The 2011 Liberty Bowl we will see the Big East versus an SEC team for the first time in the storied bowl history. It will put the Co-Big East Conference Champions the Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3) versus the Vanderbilt Commodores (6-6) of the SEC. The game will take place on December 31, 2011 in Memphis, Tennessee at 3:30 PM on ABC. This edition of the Liberty Bowl matches two up and coming head coaches James Franklin in his first year at Vanderbilt and Butch Jones in his second at Cincinnati.
James Franklin has made a lot of noise in his first year at Vanderbilt. He led the Commodores to a 6-6 record and is currently recruiting the best class that the university has ever seen in football. Franklin’s Dores’ come in to the game off a huge win over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons 41-7. They are also on a bowl winning streak of sorts winning their last bowl game in 2008 versus Boston College in the Music City Bowl. This game will be a huge mark in Commodores history if they can achieve a victory for a program that does not have much storied football success. It would be their third bowl win in school history, as a program that currently sits 2-1-1 in their bowl history.
Vanderbilt is led by junior running back Zac Stacey. Stacey had a sensational season breaking the Dores’ single-season rushing record with 1,136 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. That placed the junior second in the SEC for touchdowns, and third for rushing yards. Vanderbilt’s defense also brings the heat, and this talented bunch finished 19th in total defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The defensive group is led by some ball hawks in the secondary and at linebacker. The senior cornerback Casey Howard led the team with five interceptions, next was Trey Wilson the junior safety had three interceptions, and was followed by his teammate Archibald Barnes the junior linebacker who had two on the year. The team had a total of seventeen interceptions on the year and finished 12th in the country, and will propose a big threat to whoever starts at quarterback for Cincinnati.
The Cincinnati Bearcats and Butch Jones in his second season finished as Co-Big East Champions with a 9-3 record. Jones in his previous year struggled and led the team to only a 4-8 record. The Bearcats season looked to be a disaster waiting to happen when quarterback Zach Collaros went down midseason with a broken ankle. However, Jones and his team rallied around the sophomore Munchie Legaux who finished the season leading the Bearcats to hold a share of the Big East title.
The Bearcats bring to the game one of the best running backs in the country Isaiah Pead. Pead finished the year with 1,110 rushing yards and eleven touchdowns on 209 attempts. That placed Pead second in the Big East in rushing yards, and first in rushing touchdowns. Pead also is a threat in the passing for the Bearcats with 304 receiving yards and three touchdowns on the year. The defense for the Bearcats is also much improved from last season, and that is led upfront by senior defensive tackle Derek Wolfe. Wolfe led the team with 19 ½ tackles for a loss, and 9 ½ sacks for the year. That places him seventh nationally with tackles for a loss, and twelfth in the nation with 9 ½ sacks. The only question for the Bearcats going into this game is who will start at quarterback, Zach Collaros off a broken ankle or Munchie Legaux coming off of his best game yet where he led the Bearcats to a season ending win over Connecticut.
At the end of the day SECJams will go with what we know, and Vanderbilt is better running the ball and defensively than the Bearcats. We pick the Commodores to run away with this one in front of a hometown crowd in Memphis 35-14.