Liberty Bowl Preview: Vanderbilt, Cincinnati and the Art of Comparison

There's been a bit more celebrating in Nashville this year. Will it continue on Saturday?

AutoZone Liberty Bowl, December 31, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

The reality of coaching Vanderbilt was supposed to set in for James Franklin when he lost games at South Carolina and at Alabama by a combined score of 55-3. While the South Carolina game was more competitive than the 21-3 score suggested, it was still an example of a team with superior athletes being able to defeat Vanderbilt on talent alone. And the Alabama game was more of the same old Vanderbilt; outgained 419-190, the Commodores were never really in the game.

But something happened after those two waxings. Vanderbilt would never lose a game by more than a single score for the rest of the season, and while the 3-4 record was nothing to boast about, it was still enough to get Vanderbilt into the postseason in Franklin's inaugural season on the sidelines. Franklin is the first head coach to lead Vanderbilt to a bowl game in his first year.

Cincinnati, meanwhile, is no slouch. Most SEC fans probably ignored the Bearcats after Tennessee dropped a truck on them early in the season, then folded under the weight of injuries and a lack of depth. But Cincinnati rebounded nicely from that loss, won its next six and eight of its last 10 to put together a nine-win season. Sure, it's the Big East, but a narrow loss to West Virginia and a loss to Rutgers are not the worst thing in the world.

So how do you compare those kinds of seasons? For Big East fans, it's probably too easy to scoff at Vanderbilt because of its reputation and not the team's current trajectory. For SEC fans, it's probably too easy to look at the fact that Cincinnati plays in the Big East and got shellacked by a mediocre SEC team and consider the game a likely win for the 'Dores.

In a way, these teams are mirror images of each other. They lean on the run and defenses that are average for their leagues but good at some things. I'll go with Vanderbilt for the moment, but by the narrowest margin.

Vanderbilt 24, Cincinnati 23

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Team Speed Kills

You must be a member of Team Speed Kills to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Team Speed Kills. You should read them.

Join Team Speed Kills

You must be a member of Team Speed Kills to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Team Speed Kills. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9341_tracker