Before the 2008 season started, everybody had all but wrote the Kentucky Wildcats off. After losing NFL star talent at many of the most notable positions, Kentucky was not expected to make it to a third straight bowl game under Rich Brooks.
Kentucky proved to most of the "non-believers" that it was not backing down. The record doesn't show it at 6-6, but getting to go to a post-season bowl game is a stepping stone to becoming a national name team.
Going to a bowl game at Kentucky is like going to the National Championship. It rarely happens and when it does, blue and white fans travel to watch the Cats battle.
Kentucky had not gone to three consecutive bowl games since Bear Bryant was the head coach from 1949-1951.
Like the two previous years, Kentucky has been matched against a more powerful ACC team in the Music City Bowl. In 2006 it was Clemson, but Kentucky came away with a 28-20 shocker. In 2007, Kentucky beat a depleted Florida State team 35-28.
This year will be different in many ways. This year it is East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl. This will be Kentucky's first Liberty Bowl, and it will be East Carolina's third.
The only meeting between the two teams was back on Nov. 13, 1993. Kentucky came away with a 6-3 win at Commonwealth Stadium.
Now the last preview/prediction of the 2008 Kentucky season.
The University of East Carolina Pirates offense depth chart:
- WR: Joe Womack (6'1", 195, Fr.), Reyn Willis (6'3", 215, Jr.)
- LT: Terence Campbell (6'5", 320, Jr.), Steven Baker (6'8", 315, Jr.)
- LG: Cory Dowless(6'5", 287, So.), T.J. Harper (6'2", 317, Jr.)
- C: Sean Allen (6'3", 307, Jr.), Fred Hicks (6'0", 304, Sr.)
- RG: Doug Palmer (6'3", 300, Jr.), Sean Allen (6'3", 307, Jr.)
- RT: D.J. Scott (6'6", 320, So.), Willie Smith (6'6", 280, So.)
- TE: Davon Drew (6'4", 260, Sr.), J.R. Kraemer (6'5", 250, Sr.)
- QB: Patrick Pinkney (6'0", 198, Sr.), Rob Kass (6'4", 250, Jr.)
- RB: Brandon Simmons (6'1", 223, Sr.), Norman Whitley (5'9". 187, So.)
- FB: Kevin Gidrey (6'2", 260, So.), Jason Simmons (6'0", 237, Sr.)
- WR: Alex Taylor (6'4", 210, Jr.), Darryl Freeney (5'11", 196, Fr.)
University of East Carolina Pirates defense depth chart:
- LE: Zack Slate (6'5", 221, Sr.), Josh Smith (6'1", 240, So.)
- LT: Jay Ross (6'3", 306, Jr.), Robert Jones (6'3", 260, Fr.)
- NG: Linval Joseph (6'6", 300, So.), Antonio Allison (6'4", 297, Fr.)
- RE: C.J. Wilson (6'4", 271, Jr.), Scotty Robinson (6'4", 250, Jr.)
- OLB: Jeremy Chambliss (6'0", 235, Jr.), Dustin Lineback (5'11", 229, So.)
- MLB: Nick Johnson (6'1", 215, Jr.), Steve Spence (6'2", 215, Fr.)
- OLB: Pierre Bell (6'2", 233, Sr.), Chris Matocks (6'0", 210, Jr.)
- SC: Travis Simmons (5'10", 179, So.), Derek Blacknall (5'11", 190, Fr.)
- SS: Leon Best (6'0", 205, Sr.), J.J. Millbrook (5'9", 191, Sr.)
- FS: Van Eskridge (6'0", 200, Jr.), Julian Carter (6'2", 191, Fr.)
- WC: Dekota Marshall (6'1", 195, So.), Emanuel Davis (5'11", 190, Fr.)
University of East Carolina Pirates special teams:
- P: Matt Dodge (6'2", 220, Jr.), Nathan Przestrzelski (6'5", 195, So.)
- PK: Ben Hartman (5'11", 210, Jr.), Matt Dodge (6'2", 220, Jr.)
- DS: Wilson Raynor (6'2", 235, Sr.), William Smith (5'11", 240, Fr.)
- H: Joe Sloan (5'11", 174, Jr.), Darryl Freeney (5'11", 196, Fr.)
- PR: Travis Simmons (5'10", 179, So.)
- KR: Dennis Rogan (5'10", 185, So.), Lennon Creer (6'1", 210, So.)
Pirates to watch:
- Patrick Pinkney has passed for 2,379 yards, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Pinkney is a dual threat, but has gotten into being a more pocket passer. His experience will make plays in the end.
- Brandon Simmons and Norman Whitley have rushed for 1,097 yards together. Whitley has the longest run of the year at 69 yards but Simmons has rushed for six touchdowns.
- Dwayne Harris would have been on this list, but his injury has sidelined him for the rest of the year.
- Pierre Bell has the most tackles on the team, from his outside linebacker spot, with 92 tackles and one sack.
- C.J. Wilson has been a monster on the right end. He will make his self known early and often. He has 10.5 sacks on the year.
- Van Eskridge and Emanuel Davis have both been a corner who can pick apart a quarterback. They both have four interceptions a piece.
Keys to the game for a Wildcat victory:
Kentucky must start out fast and get the offense going. It can not afford to get behind early and try to come from behind late in the game. East Carolina has a good pass defense. It shut down the powerful Tulsa offense.
Mike Hartline must prove that he can be the starting quarterback. He is starting the bowl game because of a injury to Randall Cobb, who is out of the game with a knee injury. Hartline must get into the passing game early and hope that his receivers do not drop or run wrong routes.
The defense must get back to form and shut down the Pirates offense. It is as healthy as it has been all year. The defense started out great early, but feel apart late due to injuries.
Trevard Lindley must be vintage Trevard Lindley. If he is, East Carolina must watch out for him whenever they throw the ball. Jeremy Jarmon will be in his hometown and will be ready to play for his family and friends.
Special teams have been both of these teams' worst nightmare. If either one of the two teams come away with a special teams play, it could be the end of the game. Neither team has an advantage in this area.
The game will probably come down to who wants it more. Both teams are making its third straight bowl game.
East Carolina was thinking more than just the Liberty Bowl at the start of the year when they beat West Virginia and Virginia Tech. The team that comes out and plays with more heart will win this game.
In the end, it would be hard to pick against East Carolina. However, who knows which Kentucky team will come to play. If is is the Kentucky team at the start of the year, then Kentucky is the team.
The guess is that Kentucky has the more advantage on the defense side, and defense wins games. Kentucky ends the year on a high note, making many defense stops and turnovers.
Kentucky 21, East Carolina 17