What a come up it has been for Liberty football.
Just six years ago, the Flames were members of the Big South before being an FBS Independent from 2017-2022. Now, in its first season as a member of Conference USA, Liberty has secured the Group of Five’s bid to the New Year’s Six bowl.
The Flames will face Pac-12 runner-up Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day at Noon ET. College football betting odds currently have Liberty as a 16-point underdog with the money line at +500.
Of the nine other teams that have secured the G5 bid for the NY6 games, Liberty is just the second team to be 13-0 entering the game. The other was a 13-0 Cincinnati team that fell to Alabama 27-6 in the 2021 College Football Playoff semifinals.
The Flames are the sixth undefeated and the fifth G5 team seeking a win in their respective NY6 bowl game.
How does Liberty compare to the other teams in this position that have won?
2014 Boise State
Like Liberty, this Broncos squad had a high-powered attack.
RB Jay Ajayi was the focal piece of this offense as he rushed for 1,823 yards and 28 touchdowns. He added 535 yards and four TDs in receiving production:
With the help of Ajayi’s explosiveness, the Broncos averaged 494.3 YPG and 39.7 PPG en route to a 12-2 record. Liberty is averaging 40.8 PPG and 514.9 YPG this year.
But it was Boise’s defense that secured the 38-30 win over Arizona, holding the Wildcats to a late stop and adding another Fiesta Bowl trophy to the Boise trophy case.
If Liberty were to win, it could be very much like Boise’s other Fiesta Bowl win in 2007 over Oklahoma.
Kaidon Salter would make Greg Ward Jr. proud.
Ward, the former dual-threat QB for the Cougars, passed for 2,827 yards and rushed for another 1,114 to go with 38 total TDs in 2015. He guided the Cougars to a 38-24 win over Florida State in the Peach Bowl.
This Houston team defeated four ranked opponents and three Power Five programs during its 13-1 campaign and found a ton of success rushing the ball with more than one ball carrier like this year’s Liberty squad.
Houston had many more close wins than Liberty has had to deal with.
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The infamous national champions that weren’t technically the national champions. We all remember how upset some were when the undefeated Knights were denied a part in the CFP. We’re witnessing the same thing again with Florida State this year. However, this year’s response may be more reasonable with FSU winning a P5 conference title while remaining unbeaten.
Anyway, this UCF offense may be the most similar to the 2023 Liberty offense in terms of putting up big numbers. The Knights scored 60-plus points four different times behind McKenzie Milton’s 4,037 passing yards and 37 TDs. WR Tre’Quan Smith was responsible for nearly 1,200 receiving yards and 13 of these scores.
UCF is also the only G5 team that entered their NY6 game undefeated and won, finishing the season 13-0 after a 34-27 win over Auburn in the Peach Bowl.
Ah, last year’s improbable comeback from the Green Wave.
Tulane trailed 45-30 before scoring 16 points in the final 3:07 to defeat USC in the Cotton Bowl.
This Green Wave squad leaned a little more on its defense than the other team’s on this list and might be the most balanced among them. It limited four of the top five scoring offenses (besides its own) to below 30 points — each during the back half of the season. And these were prolific offenses in UCF, Memphis, SMU, and Cincinnati.
The late push solidified Tulane as the top team in the top G5 league in the country (AAC), and they went on to prove it in the postseason.
Can Liberty Follow Suit?
Even though these are the four G5 teams that came away victorious in their respective NY6 bowl games, that doesn’t necessarily mean one of them is the best squad to have earned the bid.
Arguments can be made for each team that has represented the Group of Five in the NY6 games since the CFP’s inception in 2014. Like it or not, teams that win these games are often remembered more than those that don’t, and we’ll find out soon how well Liberty will be remembered, even with what has been a memorable campaign.