodson and other seniors have seen both ends of the spectrum.
Thus, the coach is not worried about complacency.
"To win it would be just unbelievable, to reward these seniors
who have lived through the difficult and dark times of Kentucky
football and seen the bright side the last two years," Brooks
Bowden's perspective is somewhat different.
"We could really use it," he said, "but it won't destroy us
if we don't win."