Staff File Photo by Tim Barber Lane Kiffin will lead his Tennessee Vols against Kentucky in the final game of the regular season.
KNOXVILLE -- Tennessee's football players have minimized this week their program's NCAA-best 24-game winning streak against Kentucky.
Past games have no bearing on tonight's Southeastern Conference meeting in Lexington, the Volunteers and their coaches have said.
"The history of this series means nothing to this game," first-year head coach Lane Kiffin said. "I'm sorry. It doesn't."
Kentucky has enjoyed similar success to UT the past four years and won more bowl games, many have mentioned. The Wildcats have as many upperclassmen NFL draft prospects, others have added.
Point taken. The Vols (6-4, 3-4) aren't thinking about their streak over the Wildcats (7-4, 3-4). Or maybe they are.
"We're really just focusing on what we're going to do, as far as the scheme and how we're going to play," UT junior All-America safety Eric Berry said. "We can't be concerned about the past games.
"But OK, we do have that streak, and ... we don't want to be the team to give it up. We don't want to be that team."
Senior weakside linebacker Rico McCoy mentioned it, too. Tonight very well may be Berry's last SEC game before declaring for the NFL draft, but it's definitely McCoy's.
"That's not something we plan on doing -- definitely not," McCoy said. "Getting this win and keeping that streak alive is something that's big for me, as a senior."
But that's far from an automatic proposition. Kentucky turned around a slow start and started reversing history Oct. 17 at Auburn. The Wildcats topped the Tigers for the first time in 43 years, and that propelled them to five wins in their last six games.
Last week the Wildcats scored 28 of the second half's 35 points for a 34-27 win at Georgia -- their first in Athens since 1977. That gave them three consecutive SEC road victories for the first time in 32 years.
"Look at their wins this season. They don't care about history," UT senior guard Jacques McClendon said. "They're playing hard ball right now, and if you let them get you, they will get you. If we're not on top of our stuff on both sides of the ball, it could be a long night for us.
"They're going to give us everything they've got. They're playing for a lot, just like we are. They're in the same boat we're in right now."
UT or Kentucky will leave Commonwealth Stadium tonight with a second-place finish in the SEC Eastern Division, and a berth in the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl is likely to follow.
"Sorry to say, this is not the old Kentucky team," Kiffin said. "This is a different Kentucky team, so all that (streak) really has nothing to do with this game."
The Vols didn't even claim confidence from past close calls -- or improbable escapes -- against the Cats.
"We have no recollection of that at all," McClendon said. "We're not the 1998 Tennessee Volunteers, or the 1980 Tennessee Volunteers, or any other team during that streak. Kentucky is a very dangerous team. They just won at Georgia last week. You've got to respect that.
"The past doesn't mean anything right now."
But tonight means a lot, junior defensive end Chris Walker said.
"This is a Kentucky team that's very capable of beating us," Walker said. "They beat teams that we haven't beaten, like Auburn. They're really a good team. We're not even thinking about that streak. We're going to their place, and they haven't beaten us for 24 years, and it's their senior night. That's a lot of variables that could add up against us, and we know we're not just going to show up and beat them because of anything that happened in the past.
"Whichever team wins this game will finish the season strong and get to play in a nice bowl game. Hopefully we'll be that team, but we're going to have to earn it against these guys."
Other contacts for Wes Rucker are www.twitter.com/wesrucker and www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.