On New Year’s Eve, the Vanderbilt Commodores will face off with the Cincinnati Bearcats in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
This season, Cincinnati won a share of the Big East title, while Vanderbilt held firm in the middle of the pack in the dominant SEC.
Both teams are improved this season and looking to finish the year on a high note.
Read on to find out more information about this bowl game.
Where: AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Memphis, TN
When: Saturday, December 31 at 3:30 p.m. EDT
Listen: WRQQ 97.1 FM - Vanderbilt; WLW 700 AM - Cincinnati
Betting Line: No line has been set for this game at this time.
Vanderbilt’s first-year head coach, James Franklin, has revitalized the Commodores. Coming off two straight 2-10 seasons, the offense is vastly improved and has led the team to a 6-6 finish.
This will be Vanderbilt's first bowl appearance in four years.
Second-year Cincinnati coach Butch Davis has finally gotten the team to buy into his style of coaching. After a miserable 4-8 campaign last year, the Bearcats have rebounded to win a share of its third Big East championship in four seasons.
Losing quarterback Zach Collaros to a broken ankle was a blow to the team, but he may return for the bowl game.
Who Might Not Play for Vanderbilt
LB Tristan Strong—Out (knee): Strong, a redshirt junior, hurt his knee in the Commodores’ game against South Carolina on Sept. 24 and was declared out for the season.
Who Might Not Play for Cincinnati
QB Zach Collaros—Questionable (ankle): Cincinnati’s starting quarterback broke his ankle Nov. 12 against West Virginia and missed the rest of the season. Coaches say he is recovering well and are optimistic Collaros could return for the bowl game.
CB Dominique Battle—Out (knee): Battle tore his ACL in October and was declared out for the year for the second straight season.
What It Means for Vanderbilt
Before the season started, Vanderbilt was widely thought to be one of the worst teams in the SEC. However, they surprised everyone by going 6-6. The team showed renewed life under coach James Franklin and quarterback Jordan Rogers.
The Commodores want to keep the momentum of their strong season going. Vanderbilt is in a bowl game for just the fifth time in school history. A win would cap off the team’s turnaround.
James Franklin has already taken the program to new heights, winning three SEC games in his first season.
A win over one of the top teams in the Big East, regardless of the conference’s shortcomings, would be a major boost for a team who is still looking to prove they belong among college football's better teams.
What It Means for Cincinnati
The Bearcats were eying their third BCS invite, but after Collaros’ injury, they were forced to settle for a lower-tier bowl.
Munchie Legaux replaced Collaros at quarterback and, after a rough start, led Cincinnati to two straight wins. As Collaros is a senior, next year will be Legaux’s time. He would like to prepare for a starting role by winning a bowl game.
The good news is that Cincinnati is vastly improved from a disappointing 4-8 campaign last season. When Cincinnati’s players finally understood what coach Butch Davis was looking for, they were able to play a tough, physical game and return to bowl eligibility.
What They’re Saying
Vanderbilt’s players are relishing their first trip to a bowl game in four years, but they will not settle. Safety Sean Richardson summed up the attitude of his team:
This is awesome, this is great. It’s definitely a business trip. It’s a bowl game and we’re going to have fun. But we’re preparing to win.
Butch Jones is not ruling out the possibility Collaros will play in the Liberty Bowl.
That is still a possibility that he'll play in the bowl game. He's taken tremendous strides in the rehabilitation effort. He's about two weeks ahead of schedule. He's walking already. We're hoping that by as soon as next week he may be able to start throwing and doing his drops (to pass) and participating in practice.
Vanderbilt Player to Watch: Zac Stacy
Stacy is Vanderbilt’s first player in 16 years to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season.
He didn’t stop there, however, also setting Vanderbilt’s single-season rushing record, as he has rushed for 1,136 yards on the year.
Stacy will look to get the offense going and open up the passing game for Jordan Rogers.
Cincinnati Player to Watch: Quarterback
If Zach Collaros is able to recover from his ankle injury enough to play, he could spark the Bearcats to victory.
On the other hand, Munchie Legaux is a very talented player who feels he has something to prove with all the talk surrounding Collaros’ return.
No matter which player Cincinnati starts at quarterback, it will be a major factor on whether the Bearcats will be able to end their season on a high note.
Key Matchup: Cincinnati Rush Defense vs. Vanderbilt Rush Offense
The Bearcats are second in the nation in rush defense, allowing just under 90 yards per game. Vanderbilt relies heavily on the run as both Zac Stacy and Jordan Rogers are capable of breaking off big plays.
Vanderbilt 28, Cincinnati 24