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College Football Preview: AutoZone Liberty Bowl Preview
Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3 overall, 5-2 and co-champions in Big East Conference)
Most impressive victory: 44-14 vs. North Carolina State (Sept. 22)
Worst loss: 3-20 at Rutgers (Nov. 19)
Notable alumni: Connor Brown, Brent Celek, George Clooney, Cris Collinsworth, Sandy Koufax, Urban Meyer, Oscar Robertson, William Howard Taft, and Kevin Youkilis
Cincinnati’s defense is ranked 44th nationally, but is 103rd overall against the pass, surrendering an average of 269 yards through the air per game. So it’s good news for the Bearcats that they are not facing a quarterback named Aaron Rodgers. Instead, it’s Jordan Rodgers, Aaron’s younger brother. The defense hasn’t been poor but in its only other previous SEC matchup this season, it gave up 530 yards and 34 points to 5-7 Tennessee. The Vols also had possession for 37 minutes. The standout player for the Cincy defense is senior DT Derek Wolfe (19.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks).
The offense will have Zach Collaros back under center to start the game. The senior QB had thrown for 1,860 yards and 14 TDs against 8 INTs before fracturing his ankle Nov. 12 against conference rival West Virginia. He was expected, originally, to miss the balance of the season. Sophomore Munchie Legaux finished the season and will be the standby in Saturday’s game. The big factor on offense for the Bearcats however is senior RB Isaiah Pead (1110 rushing yards and 11 TDs to go with 304 passing yards and 3 TDs). Vandy will need to keep him in check to limit the Cincy offense. Collaros is the second leading rusher with 240 yards and WRs Anthony McClung (sophomore; 675 yards, 5 TDs) and Kenbrell Thompkins (junior; 536 yards, 2 TDs) have been the primary wideouts.
The Bearcats have played in two BCS bowl games recently, losing to Florida 51-24 two years ago and to Virginia Tech 20-7 the year prior. Cincinnati is 5-6 in bowl games overall, with its last win coming over Southern Miss (31-21) Dec. 22, 2007 in the PapaJohns.com Bowl. This is its second year under head coach Butch Jones (13-11).
Vanderbilt Commodores (6-6, 2-6 in Southeastern Conference)
Most impressive victory: 41-7 at Wake Forest (Nov. 26)
Worst loss: 0-34 at Alabama (Oct. 8)
Notable alumni: Jay Cutler, Chris Williams, Al Gore, Dierks Bentley, Amy Grant, Grantland Rice, Buster Olney and Dinah Shore
Vandy is much improved in 2011 under first year head coach James Franklin. Its previous two seasons had identical 2-10 records. Rodgers, a junior QB (1498 yards, 9 TDs and 9 INTs), played occasionally to start the season, emerging as the starter in October. He has also rushed for 387 yards and 4 TDs. The principal ball carrier has been junior RD Zac Stacy (1136 yards and 13 TDs). Receivers Jordan Matthews (sophomore; 722 yards, 5 TDs, 19. 5 avg.) and Chris Boyd (6 ft., 4 in. freshman; 404 yards, 7 TDs) are the predominant passing threats.
The Vanderbilt defense has arguably been the bright spot and biggest contribution to the team’s resurgence. Ranked 19th overall, Vandy has allowed an average of 325 yards per game. It surrendered 30 or more points only twice this season, to Alabama (34) and Arkansas (31).
The Commodores are 2-1-1 in bowl games overall but have not played in the post season since defeating Boston College 16-14 in the 2008 Music City Bowl.
Vanderbilt leads the all-time series against Cincinnati 4-3, although the teams have not faced each other in 17 years. They had two opponents in common this season: Connecticut, whom they both defeated at home, and Tennessee, to whom they both fell on the road.
Pete: On paper, Cincinnati has the better team. Vandy played very well to close the season however, giving up just 15 points in its last three games. Cincinnati on the other hand limped through the end of its season, losing its grasp on the overall conference championship and a BCS bowl appearance. Collaros may provide a lift, but I predict a win for the upstart Commodores in a low scoring game.
Vanderbilt 24, Cincinnati 20
Jay: This is an extremely good Vanderbilt team, and they clearly got better as the year progressed. Following back-to-back lopsided losses to South Carolina and Alabama early in the season, the Commodores never lost another game by more than a touchdown and nearly engineered upsets of Georgia and Arkansas. If Munchie Legaux has to carry the load for Cincinnati, I actually like Vandy by a reasonable margin. If Zach Collaros plays, the game gets closer, but I still like the salty Commodore defense to make enough plays to be the difference.
Vanderbilt 24, Cincinnati 20
Kevin: I just have this weird feeling that Vandy is going to find a way to win this game. I don't know why and I don't know how but I have a feeling that it involves Jordan Rodgers.
Vanderbilt 30 Cincinnati 17
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