Conference USA logos are prominently displayed around Williams Stadium and Liberty’s indoor football practice facility. The new field turf being laid down at Williams Stadium will have C-USA logos between the 20- and 30-yard lines on both sides of the field.
It will be hard to miss Liberty’s new conference home. The Flames, in their final season as FBS independents, are proudly promoting the Group of Five league they are joining for the 2023-24 athletic season.
Football coach Hugh Freeze isn’t going to discuss the move with this season’s team. He is more focused on a daunting 2022 slate that features four Power Five opponents, and begins with a Sept. 3 opener at Southern Miss.
“It’s exciting. We won’t spend a lot of time this year talking about that,” Freeze said of the move after Friday’s practice. “We have when the decision was made, we’ve talked through that, and we talk about it quite a bit in recruiting with the young men and families we’re recruiting. With this team, we won’t discuss that a whole lot. That has nothing to do with this year. We’ll turn our attention to it next year and certainly the goals will look a bit different.”
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Liberty officially accepted the invitation to join Conference USA on Nov. 5. The G5 league was decimated in a wave of conference realignment that saw it drop from 14 members to five, with Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, Louisiana Tech, FIU and UTEP remaining.
FBS independents Liberty and New Mexico State, along with FCS call-ups Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State, are joining to make it a nine-team conference.
taking shapeThe move to Conference USA necessitated Liberty removing games from its future schedules. The 2023 nonconference slate was recently completed with Bowling Green, Buffalo, Old Dominion and UMass making up the schedule.
Liberty continued paring down its 2024 schedule by canceling a contest with Ball State, and a matchup with Texas State was removed from the Bobcats’ website.
The Flames and Texas State were scheduled for a one-game series to be played in Lynchburg.
The contract with Ball State, obtained by The News & Advance, included five amendments to an original two-game series that was signed on May 21, 2018.
The latest amendment canceled the 2024 matchup and shifted it to Sept. 26, 2026 game from Muncie, Indiana, to Lynchburg.
Liberty will host Ball State on Sept. 21, 2030, and then play at Ball State on Sept. 20, 2031.
Seven of the 12 games scheduled for Liberty’s 2024 slate have been removed and one more needs to be dropped. The current nonconference schedule features Coastal Carolina, Appalachian State, Marshall, Campbell and UMass.
Thirteen commits in the fold
Recruiting for Liberty didn’t slow down during the summer. It did just the opposite.
The Flames have secured 13 verbal commitments for the 2023 recruiting class, and Freeze teased out Thursday evening that a 14th player had committed in the class.
“I think recruiting’s gone extremely well,” Freeze said. “I think the biggest challenge to recruiting right now is judging when to slow down based on what could be, which you have no idea. You could lose 10 kids [to the transfer portal]you could not lose anything, and you’ve got to manage the 85 number [scholarship] cap.”
The NCAA recently abolished the limit of 25 scholarship players that can be signed in one recruiting class. It will allow programs, like Liberty, to sign as many players as possible to get back to the 85 scholarship number if players elect to enter the transfer portal.
“Them doing anything with the 25 was only logical. It’s one of the logical things that they’ve done,” Freeze said. “I don’t know how in the world you could preach to have student health, safety and welfare and not be able to replenish your roster should the transfer portal hit you. That was only logical that had to happen to allow us to get to the 85 by each given fall. That had to happen.”
Three Liberty upperclassmen were named to preseason watch lists over the past few weeks.
Right guard Brendan Schlittler was named to the watch list for the Outland Trophy, which is awarded to the best college football interior lineman.
Slot receiver and punt returner DeMario Douglas appeared on the watch list for the Paul Hornung Award, which is given out annually to the most versatile player in major college football by the Louisville Sports Commission.
Austin Mock was added to the Patrick Mannelly Award watch list. The award is given annually to the best long snapper in college football.
The Flames added two new members to the coaching staff right before training camp opened.
Jesse Stone was hired as a senior offensive analyst and will work with the quarterbacks, and Zach Crisler was brought on as an offensive quality control coach and will work with the running backs.
Stone has previously worked at UCF (offensive analyst), Arkansas (director of personnel for offense), Miami (offensive quality control coach) and Georgia (graduate assistant).
Crisler has been a graduate assistant at South Alabama and North Alabama.