NCF Nation: Vanderbilt Commodores

Frustrated Vanderbilt fan decides he no longer needs his hat or shirt

September, 6, 2014
Vanderbilt has had a rough start to the Derek Mason era. After a 37-7 season-opening loss to Temple, the Commodores were rolled 41-3 by Ole Miss on Saturday.

The Commodores have yet to score an offensive touchdown this year and it's safe to say the Vandy fans are a little cranky these days.

No fan at Nashville's LP Field exemplified that frustration today more than this guy...

But hey, the items made for fun souvenirs!
1. The SEC released Monday its schedule rotation for nondivisional conference opponents, laying out in stark terms the cost of playing only eight conference games a year. For instance, Texas A&M players who enroll this fall will play UCLA twice (2016-17) and never play Georgia or Vanderbilt (the fifth-year guys will get Kentucky in 2018). Or this: Missouri plays at Kyle Field this fall, and the Tigers won’t return to College Station before 2026, when this year’s first-graders will enroll in college. That’s conference play?

2. I can’t recommend highly enough the breakdown of Big Ten balance sheets that my colleague Matt Fortuna began Monday in a four-part series. The numbers are staggering, yes, but the explanation of expenditures by Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis provides depth and detail to the amount of resources afforded to scholarship student-athletes. I’m for giving them full cost of attendance, but as Fortuna highlighted, the increase in services provided by schools over the last decade is staggering.

3. At the Tulane commencement Saturday, Wynton Marsalis used words and his horn to give graduates a compelling message. But the best moment came when university president Scott Cowen singled out former Green Wave defensive back Devon Walker, paralyzed in a game two years ago. When Cowen asked spectators and Walker’s fellow graduates “to show our love and our respect for this incredible young man,” they responded with a 40-second standing ovation.
1. Make no mistake -- the SEC will go to a nine-game conference schedule shortly. It won’t happen in 2014. And it’s not because Alabama coach Nick Saban wants it and Vanderbilt coach James Franklin doesn’t. As my SEC blogging colleague Chris Low explained Wednesday on the ESPNU College Football Podcast, SEC commissioner Mike Slive is for it. And in the long run, what Slive wants, the SEC gets. Most prominently, the College Football Playoff.

2. The family of the late Joe Paterno announced Wednesday night that it, too, is suing the NCAA regarding its punishment of Penn State, to which I say, the more the merrier. NCAA president Mark Emmert ignored NCAA procedure and rushed to the front of the parade of people who condemned the university. He depended on a rush job of a report by former FBI director Louis Freeh. The longer view has exposed Emmert’s rush to judgment as a textbook case of grandstanding. As if the NCAA didn’t have enough problems.

3. Colorado forced athletic director Mike Bohn to resign, and supposedly the university wants to hire a replacement who can raise the funds the Buffaloes need to catch up to the rest of the Pac-12 in the athletic arms race. Good luck -- the Colorado fan base has not been a generous one, at least by FBS standards, and the Buffs remain no better than a distant second behind the NFL's Denver Broncos in local fan interest. That Pac-12 Network money can’t start flowing soon enough.

Pac-12 coaches not among the elite?

April, 10, 2013
Everybody loves rankings lists, and college football fans -- by necessity -- seem to like lists even more than average folk.

So we have Athlon making another list. First it ranked Pac-12 coaches. Now it ranks all 125 coaches for FBS programs.

Obviously, any ranking like this is highly subjective, as Kevin noted with his notes on the Pac-12 coach rankings.

I really like Athlon's top three. That would be mine. If Chip Kelly were still at Oregon, I'd rank him third, but he is not.

After that? Well, there were some head-scratchers.

LSU's Les Miles way down at No. 24? New Arkansas and former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema buried at No. 25? Vanderbilt's second-year coach James Franklin way up at 17? Three words: No, No, No.

There is no conceivable way to rank Franklin ahead of Miles, WHO HAS WON A NATIONAL TITLE!, nor is it reasonable to rate Franklin over Stanford's David Shaw, WHO HAS WON A ROSE BOWL, nor Bielema who owns THREE BIG TEN TITLES and won 68 games in seven years at Wisconsin.

Franklin? He's done some nice things at Vandy, making a terrible program respectable, but please identify for me a signature win from 2012? Or 2011. I'll wait here.

Yep. Nada.

