Liberty will be moving up the college football ladder for the 2018 season. After dominating the Big South for most of the last decade, the Flames have decided to try their luck at the FBS level after concluding the 2017 campaign.
This fall will mark the program’s final season competing in FCS play, which means that the Flames will be ineligible to win the conference or go to the playoffs. However, they can play a big part in determining which team ultimately wins the Big South.
2016 Liberty Football Season In Review
In preparing to move up to be an FBS independent, the Flames faced a Power Five and Group of Five opponent last season. The team was relatively competitive in both games, losing to Virginia Tech by 23 points and SMU by 15. The performances gave school administrators confidence that the program was ready to move onto a higher rung of competition.
However, the Flames gave away some of that momentum when they struggled against some of the best schools at the FCS level. Jacksonville State, Charleston Southern and Coastal Carolina all beat Liberty by 20-plus points in 2016, which was disappointing considering the efforts they gave against FBS foes.
Stephen Calvert won the starting quarterback job as a freshman and played pretty well. He had some very sharp performances and ended the season as the best passer in a conference that doesn’t throw the ball much. Calvert didn’t play a ton during the first month, but he took over in October and had monster performances against Robert Morris and Monmouth.
Liberty had a deep backfield and rotated all three ball carriers in and out at nearly the same rate in 2016. All three managed to average at least 4.6 yards per carry on the ground.
Dante Shells was named First-Team All-Big South for his performance as the go-to receiver on the team. He had double the amount of receiving yards and touchdowns of his next closest teammate and provided Calvert a consistent option.
The team’s defense struggled a lot, however, last fall. The Flames gave up over 40 points in each of their FCS losses and were unable to consistently stop the run. Liberty allowed opponents to rush for an average of 5.2 yards per carry, one of the worst numbers at the FCS level.
2017 Liberty Football Season Preview
The Flames should be better than the 6-5 squad we saw a year ago.
Calvert has the faith of the coaching staff. Last year’s opening starter, Stephon Masha, announced he was transferring at the conclusion of spring practice. It’s Calvert’s team now, and the Flames seem set on having him lead them into FBS in 2018, too.
Liberty’s offensive line will need to better protect Calvert, though. He isn’t the scrambler that Masha was, but he can move the chains with his arm. With a nickname of “Buckshot,” he certainly doesn’t lack the gunslinger mentality.
All three of last year’s primary running backs will return, giving the Flames a big offensive boost. This trio will keep the pressure off of Calvert, especially since Shells is no longer the team’s top option.
The defense lost a key piece in the secondary, but otherwise it should be a better unit in 2017. Tyrin Holloway led the team in interceptions in 2016 and started every game over the past two seasons, but he decided to leave Lynchburg after spring practice. His presence will be missed.
However, Juwan Wells is coming back, which is huge for the team’s hopes. Wells was an All-Big South selection last year and tallied 11 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and nine quarterback hurries. His pass-rushing ability will come in handy.
2017 Liberty Football Schedule
September 2: Liberty at Baylor
September 9: Liberty vs. Morehead State
September 16: Liberty vs. Indiana State
September 23: Liberty at Jacksonville State
September 30: Liberty vs. St. Francis (PA)
October 14: Liberty vs. Kennesaw State
October 21: Liberty at Monmouth
October 28: Liberty at Gardner-Webb
November 4: Liberty vs. Duquesne
November 11: Liberty vs. Presbyterian
November 18: Liberty at Charleston Southern
FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch
The season finale is going to be the most highly anticipated game on the schedule. Not only will it be the last chance to see Liberty as an FCS team, but the Flames will be facing one of their biggest rivals in Charleston Southern. CSU was the lone Big South team to knock off Liberty last year, and the Flames haven’t forgotten.
Although it is a road game, it’s a good spot to back Liberty in FCS Pick ‘Em Contests. It will be the last contest of the year for the Flames no matter what, while Charleston Southern will likely be playing in the postseason afterward. This game could end up meaning very little to the Buccaneers if they win the rest of their conference games as expected.