Zach Collaros might be ready for bowl

CINCINNATI -- Bearcats quarterback Zach Collaros is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a broken right ankle, leaving Cincinnati hopeful that he could play in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Coach Butch Jones said Tuesday that Collaros might be able to resume practicing on a limited basis next week. The senior broke his ankle during a loss to West Virginia on Nov. 12 and had a plate and two screws inserted.

He's off crutches and able to put weight on the ankle, leaving the Bearcats (9-3) encouraged.

"That is still a possibility that he'll play in the bowl game," Jones said. "He's taken tremendous strides in the rehabilitation effort. He's about two weeks ahead of schedule. He's walking already. We're hoping that by as soon as next week he may be able to start throwing and doing his drops (to pass) and participating in practice.

"It's an ongoing process. A lot of it is outside our control. It's just how the body heals. But there is a tremendous opportunity right now that he may be able to participate in the Liberty Bowl."

The Bearcats won a share of the Big East title behind sophomore quarterback Munchie Legaux. They play Vanderbilt in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31.

Since the injury, Collaros has been getting treatment and attending practice, helping Legaux prepare for the last three games as the starter. Legaux, who had never started a game in college, has improved a little each week.

Jones said Collaros' closeness with the quarterbacks has kept him abreast of what's happening with the offense. The challenge will be getting him sharp enough to play after missing so much time physically.

There's also a question of how well he'll be able to move around. Collaros is a dual threat to pass or run.

"He's helped coach (the other quarterbacks), so that part of it, he's sharp," Jones said. "Obviously there's the physical part. So much of his game is based on extending plays with his legs. The great thing is he's walking, he's off the crutches.

"So we're very, very encouraged at this time."

The Bearcats finished in a three-way tie with West Virginia and Louisville for the Big East title. The Mountaineers won the BCS bid based on a tiebreaker.

The players are off this week for final exams. They'll resume practice on Saturday.

The school has been urging fans to buy its allotment of 12,000 tickets for the game. Attendance for regular-season games has been an issue for years, although the school has been able to sell tickets for its recent appearances in the Orange Bowl and the Sugar Bowl.

Only 27,930 fans showed up at 35,000-seat Nippert Stadium on a dry afternoon Saturday to watch the Bearcats honor their 21 seniors, then clinch a share of the title by beating Connecticut. The school sold tickets at a reduced price of $20, hoping to pack the Big East's smallest stadium, but there were 7,000 empty seats.

After the game, Jones said there was "no excuse" for the poor turnout. He urged fans on Tuesday to support the team's bowl trip.

"I've said it: This city needs to embrace this football team," Jones said. "It's everything our football team embodies that the city is built upon -- blue-collar, hard-working individuals that can suffer through adversity, the core value of family. That's what Cincinnati is all about, and that's what this football program is all about.

"There's no reason why we should not sell out our 12,000 allotment of tickets."