Just last season, Shaw, who is No. 1 in the Pac-12 but only 20th in the nation, beat Oregon, which finished ranked No. 2, and WON THE ROSE BOWL. He's a muffed field goal away from winning consecutive BCS bowl games.

Vanderbilt, winners of the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl over the doughty NC State a year after losing to Cincinnati in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, took advantage of a weakened SEC East, and it's notable that the one adventurous nonconference tilt ended up a double-digit loss at Northwestern. You know: The so-called slow Big Ten.

And I think Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is a bit high at No. 12, too.

(Deep breath) OK ... I'm OK.

Anyway: Here's how Athlon ranked the Pac-12 coaches in the nation (national rank).
  1. David Shaw, Stanford (20)
  2. Mike Riley, Oregon State (21)
  3. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona (22)
  4. Todd Graham, Arizona State (29)
  5. Mike Leach, Washington State (31)
  6. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado (44)
  7. Steve Sarkisian, Washington (45)
  8. Jim Mora, UCLA (54)
  9. Kyle Whittingham, Utah (55)
  10. Sonny Dykes, California (56)
  11. Lane Kiffin, USC (57)
  12. Mark Helfrich, Oregon (73)

Pac-12 athletic director salaries

March, 12, 2013
UCLA's Dan Guerrero is the Pac-12's top paid athletic director, according to recently released figures from USA Today, while Colorado's Mike Bohn ranked last in the conference among the public schools that are required to disclose salaries.

The salaries for Stanford’s Bernard Muir or USC’s Pat Haden are unavailable because they work for private schools.

Vanderbilt's David Williams tops the list at $3.24 million, but he's a special case. The "true" leader is Louisville's Tom Jurich at $1.412 million.

Nine athletic directors make more than $1 million a year, though none in the Pac-12. It's also notable that the cost of living is much higher in Pac-12 cities compared to cities in just about every other conference.

Guerrero's total pay of $715,211 ranks 18th in the nation.

1. In the 15-year life of the BCS, only three schools from AQ conferences have never appeared in the standings: Duke, Indiana and Vanderbilt (Iowa State broke its schneid last fall). It’s a quirky thing. For the BCS’ first five years, the ratings stopped at No. 15. And, of course, the ratings don’t appear until midseason. All three teams are improving. Vandy, in fact, is No. 25 in Mark Schlabach’s most recent way-too-early rankings. The Commodores -- and the others -- have one more year to break through.

2. Zach Lee, the No. 3 quarterback recruit in 2010, left LSU right before classes began to sign a $5.25 million deal to pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers. In his last six starts at Class AA Chattanooga last season, Lee went 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA and a 0.917 WHIP, so he’s not coming back soon. No one knows if Lee would have overtaken Jordan Jefferson, Jarrett Lee or Zach Mettenberger. But LSU’s quarterbacking has yet to return to the level where Matt Flynn played in taking the Tigers to the 2007 BCS title.

3. There will be 14 Saturdays between Labor Day weekend and Thanksgiving weekend, which we haven’t had since 2008. That eased the task of assembling an ACC schedule that includes new members Pittsburgh and Syracuse. The Orange will close the season at home against the Panthers and Boston College. The Eagles last went to the Carrier Dome a decade ago, in the same week that Boston College announced it would leave for the ACC. With Syracuse fans mocking the Eagles by chanting “A-C-C!”, Syracuse grabbed an emotional 39-14 victory.

Vandy rolls to sixth straight win

November, 24, 2012
Vanderbilt 55 Wake Forest 21: Remember back to Oct. 13, when Florida had just dropped Vanderbilt to 2-4 and bowl eligibility seemed like a fantasy?

Neither do the Commodores. Don't look now, but since they were left for dead in mid-October, the 'Dores have reeled off six straight wins and have just finished the regular season at 8-4 -- their best regular season record since 1982.

The latest victim on Vanderbilt's roll through November was an overmatched Wake Forest squad hoping to reach bowl eligibility in its own right. The Commodores cruised to a 28-7 halftime lead behind a 14-of-17, 211-yard first half performance from quarterback Jordan Rodgers, who threw two touchdowns on the day. When Rodgers wasn't winging it around, senior tailback Zac Stacy put in a workmanlike 89 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. That would have been a solid outing on its own, but Stacy put an exclamation point on his career with a 90-yard fourth quarter touchdown scamper to give him 180 yards and two scores on the day.

