Liberty Bowl 2011, Cincinnati Vs. Vanderbilt: Two Surprise Squads Have At It

The Cincinnati Bearcats of the Big East Conference and the Vanderbilt Commodores of the SEC will celebrate New Year's Eve in Memphis by butting heads in the Liberty Bowl.

Cincinnati closed the regular season with back-to-back victories to finish at 9-3 and clinch a share of the Big East Conference title. Unfortunately for second-year head coach Butch Jones and company, tie-breakers prevented the Bearcats from representing the league in a BCS bowl game. Still, Jones was named Big East Coach of the Year and has orchestrated an impressive turnaround, as the program managed only four wins in his first season at the helm. This contest marks the 13th all-time bowl appearance for Cincinnati, which has won six of its previous 12 postseason tilts.

Vanderbilt is under the guidance of first-year head coach James Franklin, and the fact that he has led the group to six victories after it managed only two last season is a tremendous accomplishment. He was recently rewarded with a new contract that both increased his salary and extended his tenure. Vandy has made only four previous bowl appearances, so this season's success is certainly noteworthy. The Commodores' most recent postseason contest was the 2008 Music City Bowl, and that tilt resulted in a victory.

The key to Cincinnati's nine-win campaign has been the play of the defense, which leads the nation in sacks per game (3.6) and TFL per contest (8.9). The Bearcats rank sixth nationally against the run, yielding a mere 93.7 ypg. Widely regarded as the best player on the defensive side of the ball for UC, senior defensive tackle Derek Wolfe was recently named the Big East Defensive Player of the Year and a Second-Team All-American. Wolfe leads the conference with 19.5 TFL, including 9.5 sacks. The Bearcats are yielding 20.0 ppg and have come up with 30 takeaways.

Challenging Wolfe and the defense will be a Vanderbilt squad that is scoring 26.9 ppg while racking up 342.8 total ypg. Of the 38 offensive touchdowns the Commodores have notched, 24 of those have been of the rushing variety, and Zac Stacy has scored 13 times on the ground to go along with his 1,136 rushing yards. Jordan Rodgers, the team's QB, is the brother of NFL superstar Aaron Rodgers. The younger signal caller has completed just 51.5 percent of his passes this season for 1,498 yards with nine TDs and nine INTs, but he does pose a threat as a runner (387 yds, four TDs). When Rodgers drops back to pass, he is usually looking for either Jordan Matthews or Chris Boyd. Matthews has racked up 722 yards and five TDs on just 37 catches, while Boyd has 404 yards and seven scores on 29 grabs.

This game marks the eighth meeting between Cincinnati and Vanderbilt on the gridiron, and it is the first since 1994. The Commodores own a narrow 4-3 series advantage, and they have won each of the last three encounters.

Visit the official Liberty Bowl site here. For more on the Liberty Bowl, visit Cincinnati blog Down the Drive and Vanderbilt blog Anchor of Gold.

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