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2011 Liberty Bowl Recap

Cincinnati Bearcats vs Vanderbilt Commodores

The Cincinnati Bearcats were on track to play in the Orange Bowl. Then, an unfortunate event took them off course and landed them in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tennessee. As one of the nation’s older and more enduring non-January bowls arrives on the schedule, the main question on the table is really rather simple: Will the Bearcats find the fire and the solutions needed to outflank the Vanderbilt Commodores?

It’s pretty easy to arrive at the conclusion that Vanderbilt will come prepared for this game. First-year coach James Franklin has engineered a marvelous and abrupt transformation of the VU program, lifting the moribund program from a 2-10 season in 2010 to a 6-6 mark in 2011. Franklin’s combination of recruiting ability, coaching acumen, and relentlessly positive energy has made Vanderbilt players feel differently about themselves. A program that would so regularly crumble in the face of adversity has changed its tune this season. Vanderbilt showed a distinctly different tendency over the past three months, rebounding from a number of stomach-punch losses to gain the school’s second bowl berth in four years and the fifth bowl berth in the program’s history. Vanderbilt’s three previous bowl bids arrived in 1955, 1974 and 1982, meaning that success has been a very rare visitor to the Nashville institution. When VU’s 2008 Music City Bowl bid was not backed up by successful seasons in 2009 and 2010, the school’s administration knew it had to shake things up. Franklin has proved to be a brilliant selection, and with a bowl bid in tow, the Commodores figure to fly with intensity throughout this contest.

All the questions reside with the sons of Cincinnati.

Starting quarterback Zach Collaros – a player who was recruited by former UC coach Brian Kelly – was in the process of leading the Bearcats to the Big East championship this season. Cincinnati owned a 7-1 record and an unblemished conference mark heading into a Nov. 12 game against preseason favorite West Virginia. In that game against the Mountaineers, however, Collaros got knocked out for the season with an injury, and sure enough, the Bearcats weren’t able to overcome that awful event. Cincinnati lost by three points to West Virginia when a last-second field goal was blocked. One week later, the Cats got clawed apart by Rutgers. Those two losses were enough to push Cincy out of the Big East winner’s circle. Despite two impressive wins over Syracuse and Connecticut to close the regular season, West Virginia was able to get into a three-way tie and advance to the Orange Bowl due to a tiebreaker settled by the BCS standings. New quarterback Munchie Legaux has filled in admirably for Collaros as the backup, but the Bearcats are still aware of the fact that they’ve been dealt a bad hand by the fates. Coach Butch Jones has done a superb job after a horrible debut season in Southwestern Ohio in 2010, but his first-rate work should have translated into an Orange Bowl ticket. Instead, Cincinnati must settle for this lower-tier bowl against a 6-6 opponent.

Will Cincinnati embrace this occasion? Will the Bearcats use a month off to lament what might have been, or will they focus on their foe with every intent on creating a launching pad for a breakout 2012 campaign? The answers to these questions will determine how this meeting in Memphis is decided.

By: Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

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