The Demon Deacons entered the game determined to move the ball on the ground, but they found no such luck. Wake Forest rushed 44 times for a mere 128 yards

The final nail went into Wake Forest's coffin just one minute into the third quarter, when Vanderbilt blocked a punt on the first series of the half and recovered it for a Commodore touchdown. The win was a cap to what has been a stunning run through the final six weeks of the regular season. The 'Dores have blown through November in every kind of fashion -- whether it was a close stand to hold off Auburn in October, a furious comeback to stun Ole Miss two weeks ago or any number of blowouts against the likes of Massachusetts, Kentucky or Tennessee.

Stanford will challenge Oregon's fast strikes

November, 15, 2012

The Oregon Ducks average more points in the first half than 87 FBS teams do in an entire game. The Ducks have not trailed past the first quarter, and their average halftime lead is 25.8 points, 7.4 points better than any other FBS team.

If Oregon continued its first-half pace in the second half, the Ducks would average 69.6 points and 712.8 yards per game. Those numbers would crush the FBS records for points (56.0 by Army in 1944) and yards (624.9 by Houston in 1989) per game in a season. However, the Ducks will get challenged this week. Stanford is one of five teams that has not allowed a touchdown in less than a minute against an FBS opponent, and the only team that has not allowed a touchdown in three plays or fewer.

Speaking of Stanford, Urban Meyer and Ohio State are trying do something that Stanford and one other team have done: go undefeated the season after losing at least seven games. With two games remaining, Ohio State is 10-0 after going 6-7 in 2011. In the AP Poll era (since 1936), only two teams have had a perfect season after losing at least seven games the previous year. In 1943, Purdue went 9-0 after going 1-8 in 1942. The 1940 Stanford team was 10-0 after going 1-7-1 in 1939. Neither of those teams would claim the national championship in their perfect seasons.

Kansas State moved to the top of the BCS Standings this week, but that spot hasn't been kind to Big 12 teams over the years. This is the eighth time since the final BCS Standings in 2003 that a Big 12 team has held the top spot. However, the other seven teams are just 2-5 in their next games, and only one of those seven teams maintained the top spot the following week (Texas in 2008). Oklahoma went on to lose in the national championship game in 2003 and 2008.

From Kansas State to the Kent State Flashes, who are one win shy of the first 10-win season in school history. But the Golden Flashes, who began playing football in 1920, are far from having the longest tenure without a 10-win season. That distinction belongs to Indiana, which began playing football in 1887. In fact, the Hoosiers have had just two nine-win seasons in their history. Of the current 120 FBS teams that have been playing football for at least 50 years, nine have never had a 10-win season (Buffalo, Duke, Indiana, Iowa State, Kent State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Utah State, Western Michigan and Vanderbilt).

As for Vanderbilt, with a win against the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday, the Commodores will clinch their first winning season in the SEC since 1982, when they went 4-2 in the conference. That's a long time, but it's not the longest active streak among current FBS teams. In fact, you don't even need to look beyond the SEC East to find a longer streak. The Kentucky Wildcats have the longest current streak of consecutive non-winning seasons in conference games. The Wildcats haven't had a winning SEC record since 1977 when they went 6-0, but were ineligible for the SEC championship and a bowl game due to NCAA probation.

SEC prime-time primer: Week 4

September, 22, 2012
There's no nice way to say it: that was a boring slate of early games for the SEC in Week 4.

SEC fans had only a pair of shutouts -- Ole Miss' 39-0 win against Tulane and Florida's 38-0 pasting of Kentucky -- to entertain them for the first three hours of the day. No. 7 South Carolina is carrying the banner for the league right now, as the Gamecocks' game against Missouri is the only mid-afternoon kickoff today. And No. 1 Alabama has an overmatched Florida Atlantic in the early evening.

Other than that, it looks like we'll be cramming our SEC action into the prime-time windows this week.

What's coming tonight:

No. 2 LSU at Auburn, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: LSU won this matchup in a 45-10 walk last year in Baton Rouge. Auburn's lopsided loss to No. 23 Mississippi State, along with its overtime escape last weekend against Louisiana-Monroe, indicate that might be the case again in 2012. Auburn has a few factors in its favor, though. The game is in Jordan-Hare Stadium, where Auburn is 5-1 in its past six meetings with LSU. It's also the first road start for untested LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

Rutgers at Arkansas, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU: Whatever hope remains for Arkansas' season hinges on the Hogs' ability to get a win tonight. The Razorbacks have back-to-back road games at Texas A&M and Auburn following this nonconference tilt, and a 1-3 start would be less than ideal for their SEC prospects. Rutgers is off to a surprising 3-0 start, highlighted by a conference road win at South Florida.

