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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Many Kentucky players were in high school when the Wildcats won their last Southeastern Conference game in November 2011.
For those who were around, that 10-7 victory over Tennessee has faded into memory.
There have been 17 straight league losses since the win, a frustrating string of close and lopsided defeats sandwiched around a coaching change. But the Wildcats believe they're close to putting an end to the streak.
They were oh-so-close in a triple-overtime loss at Florida two weeks ago that has stoked Kentucky's hunger to finally seal the deal Saturday against Vanderbilt (1-3, 0-2). The Wildcats (2-1, 0-1) enter as 17-point favorites, a rare scenario that speaks volumes about the programs' differing fortunes but doesn't have Kentucky players thinking ahead.
After more than two years of conference futility, they know better.
"We're very hungry," Kentucky senior wide receiver Demarco Robinson said, adding, "we're ready and trying to look for a win this week."
Beating the Commodores might also help the Wildcats exact revenge for a 40-0 trouncing here in November 2012, setting in motion the process resulting in then-Kentucky coach Joker Phillips' firing the next day and Mark Stoops' eventual hiring as his replacement.
Nothing changed during Stoops' first season as the Wildcats lost 22-6 to the Commodores last year in Nashville. Vanderbilt's fortunes have shifted since then, with Derek Mason replacing James Franklin as coach and the program enduring the growing pains that come with a new staff and young players.
The Commodores were outscored 78-10 in their first two games before rebounding to beat Massachusetts and playing South Carolina competitively in last week's loss.
Despite entering as underdogs to an improving Kentucky squad, Vanderbilt's three-game winning streak in the series by a combined 100-14 margin keeps things in perspective for the Wildcats.
"We can't pay attention to that stuff," Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles said of the spread. "The only thing we're worried about is winning the football game, whether it's by one point or 80 points. We're just worried about us."
Here are some things to look for when the Commodores and Wildcats meet:
WHO'S VANDY'S QB? The Commodores have started a different quarterback each of the first four games, and another change may loom at kickoff. Patton Robinette started the season-opening loss to Temple and against South Carolina but sustained a concussion late in the first quarter. He did not practice Wednesday and Mason is listing him as questionable until he gets back on the field. Freshman Wade Freebeck has practiced as the starter and a decision will be made on Saturday.
MORE EYES ON US: Commonwealth Stadium had a lot of upper-deck bare spots in Kentucky's first two home games, though bad weather could have played a part in hampering attendance against Ohio three weeks ago. That shouldn't be an issue Saturday with a good weather forecast and a sellout of discounted general admission tickets.
SQUIB IT TO SIMS: Darrius Sims tied an NCAA record by becoming the first player in SEC history to return kickoffs for touchdowns in the same game last week against South Carolina. The sophomore went nearly untouched 91 yards for his first TD on the opening kickoff, then went 100 yards with the Gamecocks' first kickoff in the second half to tie a school record. Sims is averaging 36.5 yards on kickoff returns, tops in the SEC and tied for fourth nationally.
FRESH FACES: Both schools are relying on youth and Vanderbilt has used 31 freshmen so far to lead the nation. Kentucky has used 25 newcomers including nine freshmen and 10 redshirt freshmen, who have helped account for 72 percent of its points this season.
TIEBREAKER: A Wildcats win can halt Vanderbilt's winning streak against them and gain an edge in a series tied 41-41-4.
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tennessee, and AP freelancer Keith Taylor in Lexington, Kentucky, contributed to this report.
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