AutoZone Liberty Bowl
Vanderbilt Commodores vs. Cincinnati Bearcats
December 31, 3:30 p.m. EST
Liberty Bowl (Memphis, TN)
Line: Vanderbilt -1 ½
It’ll be a story of redemption in Memphis on New Year’s Eve, as two programs that were left for dead in August have been reborn, and will look to conclude their 2011 seasons with a win in this year’s AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
For Vanderbilt, James Franklin exceeded any tangible expectations in year one at the school, taking the Commodores to a 6-6 mark, that included a handful of near-upsets dotted across the SEC schedule. And in Cincinnati, Butch Jones proved that given time, he too could put his mark on this program. Had it not been for an injury to quarterback Zach Collaros midseason, the Bearcats very well might have been the Big East’s champions.
In a college football season marred by so much controversy, these were two of the better on-the-field stories in 2011.
Making This All Possible:
AutoZone is a retailer of aftermarket auto parts and supplies, with corporate headquarters in Memphis. According to our trusted friends at Wikipedia, AutoZone made over $7 billion in revenue in 2010, meaning that in a down economy, the secondary car parts market is apparently where all the jobs are.
Other than that, I really can’t tell you all that much about the company. Well, other than that cheesy “Get in the zone…AutoZone!” commercial really annoys the hell out of me, of course.
Getting To Know: Vanderbilt
Simply put, to call what James Franklin did in year one in Nashville a “revival” would factually incorrect, since there really was nothing to revive. Under his watch, a dead program has taken on new life, and at 6-6 will play in just their second bowl game since 1982.
On the field, maybe the most impress part of Vanderbilt’s turnaround was their mental toughness. Despite being physically outmatched by some opponents, mentally, the team played with the confidence that they could play with anyone. In the span of six weeks, the Commodores nearly upset the following teams: Georgia, Florida, Arkansas and Tennessee, losing by less than a touchdown to each, and in overtime to the Vols.
Getting To Know: Cincinnati
And not far behind the Commodores were the Bearcats, who went from 4-8 to 9-3 in Butch Jones’ second year on campus. Cincinnati is led by studs on both sides of the ball, including the Big East’s Offensive Player of the Year in running back Isaiah Pead (1,110 yards rushing, 11 touchdowns) and the league’s Defensive Player of the Year too, tackle Derek Wolfe.
Really though, the story of this game for the Bearcats is quarterback Zach Collaros. Lost to an ankle injury earlier this year, Collaros will play for the first time since midway through Cincinnati's season. The Bearcats were 7-1 in games which Collaros started and completed.
You Should Know:
Fans (and non-fans) headed to Memphis for the game are in for a surprise treat courtesy of the Memphis Zoo. From December 28 through December 30, anyone wearing either Cincinnati or Vanderbilt gear will get into the zoo for half-price.
It’s something to consider, especially if you’re traveling with young ones.
If You’re Going:
Beyond just zoo discounts, there are other perks to visiting a bowl game in Memphis: Mainly, the food. Memphis barbeque is one of a kind, and if you’re new to the area, “Tops” is a local chain that can be found all over the city.
For other dining options, go ahead use this link, courtesy of Travel and Leisure.
If You’re Watching At Home:
While a shot of whiskey might not be the smartest decision for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff, you could get into a Tennessee “state of mind” by swigging down some Jack Daniels. The distillery is located in Tennessee, although no particularly close to Memphis. If you plan on visiting, make sure to bring a designated driver; it’s almost five hours from Memphis’ borders.
Interestingly, the city of Lynchburg- which is home to the distillery- is actually in Moore County, which is a dry county. As in, no alcohol is served or sold there.
(And yes, if you want to throw around that fun fact at your New Year’s Eve party, feel free to share it with friends. Just go ahead and give a little shout out to CBR, ok?)
The most fascinating thing about bowl games, is trying to gauge the temperature and interest of the teams playing, with no better example coming in last year’s Liberty Bowl. Georgia entered the game with a 6-6 record from the mighty SEC, and acted as though their matchup with Central Florida was “beneath” them. Because of it, the ‘Dawgs came out flat, never recovered, and ended up losing 10-6. In a nutshell, that is the quandary of bowl season. You just never know which teams will show up, and with what state of mind.
Luckily, excitement and energy shouldn’t be an issue with this one. Cincinnati is back in the postseason after missing a bowl all together last year, and Vanderbilt hasn’t played in one since 2008.
As for the pick, well, we’ll take Vandy. As mentioned before, the Commodores played an awful lot of teams tough all season, and this truly would be a nice cap to year one of the James Franklin era in Nashville.
The sky is the limit for this program, and its coach. And it’ll start on New Year’s Eve in Memphis.
Vanderbilt 24, Cincinnati 21