Liberty started the 2022 season strong. Now in Conference USA, the Flames will want to rebound after ending last year the way they did.
The Flames began the season with a four-overtime win over Southern Miss and won eight of their first nine games, including at Arkansas. Their only loss during that time was a one-point defeat at Wake Forest.
But the Flames concluded the season with four straight losses, including a 21-19 defeat against Toledo in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Now, after former head coach Hugh Freeze went to Auburn, Jamey Chadwell is in charge of the program. He led Coastal Carolina to winning seasons each of the past three years. Though it’s Chadwell’s first year with the Flames, they are still expected to compete at a high level.
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Liberty Football’s Conference USA Title Odds
Liberty’s Conference USA Championship odds are +200, via BetMGM.
Liberty Football’s Over/Under Win Total
Liberty’s win total Over/Under is tied for the highest in CUSA at 8.5, with Under 8.5 at +110 and Over 8.5 at -130.
Liberty Football’s Schedule
9/2 vs Bowling Green
9/9 vs New Mexico State
9/16 at Buffalo
9/23 at FIU
10/5 vs Sam Houston
10/10 at Jacksonville State
10/17 vs Middle Tennessee
10/24 at Western Kentucky
11/4 vs Louisiana Tech
11/11 vs Old Dominion
11/18 vs UMass
11/25 at UTEP
Bold indicates CUSA contests.
Liberty’s Offense Features Plenty of Playmakers
Johnathan Bennett may be one of the top quarterbacks in Conference USA, but he may not end up being Liberty’s starter in 2023.
Bennett led the Flames with 1,534 yards, 12 touchdowns, and nine interceptions while completing 59% of his throws in 12 games played and seven starts. He added 139 yards and two touchdowns rushing.
Kaidon Salter, who was the team’s quarterback during the Boca Raton Bowl, threw for 1,088 yards, eight touchdowns, and five picks with a 59% completion rate in eight games. He’s also back. Liberty added Southern Miss transfer Trey Lowe as well.
No matter who starts behind center, the Flames should have a dynamic offense.
Liberty added Quinton Cooley, a transfer from Wake Forest, and James Jointer Jr., a transfer from Arkansas, to its running back room. At wide receiver, Demario Douglas is gone after pacing the team with 993 yards, 79 receptions, and six touchdowns. However, Noah Frith is back after catching 25 passes for 446 yards and a score.
Liberty also brought in wide receivers Errol Rogers Jr. (Louisiana) and Reese Smith (West Virginia) as well as tight end Jacob Jenkins (Coastal Carolina) to help on the offensive end.
Liberty did rush for 172.7 yards per game last year, which would’ve been top five in CUSA, but also allowed 41 sacks, which would’ve been the most in the league. And the team loses three of its primary starters on the offensive line.
That said, right tackle X’Zauvea Gadlin and right guard Brendan Schlittler are back to give the team some continuity. West Virginia transfer Jordan White is also in the mix to contribute.
Kendy Charles Leads The Charge For Liberty’s Defense
Liberty lost many of its best defensive players this offseason.
Durrell Johnson, who led the country with 27.5 tackles for loss to go with a team-high nine sacks, signed an undrafted free agent deal with the Cowboys. Mike Smith Jr., who led Liberty with 85 total tackles while adding 10 tackles for loss, went to Baylor this offseason.
In fact, only three of Liberty’s top 11 tacklers from last season are back this year. And that’s after the Flames were solid defensively in 2022. They allowed 346.2 yards per game, which would’ve been the fewest in Conference USA, and 24.6 points per game, which would’ve been the third-fewest.
But there’s still some talent on this side of the ball. That includes defensive lineman Kendy Charles, who totaled 59 tackles, 10 for loss, and 5.5 sacks last year.
Liberty also added a few players in the transfer portal, like former Louisiana defensive back Brandon Bishop and former Coastal Carolina cornerback Elijah Hopkins.
Liberty Football Season Prediction
Liberty will win more than eight games but won’t win the Conference USA Championship.
The Flames are going to have a high-powered offense. But the uncertainty at quarterback is a large enough factor for me to think Western Kentucky is in a better position to win the conference title.
That said, Liberty will still win plenty of games. In fact, I’m not sure the Flames won’t be favored in every matchup except their contest at WKU.
Liberty’s non-conference slate doesn’t feature a single Power Five opponent. Games at home against Bowling Green, Old Dominion, and UMass should all be winnable.
The Flames’ trip to Buffalo may be tough. However, they should be capable of going 7-1 in conference play.
The only Conference USA opponents I could see Liberty losing to would be Middle Tennessee, WKU, and Louisiana Tech, especially considering Liberty faces those teams in consecutive weeks. But the Flames get to play Middle Tennessee and Louisiana Tech at home, which should help them.
Accounting for two losses during that three-game stretch, as well as one to Buffalo, I still see Liberty winning nine games.
Even if the Flames don’t win a conference title, they should be in for a successful first season in CUSA.