Vanderbilt linebacker Chris Marve will have his own cheering section for the Liberty Bowl. It will include about 100 family and friends, and he couldn't help everyone asking for tickets.
Marve grew up in Memphis, Tenn., and went to high school at White Station. Former coaches and their families will be joining his relatives and friends in the stands today when Vanderbilt plays Cincinnati.
"So I'm going to have a pretty good fan base there," Marve said with a big smile.
Marve is among nine Commodores making some school history of their own Saturday, playing in a second bowl game in four seasons. That's a big deal for a program playing only its fifth bowl game ever.
The Commodores (6-6) are seeking their third bowl victory, and the program's second winning record since 1982.
"I've thought about it a little bit," Marve said of the implications of a win. "It means a lot. But you really can't get caught up in it because it's our next game, and it's the only game we're worried about. After our game, if we're victorious, then we can look back and relish in everything that happened. Then I can look back on my career. Right now I'm tunnel visioned on Dec. 31st and Cincinnati."
The Commodores already have managed quite the turnaround in coach James Franklin's first season after going 2-10 each of the past two years. Franklin is the first coach to lead Vanderbilt to a postseason game in his first season, earning an extension, and he could match Fred Pancoast in 1975 for most wins by a first-year Vandy coach.
"It's huge for the program," Vandy quarterback Jordan Rodgers said. "With it being so close in Memphis, a lot of our fans can travel there. It's going to be loud. It's going to be fun for our fans."
Vanderbilt's Music City Bowl win in 2008 took place a couple miles away from campus. School officials announced Thursday it had sold out its allotment of tickets, and the Southeastern Conference's smallest and only private university had nine buses set to take fans to the game 200 miles away.
The Commodores are favored even though Cincinnati (9-3) won a share of the Big East championship for the third time in four years. The Bearcats landed in Memphis, with West Virginia going to the Orange Bowl and Louisville to the Belk Bowl.
Bearcats running back Isaiah Pead, the Big East offensive player of the year, said it doesn't surprise him.
"My whole career here, even in Big East play, we've always been an underdog. Going up against an SEC opponent, who is arguably the best conference in college football, you've got to expect it," Pead said. "But we're great at playing for each other, blocking out the outside noise."
Cincinnati had to win its last two games to grab a share of the Big East title and got it done without senior quarterback Zach Collaros, who broke his right ankle Nov. 12 against West Virginia. He returned to practice five weeks after surgery, and coach Butch Jones announced Thursday that Collaros will start despite being sick and losing some weight this week.
Collaros threw for 1,860 yards and 14 touchdowns before the injury.
"He's done an outstanding job," Jones said. "He's done an outstanding job. He's worked himself back into being game ready."
Franklin expected Collaros to start from the moment he heard the senior had returned to practice.
"He's a great player," Franklin said. "The flu, the ankle, none of those things are going to stop him, and we've got a tremendous challenge to stop him."
Vanderbilt is coming off a 41-7 rout of Wake Forest. Rodgers, the younger brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, started the last six games, and has thrown for 1,498 yards while rushing for 387 more.
The Commodores also feature junior running back Zac Stacy, who set single-season school records by rushing for 1,136 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Rodgers and Stacy could have trouble finding room on the ground. The Bearcats, who lost their last bowl game 51-24 to Florida in the 2010 Sugar Bowl, rank second in the Big East and sixth nationally by holding opponents to 93.7 yards rushing. Cincinnati also leads the nation with 3.58 sacks per game, including 40 total over the last 10 games.
Jones has made sure his Bearcats know what they have at stake in this bowl, sponsored by AutoZone, trying to notch the school's fourth 10-win season.
"Ten wins in today's football doesn't happen very often," Jones said.