Kentucky, Louisville, WKU near bowl eligibility
Even though basketball tips off this week in this hoop-crazed state, Kentucky tight end Nick Melillo insists there are three good reasons to keep watching fall football - the Wildcats, Louisville and Western Kentucky are all closing in on bowl eligibility.
''We're not done yet,'' said Melillo, who grew up in Louisville and has always been a Wildcats basketball fan. ''We have three more games left and we're going to do our best to make the best out of it that we can. It's going to be three big battles and hopefully we come out the victor.''
- Kentucky (4-5) needs two wins with games at Vanderbilt and Georgia before playing at home against Tennessee.
- Louisville (5-4) plays Pittsburgh before road contests at Connecticut and South Florida.
- Western Kentucky (5-4) has won five in a row, but has the most daunting challenge of them all at No. 1 LSU before conference matchups at North Texas and home against Troy.
''You can just tell, it's getting better within the state,'' Louisville coach Charlie Strong said. ''There's some really good football players within the state, we just all three need to continue to build our programs. We have a long ways to go, we all understand that. But it can be built.''
It was just last month that watching quality football in the state meant watching the opponent. The Wildcats lost three conference games in a row by a combined 117 points, the Hilltoppers dropped four straight, including a 44-16 drubbing by FCS Indiana State, and the Cardinals dropped three in a row.
''We're just playing better football. That's what it comes down to. Football - everyone tries to make it so complex. But if you win your 1-on-1 battles, you're going to make good plays, and I feel like that's what we've been doing,'' Western Kentucky tight end Jack Doyle said.
On Saturday, all three teams won for the first time since Western Kentucky moved up to FBS in 2009. The last time the three schools won on the same day before that was Sept. 6, 2008, when all three beat FCS teams, according to STATS, LLC.
Just because the schools are close to bowl eligibility, there isn't much discussion in the locker rooms about it, even though both Louisville (Big East) and Western Kentucky (Sun Belt) remain in contention for conference titles.
''We don't talk about it all because we don't want to get ahead of ourselves,'' Louisville defensive tackle Greg Scruggs said. ''You start talking about a bowl game and then go get kicked in the face for the last three games. Now you're sitting there saying I wish I would have focused on just that one game at a time, which is what we set out to do.''
While Kentucky has no shot to make the SEC title game in Atlanta, there's still a bowl streak of five straight seasons on the line and Melillo and the other seniors don't want to be the group that let the Wildcats down.
''Our backs are against the wall right now. There's no other place for us to go. It's either make plays and win games or we're going to be sitting at home during Christmas break, December and January,'' Melillo said. ''Being a senior, I don't want to do that. No one else on this team does either.''
Freelance writers Josh Abner in Louisville and Jonathan Lintner in Bowling Green contributed to this report.