NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- It was a revealing, albeit sarcastic plea for mercy from major college football's winningest coach to his friend of nearly three decades.
"Don't you feel sorry for me?" Florida State's Bobby Bowden asked Kentucky's Rich Brooks during a news conference Sunday.
Brooks and Bowden face each other for the first time Monday in the Music City Bowl, a game that figures to be a role reversal of sorts for the Seminoles, one of the nation's most storied programs, and Wildcats, until recently perennial Southeastern Conference cellar dwellers.
Injuries and suspensions from an academic cheating scandal have left Florida State's roster gutted, making Brooks' team a heavy favorite.
Just two years ago, the notion would have seemed absurd that Kentucky, trying for its first back-to-back postseason wins in 55 years, might risk complacency against a team that has ended 26 straight seasons with a bowl appearance and won two national titles.
But these aren't the Wildcats of two years ago, and with three dozen Florida State players inactive, these aren't even the Seminoles of three weeks ago, let alone the dominant 'Noles of the late 1990s.
"We want our football program to be held and seen like where they are," Kentucky linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. "We want to do everything in our power to make sure our program is headed in the right direction."
Considering the current woes of Florida State (7-5), victory is all but expected for the Wildcats (7-5). Of course, a loss was expected in last year's Music City Bowl against Clemson, coached by Bowden's son, Tommy. But Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson led the team to an upset to showcase his arrival as one of the nation's top passers, a mantle he has built on this year with 36 TDs -- one shy of Tim Couch's team record.
"We changed the expectations last year," senior tight end Jacob Tamme said. "I think that's a good thing. But, at the same time, we're here for a second straight year, and nobody's down about that."
Woodson scares Bowden, whose team has already faced two of the country's best quarterbacks this season -- Heisman winner Tim Tebow of Florida and Boston College's Matt Ryan, considered by some to be the top passer in next year's NFL draft.
"He's just as dangerous, maybe more so because he can probably run better," Bowden said of how Woodson stacks up with Ryan.
As matchups go, the Seminoles' defense would probably be better equipped against a different kind of offense. They ranked 15th in the nation in stopping the run but only 74th at stopping the pass.
Standout cornerback Patrick Robinson is among those not suiting up for Florida State, along with five key linemen and two top linebackers.
"It's been a struggle but you have to push forward," defensive tackle Kendrick Stewart said. "For the players that are here, we are trying to win this game. We miss those players that are not here but we have to go out and do what we can for the team and show everybody that we are still Florida State."
The Seminoles' roster is so thin, Bowden acknowledges a few unfortunate injuries could force him to play guys on both offense and defense.
"So far we haven't been that desperate, and that is desperate," Bowden said. "And I guess that could happen."
Yet Woodson says he won't allow his teammates to fall into the trap of assuming this is a weak Florida State roster.
"It's still going to be a dogfight," Woodson said. "It's not like we're going to be going against guys who don't belong on the field with us."
Brooks doesn't have the same problems with depth as his friend, but Kentucky will be without top offensive lineman Jason Leger, suspended for an undisclosed rules violation.
Playmaking receiver Keenan Burton was expected to miss the game with a knee injury, but Brooks said Sunday he expects him to try to play.
Kentucky's players insist a second straight Music City appearance isn't a letdown, even in a season that began with far greater promise, including a triple-overtime win against then-No. 1 LSU. The Wildcats found themselves back in Nashville after a late-season swoon that included four losses in five games.
Brooks inherited the team still reeling from probation, and Woodson and other seniors have seen both ends of the spectrum. Thus, the coach is not worried about complacency.
"To win it would be just unbelievable, to reward these seniors who have lived through the difficult and dark times of Kentucky football and seen the bright side the last two years," Brooks said.
Bowden's perspective is somewhat different.
"We could really use it," he said, "but it won't destroy us if we don't win."
Associated Press Writer Brent Kallestad contributed to this report.
AccuScore has powered more than 10,000 simulations for every College Football game on ESPN.com, calculating how each team's performance changes in response to game conditions and opponent's abilities. Each game is simulated and the game is replayed a minimum of 10,000 times to generate forecasted winning percentages.
Kentucky heads back to Nashville for the second straight year. Hope the Wildcats like country music. Andre Woodson has been one of the most improved quarterbacks in the country the past two years and should be a first-day pick in the NFL draft. He'll face a Florida State defense that deserved better this season. Yep, the Seminoles were that bad on offense. -- Chris Low