Liberty began playing college football in 1973, but has really cranked things up in recent years. The program flourished at the FCS level under former coaches Danny Rocco (who went on to success at Richmond and Delaware), and Turner Gill (former Buffalo and Kansas head coach), and then moved to the FBS and made four bowl games under Hugh Freeze coached teams.
Now the Flames have Jamey Chadwell, who has been very successful in recent years and gained national notoriety at Coastal Carolina, and Charleston Southern before that (paging 2016 NDSU team in OT). This Liberty program is a riser at the FBS level and will be a force in the Conference USA realm after having been in the FBS Independent ranks.
LIBERTY 2023 PREVIEW
THE CONF.: Conference USA
2022 RECORD: 8-5 (played as an Independent)
CONF. FINISH: N/A.
HEAD COACH: Jamey Chadwell (1st year at school; 14th year overall - 99-57)
FIVE ALL-STAR CANDIDATES: Kendy Charles, DE/Jr. (59 tackles, 5.5 sacks); Johnathan Bennett, QB/Jr. (1,534 yards passing, 12 TDs); Quinton Reese, DB/Soph. (29 tackles); X'Zauvea Gadlin, OT/Sr. (25 games at Tulsa); Noah Frith, WR/Sr. (top returning WR — 446 yards receiving); Tyren Dupree, LB/Sr. (47 tackles, 4 sacks); Kobe Singleton, CB/Soph. (26 tackles, 6 PBUs); Bentley Hanshaw, TE/Jr., Jay Hardy, DT/Soph.
THE NEWCOMER: Quinton Cooley, RB/Jr. (Wake Forest transfer - 402 rushing yards in 3 years at WF).
Have you ever looked at a college football team and thought — yeah, they're missing some key guys this year, but this team doesn't know the definition of "rebuild"? Welcome to Liberty University. The head coaches the Flames bring in, the talent they bring in, the enthusiasm, the community backing — you name it, this is a school that wants to be good and is going to be good, no matter what kind of competition it faces.
The Flames have left the independent ranks of FBS and now look like an immediate factor in the Conference USA race, as there has been a ton of movement in this small league — and there are gaping holes of opportunity for success in the C-USA. Liberty looks good.
THE KEY GAME AND WHY
Oct. 24 — at Western Kentucky: Yes, we think the Conference USA title flows through this game. It should be a big one. WKU has the pedigree. Liberty has the backing and enthusiasm. While the C-USA is certainly depleted after all of the transition of the past 12 months, these two programs are legit and this could be a preview of a rematch to come later on Dec. 2 — in the C-USA final.
THE TOUGHEST CHALLENGE AND WHY
We hate to be boring, but see the above. All the C-USA marbles go through the game above. Liberty doesn't play a Power Five team this year, so good things should happen when it comes to total wins. The WKU matchup is both the key to the season and the toughest challenge.
THE CHANCES OF MAKING CONF. TITLE GAME
Above average. With the C-USA this year, the top two finishers will face off on Dec. 2 with the C-USA on the line. The Oct. 24 matchup with WKU is obviously a key, but a road trip to UTEP the week of Thanksgiving and a home game against Middle Tennessee earlier in the year could easily have as much of an impact on Liberty's fortunes. The Flames, even with a lot of new names dotting their projected starting lineup, should be a legit factor in all of its critical matchups.
With no Power Five timebombs on the sked, and the non-conference having likely only one challenge (road trip to bowl-winning Buffalo in Sept.), there's a very real chance this could be a 10-win type of team. A Liberty bowl game is a lock in our estimation. Beyond that? It depends on what the myriad of new names on campus wants to do — and that includes Chadwell and a lot of new starting names. But — the new names are special.
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