Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you likely know by now that the Liberty Flames will be making the jump from FCS to FBS in 2018. They will be departing the Big South Conference of the FCS after this coming year to play as an FBS independent.
Since they will not be joining an FBS conference, one of the biggest questions surrounding the move was who would they play? Would they be able to lure teams to Lynchburg? Well, these questions have been answered with LU releasing their 2018 schedule over the weekend.
Week 1: Old Dominion Monarchs (C-USA)
Week 2: at Army Black Knights (Independent)
Week 3: Norfolk State Spartans (MEAC)
Week 4: North Texas Mean Green (C-USA)
Week 5: at New Mexico Lobos (MWC)
Week 6: at New Mexico State Aggies (Independent)
Week 7: Troy Trojans (Sun Belt)
Week 8: Idaho State Bengals (Big Sky)
Week 9: Bye
Week 10: at UMass Minutemen (Independent)
Week 11: at Virginia Cavaliers (ACC)
Week 12: at Auburn Tigers (SEC)
Week 13: New Mexico State Aggies (Independent)
Let’s start with the obvious question. “What!? Liberty and NMSU are playing TWICE??”
Yes, they are. Yes, it’s unusual. Yes, it makes perfect sense.
Both the Flames and the Aggies will be playing their first seasons as FBS Independents in 2018 (NMSU will play one more year in the Sun Belt in 2017). Neither team has the reputation or prestige to just name their schedule like Notre Dame, BYU, or even Army. It will be challenging for both to get good opponents, ESPECIALLY finding teams willing to come to their stadiums.
So, it’s a brilliant move of mutual benefit to schedule a home-and-home within a single season (they will do the same thing in 2019, by the way). This tactic gives both teams a guaranteed home game. Liberty AD Ian McCaw referenced that this is done in college basketball as well as the NFL, so why couldn’t it work here?
In addition to New Mexico State, Liberty will also play Army and UMass. Liberty is therefore playing every other G5 independent. This also makes sense. Those teams have the most openings on their schedules, and UMass is in the same boat as NMSU and Liberty, albeit they’ll have a two year head-start by 2018. Both of these games are on the road, but the Army game is the first of a four-game home-and-home series.
Another note is that Liberty will play two FCS opponents. Normally, FBS teams only play one since only one FCS win can count towards bowl eligibility. However, due to NCAA transition rules, Liberty won’t be eligible for postseason play in 2018 anyway, so why not play two? This guarantees two more home games and could help make the transition a little easier. Ensuring an extra win or two could help them gain momentum as a program and build a winning culture.
Liberty will play four teams hailing from G5 conferences. They will play New Mexico on the road, while playing Troy, Old Dominion, and North Texas at home. Although LU has only announced the one game with Troy and ODU, the games against UNM and UNT are all the first game of home and homes.
One curious thing about this is that North Texas dropped two games against Army to schedule Liberty. They played Army twice last year (regular season and HOD Bowl), and will play them next year and in 2020. But they cancelled games set for 2018 and 2019 to play Liberty in 2018 instead. The Flames’ return to Denton is set for 2021. The official reason UNT gave was that preparing for the triple option takes their defense out of their normal rhythm, but some have suggested that LU may have “sweetened the pot.”
Indeed, I think many people may be underestimating Liberty’s resources. They’ve got money. They’ve got their own network already. If any current FCS team could transition to FBS as an independent and thrive, it’s Liberty. It’s entirely possible that they can get a few G5 programs to play a series with them instead of someone else by adding some incentives. They can certainly afford to.
In fact, those home games against ODU and Troy? Those are not the start of home and homes. Those are money games. Liberty actually paid ODU and Troy for games in the manner that teams usually pay FCS teams, or the way P5s often pay G5s. It’s unheard of for one G5 team to pay another. How many others could pay a fellow G5 team $1.32 million like Liberty is paying Old Dominion? Y’all, Liberty is loaded.
The combination of all the above means that Liberty, perhaps surprisingly, only had to sell its soul to the P5 twice. One of those games is in-state, and I’m sure Liberty fans will be excited to play Virginia (especially with how bad the Cavaliers have been recently).
Opponents by conference: (2 P5, 8 G5, 2 FCS)
Independent: 3 (plays NMSU twice for 4 total games)
Sun Belt: 1
Big Sky: 1
Total Future FBS Opponents (2018 and beyond):
Single Home Game
Old Dominion, Troy
Home and home
Buffalo, BYU, New Mexico, North Texas (2 games)
Army, New Mexico State (4 games)
2-for-1 (2 road games, 1 home game)
Virginia, Wake Forest
Single Road Game
Virginia Tech, Auburn, Ole Miss, UMass, Rutgers
This is a solid schedule for a transitioning team. I was wondering how many home games Liberty would be able to arrange and well, they got six in their first season which is a sweet haul. They took the initiative and got games with every G5 independent, plus they have a home-and-home with BYU coming up.
If they play some more down the road, Old Dominion and Liberty could become an in-state rivalry. Furthermore, although not this year, they do have future home games against Wake Forest, Virginia, and BYU. The fact the schedule isn’t flooded with money-games is a great surprise as their resources is no doubt legit. Great job of scheduling, Flames.
Obviously it’s super-way-the-hell too early to even try and make a prediction for how their first FBS season will go, but if they won’t let the lack of a conference invite stop them from moving up, I’m not gonna be stopped either. I’m seeing somewhere in the vicinity of five wins. I’m thinking the floor is three wins and the ceiling is seven. This schedule gives them an opportunity to get started off on the right foot and help them build momentum for their future in the FBS.