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Liberty Bowl

Cinncinnati vs. Vanderbilt

12/31/11

The Cincinnati Bearcats seemed to have a vice grip on the Big East conference and its automatic BCS conference bid. Then, starting QB Zach Collaros went down with an ankle injury. They went 2-2 without him and ended the year 9-3. They will not play in the Orange Bowl as Big East co-champs, but instead the Liberty Bowl. The bright side is that Zach Collaros is back from surgery and very likely to start this game.

The foe for the Bearcats will be Vanderbilt, who went 6-6 and will play in their home state of Tennessee. The Commodores experienced back to back 2-10 seasons before this year’s surge under first year coach James Franklin. This will be their fifth bowl game in school history and they are a 1.5 point favorite at 5 Dimes to grab the victory in front of what figures to be a friendly crowd.

The difference in the Butch Jones Bearcats versus the Brian Kelly Bearcats is that this team plays defense. They rank 20th in the nation in Points Against at 20 PPG. Watch out for lineman Derek Wolfe and linebacker J.K. Schaefer. The latter leads the team in tackles and the former is a sack machine.

They haven’t sacrificed offensive firepower though. They are still 26 in Points For at 33.5 PPG. Senior RB Isaiah Pead is a finesse runner that knows how to find a hole. He rushed for 1,110 yards and reached the end zone 11 times this year.

Vanderbilt is a team that is much better than their record shows. Let’s consider that of their six losses, four of them were to Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and South Carolina. All of those teams would be double digit favorites against Cincinnati. They played Arkansas close, but lack a truly signature win. Their best victory was against 6-6 Wake Forest who really struggled in the latter half of the season.

Junior RB Zac Stacy is the man for this Commodores offense. He rushed for 1,136 yards and 13 TDs this year. His best game was 184 yard and 3 TDs appearance against Wake Forest to end the season. QB Jordan Rodgers, little brother of the NFL’s Aaron Rodgers, is a versatile type of QB. He can throw well and hurt you with his legs too.

This should be an entertaining game. For us, the outcome hinges on the play of Collaros. Can he come and and pick up where he left off? Or will he be rusty and timid as a result of the injury? We won't know until he actually plays the game, but we like the Bearcats with a healthy Collaros to go along with a defense with a very good yards per point number of 18 and a team that was +11 in turnover margin. Cincinnati +1.5

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