South Carolina State at Texas A&M, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN Gameplan: The Aggies get one more nonconference tuneup before the SEC slate begins anew next week. Assuming A&M makes easy work of the Bulldogs, this might be the last time the Aggie starters get a break this season. The postponement of the Louisiana Tech game by Hurricane Isaac means no bye week this season.

South Alabama at No. 23 Mississippi State, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN Gameplan: The Bulldogs fought off a serious upset bid from Sun Belt heavyweight Troy last weekend -- the result of a possible letdown after the big win against Auburn. The schedule sets up nicely for a 7-0 start, so Mississippi State fans would undoubtedly love to see the Bulldogs flex some muscles against an overmatched opponent.

Akron at Tennessee, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN Gameplan: The Volunteers could use a confidence boost after last weekend's second half collapse against Florida. They'll need it, too. When Tennessee is done with the Zips, it faces four top-25 teams in a row -- three of them on the road.

Vanderbilt at No. 5 Georgia, 7:45 ET, ESPN2: Everyone is sure to keep an eye on this one because of the altercation between Georgia defensive coordinator and Vanderbilt coach James Franklin at the end of last year's Georgia win. That might steal some headlines, but the real story is that Vandy hasn't been an easy out for the Bulldogs recently. The Commodores defeated the Bulldogs in 2006, and they've come as close as three in 2007, 10 in 2008 and five last fall. Of course, tonight's game is in Athens, Ga., and the last time the Bulldogs hosted Vanderbilt they won 43-0.

Some quick notes and nuggets after Northwestern rallied to defeat Vanderbilt 23-13 on Saturday night at rainy Ryan Field ...

It was over when: Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter reversed field on third-and-long and raced in for a 29-yard touchdown with 1:24 remaining. Moments earlier, Wildcats defensive end Tyler Scott sacked Vanderbilt's Jordan Rodgers with 2 minutes remaining, forcing a fumble that the Wildcats recovered at the Vanderbilt 21-yard line with 1:47 left..

Gameball goes to: Northwestern running back Venric Mark. He's almost always the smallest player on the field, but Saturday night he was the best and the toughest. The junior had 23 rushes for 128 yards and a touchdown, recording his first career 100-yard rushing performance. He added a 14-yard reception. Mark is the biggest reason why Northwestern is 2-0, coming out of nowhere to claim the team's top running back spot in the preseason.

Stat of the game: Northwestern had just 85 yards and converted only 2 of 6 third-down chances in the first half. The Wildcats racked up 228 and converted 5 of 10 third-down chances, while Vanderbilt went just 4-of-15 on third downs.

What Vanderbilt learned: You have to put your foot on a team's throat when you can. Vanderbilt thoroughly dominated the first half, outgaining Northwestern 232-85 and running 12 more plays than the Wildcats. But the Commodores led by only seven points after a Rodgers fumble in the red zone. Vanderbilt let Northwestern's defense gain confidence, and the 'Dores didn't do enough in the second half, especially with their offensive play-calling. The offensive play-calling was baffling at times, as Vanderbilt didn't capitalize on an obvious advantage with wideout Jordan Matthews.

What Northwestern learned: The defense has some fight in it. Despite losing top cornerback Nick VanHoose on the second play, the Wildcats dug in and held Vanderbilt in check for most of the game. The much-maligned unit bought a stagnant offense enough time to get rolling, and Northwestern once again came up big in the fourth quarter behind quarterback Trevor Siemian. Although Colter once again got the start at quarterback and scored the final touchdown, Siemian looks like the better trigger man for the offense.

What it means: Northwestern remains an extremely dangerous team in close games, especially when you don't put the Wildcats away when you can. The defensive performance raises the ceiling for the Wildcats' season, and a very favorable schedule awaits Pat Fitzgerald's squad with three more home games before trips to Penn State and Minnesota. Vanderbilt continued to struggle in close games and faded in the fourth quarter. The 'Dores will point to another highly questionable call, one that prolonged Northwestern's go-ahead drive. But they didn't do nearly enough on offense to win this one.
1. The biggest project on the plate of new Arizona State athletic director Steve Patterson is a proposed renovation of Sun Devil Stadium that will cost at least $300 million and need some five years to complete. The reason: the stadium is wedged between two buttes, which limits the space in which the crews may work. The capacity of 71,706 would be diminished in increasing amounts, from 62,000 in Year 1, to 42,000 in Year 3, before increasing to a newly configured seating plan somewhere in the low-60,000s range.

