AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Cincinnati vs. Vanderbilt
Saturday, December 31 • 3:30 p.m.
Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium • Memphis, Tenn.
Line: Vanderbilt -2
How Cincinnati got here
In Butch Jones's second year at Cincinnati, the Bearcats (9-3, 5-2) finished in a three-way tie atop the Big East standings, but landed at the Liberty Bowl because of tiebreakers that gave West Virginia the BCS bowl berth. Cincinnati lost to West Virginia, 24-21 on Nov. 12, but still could have claimed the conference crown by winning out. An inexplicable 20-3 loss to Rutgers followed the next week before the Bearcats rebounded to win their final two. The feeling of disappointment can only be consoled by the fact that last year, Cincinnati finished 4-8 and missed out on a bowl of any kind. The Liberty Bowl gives Jones's group a second chance to land the Big East a bit of much-needed credibility against a lower-tier SEC foe. The Bearcats lost by 22 to Tennessee (1-7 in the SEC) in their second game of the year. Cincinnati boasts the Big East offensive (Isaiah Pead) and defensive (Derek Wolfe) players of the year. Pead rushed for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns, becoming especially important when quarterback Zach Collaros went down with an injury late in the year. At defensive tackle, Wolfe keyed a defense that led the nation in sacks per game (3.6) and ranked sixth nationally against the run, giving up only 93.7 yards per game. Cincinnati is making its 13th bowl appearance.
How Vanderbilt got here
It's only taken James Franklin one year to change the culture surrounding Vanderbilt football. Coming off two consecutive 2-10 campaigns, Franklin has the Commodores, sitting at 6-6, on the verge of only their third winning season in the last 30 years (1982 and 2008). His antics have included visiting every sorority and fraternity house on campus multiple times to drum up interest in the program. He recently called into a Memphis radio station to get the hosts talking about Vanderbilt football instead of Memphis University. He cried in front of his team in the locker room before Vanderbilt played a game. Realistically, the 'Dores should have already clinched a winning record. A missed chip shot field goal kept Vanderbilt from forcing overtime against Arkansas. Losses to Florida and Georgia came by a combined 10 points. Then there was the OT loss to Tennessee. Vanderbilt is led by quarterback Jordan Rodgers (Aaron's kid brother), who has shown flashes of brilliance and consistent mobility in the pocket since taking over the starting job midway through the Alabama game on Oct. 8. Vanderbilt is playing in just its fifth bowl game in the program's 121 year history.
Cincinnati: George Clooney (Made his first on-air appearance at age 7, on his father's morning television show), William Taft (27th president of the United States. Once got stuck in a bath tub), Sandy Koufax (One of the greatest lefties to ever toss a baseball).
Vanderbilt: Al Gore (Decided to go green after an unsuccessful run at the presidency), Ann S. Moore (Became Time, Inc.'s first female CEO in 2002), Bill Boner (Former mayor of Nashville, was once lauded publicly by his fiancé for his 7-hour performance, and was this reporter's high school government teacher).
Advantage: Cincinnati. Taft may have not been the greatest president ever, but he has to have a better political reputation than the Vandy grads.
Bearcat vs. Commodore: The word bearcat first appeared in print in 1889, as a synonym for a giant panda. To this day, there is still no definitive example as to what a Bearcat actually is. A Commodore is a naval rank between captain and rear admiral. In Vanderbilt's case, it was just a nickname given to Cornelius Vanderbilt, after whom the university is named.
Advantage: Bearcat. Both mascots are somewhat misleading, but at least a Bearcat sounds like it would be ferocious.
What's in a name?
Based out of Memphis, AutoZone opened its first store in 1979 and has since grown into the nation's leading auto parts company. In 2007, the company's 4,000th store was launched.
Vanderbilt 20, Cincinnati 17: Once again, the SEC's bottom feeders will prove to be better than the Big East's elite. James Frankin has the Commodores on the rise, while Cincinnati is disheartened after missing out on the payday of a BCS bowl.