With five games remaining on the University of Kentucky football schedule, the Wildcats still remain very much in the hunt for another bowl game appearance.

Despite all of the struggles and injuries that UK has experienced already this season -- from the Cats losing their starting safety during the preseason, to starting quarterback Terry Wilson going down for the year in just the third contest, to even now, when wide receiver Lynn Bowden has played quarterback for the past two weeks -- the possibility for a fourth consecutive bowl game is still alive.

Granted, the Cats haven't been playing their best recently.

With a 3-4 record overall and 1-4 mark against Southeastern Conference competition, UK has dropped four of its last five outings. The only win in the last month has been a 24-20 victory over Arkansas on Oct. 12.

Still, as dire as all of that sounds, there's light on the horizon.

This week, the Cats host Missouri, which was upset 21-14 by Vanderbilt on Saturday. It'll be the second week in a row that Kentucky faces an SEC foe coming off a tough loss. Most recently, it was Georgia, which beat the Cats 21-0 this past weekend.

That means another matchup against a team frothing at the mouth to get back into the win column.

UK coach Mark Stoops was complimentary of Vanderbilt's efforts against Missouri -- most notably the Commodores' two-quarterback look -- but offered no insight into his own signal-caller dilemma.

"Vandy just did a nice job overall," Stoops said Monday. "I thought they played good on all sides, played extremely hard at home, and they did keep them off balance. I don't know, I'm not in Vandy's locker room and meetings, but they do a good job with what they have. I think we're going to have to look at all options."

So what does that mean?

Sawyer Smith, who began the year as the second-string quarterback and took over when Terry Wilson was lost for the year, hasn't been seen for weeks -- though UK's coaching staff continues to stress that he's healthy.

His injury opened the door for Bowden to step under center.

The junior wide receiver carried the Cats to their win over Arkansas but wasn't able to get much going against Georgia.

"I thought that Lynn did some really good things that are hard to see all the time," Stoops said. "You put on that film, and again, he is relentless, just extremely tough, hard some really tough yards."

Stoops has hinted that Smith may return to playing soon, but it wouldn't be a surprise if Bowden took snaps for one more week.

The reasoning for that would be simple: Kentucky gets its second off week following its matchup against Missouri, so why risk Smith getting hurt again if he can be held out for another extended rest period? Bowden has proven that he's capable enough at times -- when the offensive line isn't getting flagged for holding penalties -- but the key to the Cats' bowl hopes really lies with keeping Smith 100% healthy.

Smith isn't the only one in need of rest, either.

Kavosiey Smoke is dealing with a shoulder injury. Isaiah Epps is out with a foot injury. Phil Hoskins, Kash Daniel, Jordan Wright, Josh Paschal -- they're all banged up in one way or another.

The biggest victory the Cats can hope for this week, aside from an actual win against the visiting Tigers, is for everyone to stay (relatively) healthy heading into the bye week. Then get ready for the stretch run to close the season.

Just three more wins separate UK from another bowl game. With matchups against Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Tennessee-Martin and Louisville coming up, that goal is still possible.

So far, Stoops hasn't seen anything to make him think otherwise.

"If we keep that mentality for the second part of the season and continue to improve, I like our chances," he said.

Of course, anything can happen, but the Cats need as many players back as they can get.

As frustrating as the football season has been for UK players, coaches and fans, the Cats are almost out of the woods. Staying healthy against Missouri and regrouping during the off week is exactly what they need to turn the year around.

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