James Franklin has Vanderbilt in a bowl game in his first season as coach, and the Commodores (6-6) face co-Big East champion Cincinnati (9-3) on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis. Here’s a quick preview:
WHO TO WATCH: Vanderbilt junior quarterback Jordan Rodgers. The catalyst in Vanderbilt’s offensive turnaround this season, Rodgers entered the starting lineup in the seventh game against Army, and the Commodores averaged 32.2 points over their last six contests. Rodgers, the younger brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, is a threat both passing and running. He also helped the Commodores generate more big plays in their offense. He passed for nine touchdowns and ran for four more during his six starts and developed a nice chemistry with sophomore receiver Jordan Matthews, who emerged as the Commodores' deep threat and averaged 19.5 yards per catch.
WHAT TO WATCH: Vanderbilt’s pass rush. The Commodores didn’t have a lot of big names in their defensive line entering the season, but they played big and finished fifth in the SEC with 24 sacks. Senior defensive end Tim Fugger led the way with 6.5 sacks, and getting pressure on the quarterback will be critical for the Commodores in this game. Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros is scheduled to return after breaking his ankle back in November, and Vanderbilt needs to set the tone early and keep him guessing. When Collaros is healthy, he’s also a threat to take off and run. He had eight rushing touchdowns this season.
WHY TO WATCH: The Commodores are trying to make history. It’s already the first time in school history that a senior class has gone to two bowl games. But a win would mark only the third bowl victory in Vanderbilt history and give Franklin a winning season in his first year on the job. Cincinnati is trying to keep from losing its third straight bowl game.
PREDICTION: Vanderbilt 28, Cincinnati 24. The Commodores have made enough offensive improvement to score with the Bearcats if this game turns into a shootout early and are capable of hitting big plays for touchdowns. But it's on defense where the Commodores will win it with their propensity to take the ball away and make key stops.