Though Cincinnati, Ohio, and Nashville, Tenn., are not that far apart, it has been nearly 20 years since Cincinnati and Vanderbilt met on the football field, and it takes a neutral-field bowl game to renew acquaintances. In Memphis in Vandy’s home state the AutoZone Liberty Bowl will pit the Bearcats, co-champion of the Big East, against the Commodores of the SEC.
These two haven’t played since 1994, a 34-24 Vanderbilt win. The Bearcats last won back in 1976, a 33-7 win on their home field.
The latest Liberty Bowl odds list Vandy as 3-point favorites and show a total posted at 48 points.
Cincinnati finished as co-Big East champs with two other teams, finishing 5-2 in conference play. The Bearcats had a six-game winning streak at one point in the season and were 4-2 on the road this year.
The Bearcats rank a solid 20th nationally in scoring defense (20 points per game) and surrenders 370 yards of offense per game (270 passing, 100 rushing) while compiling 38 sacks and forcing 27 turnovers four of which have been returned for touchdowns (J.K. Schaffer and Maalik Bomar, fumbles; Camerron Cheatham and Dominique Battle, interceptions).
Schaffer leads the unit with 94 tackles (31 more than anyone else), adding 3.5 sacks, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and two recoveries, while Derek Wolfe has seven sacks, 54 tackles, two forced fumbles and two recoveries. Walter Steward has three forced fumbles and Deven Drane has three interceptions.
Cincinnati enters the game ranked 28th in the country in scoring offense (33 ppg) while racking up 393 yards per game (218 passing, 175 rushing). Zach Collaros completes 63 percent of his passes for 1.860 yards and 14 touchdowns with eight interceptions. The offensive line has allowed 16 sacks.
Kenbrell Thompkins and Anthony McClung pace the receiving corps with 84 combined catches for 1,069 yards and five TDs, while Isaiah Pead anchors the running game with 1,042 yards and 11 touchdowns on 5.6 yards per carry.
The Commodores opened the season 3-0 but then went through a 1-5 stretch before winning of their final three games to become bowl-eligible despite finishing fourth in the SEC East (2-6). Four of their losses came against teams currently in the top-25, and four were decided by four points or fewer or in overtime. The team closed with a 41-7 win at Wake Forest to post a 1-4 record away from home but the team was 5-3 in the state of Tennessee.
Vandy ranks 27th nationally in scoring defense (21 ppg) and allows 325 yards per game (202 passing, 123 rushing) while recording 24 sacks and forcing 27 turnovers four of which were returned for TDs (Trey Wilson, Casey Hayward and Archibald Barnes, four interceptions).
Chris Marve leads the way with 84 tackles (26 more than anyone else) with a sack, a forced fumble and an interception, while Tim Fugger leads the team with 6.5 sacks and three forced fumbles to go with 29 tackles. Hayward has five interceptions and Barnes has three forced fumbles.
On offense, Vandy ranks 61st nationally in points scored (27 ppg) while recording 343 yards per game (175 passing, 168 rushing). Zac Stacy anchors the running game with 1,136 yards and 13 TDs on 6.2 yards per carry.
Jordan Rodgers completes 51 percent of his passes for 1,498 yards and nine TDs with nine INTs. The offensive line has allowed 26 sacks. Jordan Matthews is the top receiver with 37 receptions for 722 yards and five TDs, while Chris Boyd has 29 catches for 4-4 yards and seven scores.