2. Danny O'Brien, the former Maryland starter and newest Wisconsin quarterback, follows the path of Russell Wilson, who left NC State and in one season made All-Big Ten and returned the Badgers to the Rose Bowl. Wilson’s success raises the ante for O’Brien, who spurned Vanderbilt, where his former position coach, James Franklin, is the head coach. That surely provides a measure of satisfaction to Maryland coach Randy Edsall, who didn’t want to sign a release for O’Brien to play for Franklin. Edsall gave O’Brien a full release when overruled by the school administration.

3. Texas A&M announced this week that it has sold out its season tickets earlier than ever as Aggie fans anticipate the move to the SEC. The Aggies made the move for financial security and it already is paying off. That shows how na´ve all of us were who decried the loss of tradition when A&M moved. That includes athletic director Bill Byrne, who admitted his surprise that Texas had no interest in continuing the rivalry with A&M once it left the Big 12. Bidness is bidness on all sides of this equation.
1. Stanford coach David Shaw told me last April that he and his staff had a shot at nationally prominent recruits who would be the school’s most highly-regarded class ever. Stanford signed seven players Wednesday out of the ESPNU 150 and is 12th in the recruiting rakings. Shaw also said this: “Nobody wants us to be successful. There’s no way. With our academic standards? There’s no way that other schools want to see us have continued success … because if we’re going to be in the top 10 in football perennially, why wouldn’t you come here? How could you say no?”

2. And Stanford isn’t the only one. Vanderbilt, where James Franklin has refused to accept the Commodores perennial role as league doormat, at one point on Signing Day made the ESPNU top 25. Northwestern and Virginia both signed players in the ESPNU 150. Is something afoot here? Are better players getting smarter? Are they more willing to consider their education when deciding where to play?

3. And, now, for your dose of salt. Go back and take a look at the top classes of 2008. There are a lot of hyperlinked names that won’t ring a bell, even among the teams that are playing well. Alabama may have won the BCS Championship, but the three players highlighted are wide receiver Julio Jones, who played like a five-star player, offensive lineman Tyler Love, who played in two games last year, and athlete Burton Scott, who transferred to South Alabama.

Liberty Bowl: Three Keys

December, 30, 2011
You saw the preview and prediction. Now here are three keys for Cincinnati (9-3) headed into the AutoZone Liberty Bowl against Vanderbilt on Saturday afternoon:

1. Slow down Zac Stacy. Cincinnati has been solid against the run in every game except one this season. I know Bearcats fans are still wondering how Rutgers rushed for over 200 yards on the ground back in November. The larger point is this -- Cincinnati has held opponents under 100 yards in six games this season. Twice the Bearcats held opponents to negative yards rushing. They are 5-1 in those games. Meanwhile, if you limit Stacy you have a greater chance for success. In five of Vanderbilt's six losses this season, Stacy was held under 100 yards.

2. Protect Zach Collaros. Cincinnati has been much improved in this department, but it has got to be a huge point of emphasis going into this game because Collaros is coming off a broken ankle. The last thing the Bearcats want is for Collaros to be sacked, or forced to scramble for his life on every down. Coach Butch Jones says Collaros is 100 percent healthy, but this is his first game action in eight weeks and presumably the most he will be doing on his ankle. Collaros is a good runner and scrambler, so Cincinnati is not going to want to take that ability away from him. But it's best to allow him to make plays with his feet on his own, and not as a result of a relentless pass rush.

3. Make some big plays. Cincinnati does have the capability of getting big plays from all areas of its team. This season, the Bearcats had 97 plays go for 20 yards or more -- including 19 from Big East Offensive Player of the Year Isaiah Pead. Included in there is a 65-yard touchdown run against Tennessee earlier in the season. That is tied for the team's longest rushing play of the year. If Cincinnati can hit on some big plays for touchdowns early this could be a huge advantage.
Cincinnati (9-3) takes on Vanderbilt (6-6) in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Here is a quick preview:

WHO TO WATCH: Cincinnati defensive tackle Derek Wolfe. I have a feeling that very few in SEC country has ever heard of Wolfe, who had one of the best seasons for an interior lineman in the entire country. Wolfe ranked No. 6 in the nation in tackles for loss (19.5) and No. 11 in sacks (9.5), and is going to be an integral part of this game because he is disruptive both in the run game and in the pass game. His ability this season to get behind the line and cause massive disruptions has been a big reason why Cincinnati had the most improved defensive front in the Big East this season.

