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Smart, Bulldogs not surprised Cats are playing for SEC East division title

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Kentucky made its debit in the College Football Playoff Rankings earlier this week at No. 9, while Southeastern Conference foe Alabama was listed at No. 1.

The Wildcats (7-1, 5-1) are one of three SEC teams ranked in the Top 10, while three others are among the Top 25. LSU is third and Georgia is sixth, followed by Kentucky at No. 9. Florida is ranked 11th, while Mississippi State (18th) and Texas A&M (20th) are among the Top 25 teams in college football.

“As a committee, we’re charged with one job, and that’s ranking the 25 best teams in college football,” College Football Playoff Selection Committee Chairman Rob Mullens said. “To do that, our rankings are based on how a team plays its games. We look at their win-loss record, their strength of schedule, their head-to-head match-ups, games played against common opponents, and eventually, we’ll look at who is a conference champion.”

Mullens said Kentucky’s wins over Florida and Mississippi State helped elevate the Wildcats into the Top 10. Kentucky was No. 11 in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll released last Sunday.

“Quality wins at Florida and then a win over Mississippi State, both ranked teams, and Kentucky has an outstanding defense (helped them),” Mullens said. “They’ve found a way to win and their only loss is to a CFP ranked team in overtime. Kentucky has a quality resume.”

Kentucky receiver Lynn Bowden celebrates a punt return for a touchdown in Kentucky’s 15-14 win over Missouri last weekend. The Wildcats host Georgia Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (UK Athletics Photo)

That resume can get another boost Saturday when the Wildcats take on Georgia (7-1, 5-1) with the winner advancing to the SEC Championship game set for Dec. 1 in Atlanta. Like Kentucky, the Bulldogs are aware of the task at hand.

“There’s a lot is at stake,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “I think our kids and players understand that. I got a lot of respect for Mark (Stoops) and the job he’s done. I think it’s really remarkable, and it shows the patience of an athletic department to stick with a guy who I think is one of the best coaches in all of college football. He’s now put his roster together. He’s got a senior class that’s really incredible across the SEC.’

Kentucky’s success this season hasn’t been a surprise to Georgia, which used a last-second field goal to edge the Wildcats 27-24 two years ago in Lexington.

“Playing them during my freshman year, they had a great team and even last year, they’ve been building and they’re a great program,” Georgia defensive back Tyrique McGhee said. “In this conference, it’s not a surprise at all which team comes up but like I said, we’re going to go in and focus on us and do what we’ve got to do.”

Smart, who considered the Wildcats a contender even before the season began, said the Wildcats have developed a passion for winning and refuse to quit.

“They believe,” Smart said. “They’ve got a good coaching staff. They’ve got a good group of young men that fight. I mean when you have a defense that plays like they do, they’re in every game. And their offense matches it perfect because they grind you to a nub. They’re just extremely physical. They play a lot of offensive linemen. They got a quarterback that can run as good as most receivers in our conference. They’re hard to defend. And they’re very talented when you look at it across the board, and you see why they’ve been successful.”

Smart added Kentucky plays “complementary defense and “they’re on the same page at all times.”

“You don’t see busts,” he said. “They understand where each guy is. They leverage the ball well. They tackle well. They’re extremely long in the secondary … they have big men up front, which is built for the kind of defense they play, and they’ve obviously got one of the best pass rushers in the country. So, they do a tremendous job of playing team defense. They’re very organized, disciplined. They know the game plan, they know what they’re going to take away and they do it.”

GAMETRACKER: Georgia at Kentucky, 3:30 p.m. Saturday, CBS, UK Radio Network.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

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