A good friend of mine used to always joke, “If you have low expectations, you are never disappointed.” Like most jokes, there is some truth there. So while the modern era (Rocco to present) of Liberty football has in some ways rightfully taught us to “Expect To Win,” I am proposing to you that this era is over.
Sounds bleak right? I promise you it isn’t.
Liberty is less than a week away from doing something that Dr. Falwell dreamed of, and spoke about often. However, most of us who attended LU during his earthly life doubted that this would occur in ours. Liberty football will run out of the tunnel on Saturday with a full FBS schedule in front of them from this point forward. This would have been unthinkable when I graduated in 2004. The achievements necessary for this to happen are multitude, but include massive financial growth, dedication to facilities and staff across all of athletics and academics, and yes, some measure of winning. None of which Liberty University was known for at the midpoint of last decade. It truly is incredible, exciting, and an absolute testament to the power of faith, determination, and vision.
So don’t ruin it with your expectations.
Getting to this level was in some ways a 45 year process, but at the very least a 12 year push forward. If we as fans don’t expect being successful at this level to be every bit the struggle that getting here was, or even harder, we are deluding ourselves. Liberty football had very moderate success at the FCS level, spurred on by a massive edge in budgets and facilities over our competition. And just like a well-to-do family from a small town that moves to the big city, Liberty will find that we are no longer all that wealthy compared to our new neighbors, especially the ones that live on Power 5 Street. While Liberty football has competed bravely and fiercely against FBS opponents over the past decade, even beating a few, facing these sorts of teams week after week is an entirely different animal. LU will no longer be looked at as the FCS school a team can take lightly and keep the playbook vanilla against. In fact, for many of the G5’s who don’t have Power 5 resources, we will be a target to make an example of. Coaches and AD’s who make less money and are forced to stretch their resources, love to beat guys who make more money and have more toys. For much of the schedule, Liberty will be taking their opponents’ best shot.
Since 2000, transitioning teams averaged picking up their first FBS win in 7 games. Every situation is different, and Liberty is no exception. Despite history suggesting otherwise, the Flames could shoot out to a 6 or 7 win season. However, look at things objectively. Has there been a team that transitioned from the FCS ranks to the top level of college football having done less on the field? Filter out the teams that started new programs on their way to FBS status, like UNC Charlotte or Georgia State. Then look at the list. In recent history that includes schools like Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Texas State, UMass, Georgia Southern, and Western Kentucky. All of which had significantly more success than LU, and, with the exception of App State, all struggled out of the gate or continue to do so. These teams had the benefit of a conference schedule that guaranteed home games in late October and November as well, a luxury Liberty is not afforded.
So what should we all expect? Expect struggle. Expect occasional ugliness, but also expect occasional glimmers of hope, and signs of success to come. This isn’t likely to be a one or two year process. There are going to be ups and downs, but probably more downs than ups for a while. Heck, maybe for a long while. That’s perfectly okay (that doesn’t mean we won’t be frustrated and demand changes when things are bad). The reason I am writing all of this isn’t to be negative or to be a downer.
Quite the opposite.
There has never been a more exciting time to be a fan of the Liberty Flames. Big name opponents are on the schedule right now. Power 5 programs are visiting Williams Stadium in the near future. Incredible opportunity lays in front of Liberty Football. Regardless of wins and losses over the next few years, there are going to be amazing times for us as fans, as well as for the coaches and players on this team. However, in order to appreciate those moments for what they are, it is going to take an eye for perspective and history. It is going to take an appreciation for the challenge of a long and uphill climb that we as followers of Christ should recognize. Despite more than 40 years behind us, Liberty Football’s journey to the top of the mountain truly begins this week. It’s a fresh start, but that start is indeed from the bottom.
Don’t get caught up in the expectations of the past decade. You’ll miss so much of the ride that when Liberty does get to where we all want it to go, it won’t mean nearly as much. Embrace the struggle.