WHAT TO WATCH: Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros and his injured ankle. Collaros has been practicing for several weeks now, but he has not played in an actual game for two months. So how he handles the rust factor early on is going to be a big key. One other tendency he has is to throw at least one silly interception a game. He had at least one in five of his past six starts (minus West Virginia). Also, running back Isaiah Pead was much better with Collaros behind center. When Munchie Legaux started, everybody keyed on stopping Pead to make Legaux try and win it. But with Collaros and Pead in the backfield, Cincinnati should be much more balanced and much more difficult to stop.

WHY TO WATCH: In the all-important battle between conferences, you know it is highly important for a Big East co-champion to beat anybody from the SEC. Even a team that went 6-6 and does not have a prolific bowl history like Vanderbilt. Unfortunately for Cincinnati, all the folks in the SEC remember is the way the Bearcats played in a 45-23 loss to Tennessee in Week 2. Never mind the Bearcats are a much better team today than they were back in September. Those results matter, and so does this record -- Cincinnati is 2-17-1 against SEC teams since 1980.

PREDICTION: Cincinnati 27, Vanderbilt 21. From my predictions post Monday: The quarterback matchup between Jordan Rodgers and Collaros should be a good one as well, but I still give the advantage to the Bearcats. This is a team that was on pace to get to a BCS game before Collaros broke his ankle. Cincinnati has been terrific at getting after the quarterback and making tackles behind the line, and the secondary is much improved. The seniors are eager to win their first bowl game and eager to prove the naysayers wrong once again.

Cincinnati plays underdog role again

December, 28, 2011
Here it is bowl season, and Cincinnati has exceeded expectations again. Picked to finish fifth in the conference, the Bearcats won a share of the Big East championship.

Picked to finish fifth in 2008, the Bearcats went to the Orange Bowl.

[+] EnlargeCincinnati defensive tackle Derek Wolfe in action during a college football game against Akron, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011 in Cincinnati.
AP Photo/Al BehrmanCincinnati defensive tackle Derek Wolfe is used to the Bearcats being underdogs.
Picked to finish fifth in 2009, the Bearcats went to the Sugar Bowl.

You can see why players and fans feel their program is disrespected. So how did Cincinnati (9-3) react to the fact that it is an underdog to a 6-6 Vanderbilt team headed into the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Saturday?

"That's every week," defensive tackle Derek Wolfe said in a recent phone interview. "Cincinnati is never considered a favorite."

What is different about this season compared to 2008 and 2009 is the recognition the Bearcats received from league coaches. Wolfe was selected co-defensive player of the year , and running back Isaiah Pead was selected offensive player of the year. They are the first Cincinnati players to win those honors. Butch Jones also was picked Coach of the Year.

Still, Cincinnati players do play with a boulder on their shoulders. There really is nothing new about proving themselves. But there may be an added sense of urgency for the seniors in this bowl game. The Bearcats have not won a bowl game since 2007, and they are Cincinnati is 2-17-1 against SEC teams since 1980. Whether it is fair or not, all other leagues are measured against the SEC. So even wins over .500 teams are considered pretty big.

One player who will have to come up big in the game is Wolfe, who was a second-team All-American in three different publications. Wolfe leads the Big East and ranks sixth nationally with 19.5 tackles for a loss and ranks third in the league and tied for 12th in the FBS with 9.5 sacks. While it was known throughout the league that Wolfe was one of the best interior linemen, he was not on anybody's preseason list for potential defensive player of the year.

"It's a great honor and whenever you work hard something is going to come back for you," Wolfe said. "That's what I always preach to people. I did everything I possibly could to make myself better each and every day."

All that work will eventually pay off with a spot in the NFL. Wolfe is listed as a sleeper pick who could make a nice transition from tackle to end in a 3-4 scheme in the pros. Wolfe already has experience playing on the edge, and said he really enjoys when Cincinnati goes with three down linemen and he is on the end because, "I get a lot of space to work on one guy."

He has one game left to show what he can do, and to get that elusive bowl victory.

"We're just trying to finish strong," he said. "I'd hate to leave with a loss. We're going to play as hard as we possibly can."