Kentucky back for 3rd Music City Bowl in 4 years


Associated Press

Posted on December 27, 2009 at 7:03 PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Call the Music City Bowl the Kentucky Wildcats' new postseason home.

Here for the third time in four years, Kentucky fans aren't bored by the familiar scenery. The Wildcats (7-5) can make team history by beating C.J. Spiller and Clemson on Sunday night to win a fourth straight bowl game, and fans have bought more than 15,000 tickets through the school alone.

"Our fans have been great traveling and certainly our biggest successes this year have been on the road," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said Saturday. "We've had smaller groups because they can't get enough tickets in SEC stadiums. But our visit against Vanderbilt, I believe we had more white and blue in the stands than Vanderbilt had at a home game."

Kentucky fans have been here often enough that they know it's easier to buy tickets through the bowl office than working through the school's donor list. Brooks said he got an eye-opener here at the 2006 Music City Bowl when he saw so much blue in the stands for his first bowl game with this program.

"I'm just very, very pleased that our fans are in close proximity again and coming to a fourth straight bowl and enjoy not traveling too far," Brooks said.

Clemson will be without several backups because coach Dabo Swinney suspended four players for missing curfew the first night in town. Assistant athletic director Tim Bourret confirmed that second-string defensive tackles Jamie Cumbie and Rennie Moore won't play along with third-string tight end Durrell Barry and receiver Kyle Johnson.

Clemson (8-5) gave back some tickets for this game, and a rematch of that 2006 Music City Bowl isn't what the Tigers expected after winning the Atlantic Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Swinney insists his Tigers will be ready to snap a three-game bowl skid, even though they could have played in a Bowl Championship Series Bowl if not for their 39-34 loss to Georgia Tech in the ACC title game. He said his team focuses on getting better, not worrying about the past despite two losses to end the regular season.

"We played hard. We gave it our best shot. We came up a little short. You move on from that, you try to get better," Swinney said. "We're fortunate we have an opportunity that we've had a good enough season to play in a bowl game against a really good opponent."

One nice change from these teams' last bowl game is LP Field itself. In 2006, chunks of turf came up under the players' feet. The NFL's Tennessee Titans, the main tenant here, re-sodded the field in November.

"It's Augusta National out there right now," Swinney said.

Both teams have freshman quarterbacks. Morgan Newton is set to make his eighth start for Kentucky, while Kyle Parker has started every game for Clemson.

Kentucky must try to slow Spiller, the ACC player of the year and Clemson's do-it-all star. The senior, who has set or tied 31 school records, finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting and was MVP of the ACC championship game. He has scored five different ways this season — by throwing, running, catching and on punt and kickoff returns.

"He can make you miss, and sometimes when you think you've got him, all of a sudden that burst of speed will separate him from the tackler," Brooks said.

Spiller is tied for the NCAA record with eight career kick returns for touchdowns and needs just one more off a punt or kick to take the record himself. He also ranks fourth in the nation this season averaging 33.7 yards per return. That's why Brooks said the Wildcats will try to mix up their kicks hoping to avoid letting Spiller score on them, too.

For Clemson, the versatility of Kentucky sophomore Randall Cobb is what worries Swinney. When Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline hurt his knee and Brooks had to start Newton, the Wildcats spiced up their offense with more of what they call the "WildCobb" version of the wildcat.

Cobb ranks 17th in the Southeastern Conference in rushing and 13th in the league with 3.3 catches per game. He plays quarterback and returns punts as well.

"He's a competitive kid," Swinney said. "He's just a kid that every time I've seen him play he just jumps out at you. He's got a great will to win. He's a very tough, tough football player. A lot like C.J., he impacts the game in a lot of different ways."

With Derrick Locke and Alfonso Smith, the Wildcats rank 21st in the nation rushing at 193.2 yards per game. That puts the pressure on what might be Clemson's weakness. The Tigers rank 69th defending the run, allowing 150.3 yards a game.

"I spend more time trying to figure out how we're going to stop 18 (Cobb) and 20 (Locke), to be honest with you," Swinney said. "Those guys are pretty good."

NOTES: This bowl will have a new sponsor in 2010 through 2013. Officials announced Franklin American Mortgage Company, a local company, will be the title sponsor for the next four years. Gaylord Hotels, whose current title sponsorship ends after Sunday night, will continue as a sponsor and host hotel for the bowl teams.