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New Year’s Six bound: Liberty will play Oregon in Fiesta Bowl

Liberty edges SMU to snap the AAC’s 6-year streak of New Year’s Six appearances

NCAA Football: Conference USA Football Championship-New Mexico State at Liberty Brian Bishop-USA TODAY Sports

The moment SMU knocked off Tulane 26-14 in the AAC Championship Game, Liberty and SMU fans sat on pins and needles. There was no more work to be done, as both programs’ seasons were in the hands of the College Football Playoff committee.

On Sunday, the committee unveiled Liberty as the highest-ranked conference champion of the AAC, CUSA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt, officially sending the Flames into the New Year’s Six. Liberty will play Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, becoming the first CUSA program to participate in a New Year’s Six bowl since in the inception of the College Football Playoff.

The Flames defeated New Mexico State 49-35 in the 2023 CUSA Championship Game in Lynchburg, VA on Friday night, completing an undefeated campaign heading into bowl season at 13-0. The Flames’ main competitor, SMU, finished 11-2 but faced a stronger non-conference schedule which featured road matchups at Oklahoma and TCU. The record vs. strength of schedule argument stirred a debate between the conference commissioners and coaches of the respective schools in the conference championship postgame press conferences and trophy ceremonies.

Liberty finished No. 23 in the committee’s final rankings while SMU landed one spot behind at No. 24.

Liberty clinches the Fiesta Bowl in Jamey Chadwell’s first season at the helm. Chadwell arrived from Coastal Carolina, where he guided the Chanticleers to an undefeated regular season in 2020 before losing to his future program in the Cure Bowl.

The Flames’ Fiesta Bowl opponent is Pac-12 runner-up Oregon, which sports an 11-2 record with two close losses to Washington. This will be the first-ever matchup between Liberty and Oregon.

The Fiesta Bowl kicks off at 1 p.m. ET from State Farm Stadium in Glendale, AZ on New Year’s Day.