Cincinnati has something Vanderbilt wants — a bowl track record.
The two meet on Saturday (2:30 p.m., ABC) in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis and going bowling is nothing new for the Bearcats (9-3). This marks Cincinnati’s fifth bowl in six years. Vanderbilt has been to just five bowl games — ever.
“I think the biggest thing is we are playing a team and a group of guys that are used to winning. They have been to multiple bowl games in their career,” Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. “They have been to [five] bowl games in the last six years. We have been to four bowl games in 121 years. There is a big difference in that area.”
On the other hand, Vanderbilt linebacker Chris Marve, a Memphis native, is looking at Cincinnati’s recent success and Vanderbilt’s struggles over the last two years in a different light.
“Past success has nothing to do with future success,” he said. “We’ve worked entirely too hard to let our past or anyone else’s past control our future.”
Cincinnati hasn’t won a bowl game since the 2007 season, dropping back-to-back BCS contests in 2008-09. The Bearcats began this season on a tear, jumping out to a 7-1 record before back-to-back losses to West Virginia and Rutgers. They rebounded with consecutive wins over Syracuse and Connecticut to end the season and won a share of the Big East regular-season championship.
They have done it with a balanced offense and aggressive defense.
Senior running back Isaiah Pead rushed for 1,110 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also caught 36 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns — one of four players with more than 35 receptions.
On the other side, Cincinnati does a good job of forcing opponents into mistakes. The Bearcats lead the Big East and rank 12th in the nation in turnover margin (+11). Their 43 sacks are tied for the most in the nation with Texas A&M and Oregon.
“We have to find a way to swing things that they have the statistical advantage in,” Franklin said. “That is turnovers, which is very, very important, and penalties. They are a very well-coached, sound football team and that is what we have to do. It is going to be a tough, hard-nosed football game.”
A win would just add to the momentum Vanderbilt (6-6) is riding into the offseason after a breakthrough under Franklin. A loss, on the other hand, would give the Commodores’ their 29th losing season in the last 30 years.
Vanderbilt's last bowl appearance was in 2008, and it never has won two straight bowls.
“This is a business trip for us,” Franklin said.
• Collaros to start: Cincinnati coach Butch Jones announced on Thursday that Zach Collaros will start at quarterback. Collaros, a senior, broke his right ankle more than six weeks ago but began practicing again last week. This past week, though, the flu seemed to bother Collaros more than his ankle.
“I want Zach’s doctor,” Vanderbilt defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said. “I watched that play [against West Virginia] on film, for him to come back from that ... that is a tremendous credit to him and the type of person and student-athlete he is.”
Before the injury, he threw for 1,860 yards, 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions with a 63.4 completion percentage.
“Coming off a broken ankle I’m sure he is not as mobile as he would be beforehand,” defensive tackle Rob Lohr said. “But we are not going to wait to see. We’re going to get after him right away.”
• Tickets: Vanderbilt has exhausted its allotment of tickets and school officials are encouraging fans still wanting to purchase tickets to go through the Liberty Bowl’s ticket office.
Tickets are $50 and may be purchased by calling 901-795-7700 or online at tickemaster.com. The Liberty Bowl ticket office will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday. On Saturday it opens at 10 a.m.