by CFP Staff
December 31, 2011
Cincinnati won the Liberty Bowl on New Year's Eve day 31-24 on the strength of Ralph Abernathy IV's 90-yard kickoff return after Vanderbilt had just taken a 21-17 lead in the 4th quarter.
The victory topped-off a 10-3 season for a 6-win improvement over last year's inaugural campaign under head coach Butch Jones. It's Cincinnati's fourth 10-win season in the last five years and the Bearcats have either won or tied for the Big East title in three of the last four years.
Vanderbilt went 6-7 in the inaugural year under head coach Ron Franklin. Though the Commodores were unable to secure what would have been just their second winning since 1982, they still finished with their second-highest win total of the last 29 years.
Vanderbilt had a fleeting shot at pulling out a "W" at the end, but could not recover an onisde kick after making 35-yard field goal to pull within 7 points with 35 seconds left.
Vanderbilt QB Jordan Rodgers, younger brother of the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rdogers, was subbed out after throwing an interception early in the 2nd half. Rodgers was just 4-of-14 for 26 yards, along with 33 yards rushing. Larry Smith only completed 8-of-19 passes for 142 yards with a TD and a pick. His interception thrown with 3:15 left in the game set up a 12-yard touchdown run by Isaiah Pead that gave Cincinnati a 31-21 lead.
Cincinnati QB Zach Collaros returned from a broken ankle he suffered in the November 12 loss at West Virginia. The rust showed as he went 12-of-29 for only 80 yards with 1 touchdown pass but 2 interceptions.
Both teams outperformed most expectations this season. It was the first bowl for the Commodores since their triumphant 2008 appearance in the Music City Bowl that delivered their first bowl victory in 53 years.
Neither team had ever played in the Liberty Bowl and both brought relatively light bowl resumes to Memphis. Vanderbilt was making just its 5th bowl appearance in history. Cincinnati was only making its 12th postseason trip, but its 10th since 1997.
The teams have split 8 face-to-face meetings.
62.5% of CollegeFootballPoll.com voters picked Cincinnati to win and the Congrove Computer Rankings at CollegeFootballPoll.com projected the Bearcats to win by 3.92 points.