It was only six seasons ago when Liberty finished a football season with a 6-5 record against a schedule that included names such as Jacksonville, Robert Morris, and Presbyterian. That was the norm for the Liberty football program. Winning seasons without much success on the national level.
Then things started to change.
Former Athletic Director of the Year Ian McCaw was hired to guide the Flames’ Athletic program. The NCAA approved the school’s waiver to join the highest level of college football and begin competing as an FBS Independent.
The biggest move of all was bringing in Hugh Freeze as head coach.
One of the best head football coaches in the entire country, Freeze immediately brought relevance to a football program that struggled to find acclaim.
And the Flames started winning.
Liberty went 8-5 during Freeze’s first year as head coach in 2019, the program’s first year as a full FBS member. The team could have had an even better record if it weren’t for a staph infection that sidelined the Liberty coach for much of training camp and had him coaching from the press box for the first two games. Still, Freeze led the Flames to its first ever bowl game, one that ended in a 23-16 upset win over Georgia Southern in the Cure Bowl.
The success continued. In 2020, behind Freeze and Auburn transfer Malik Willis at quarterback, Liberty knocked off its first ever ACC team, doing so twice during the season with wins at Syracuse and Virginia Tech. It led to the team being ranked in the FBS top 25 for the first time in school history, finishing the year at No. 17 following a win over previously unbeaten and nationally ranked Coastal Carolina in the 2020 Cure Bowl.
2021 ended in a bit of disappointment with three point losses on the road to Syracuse and Louisiana-Monroe before a three-game skid to end the regular season. Liberty would bounce back with a decisive, 56-20, trouncing of Eastern Michigan to win a third straight bowl game and reach the 8-win plateau for a third time in as many seasons under Freeze.
After two outstanding years in Lynchburg, Willis was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the 3rd round of the 2022 NFL Draft. The Flames would enter 2022 facing the toughest schedule in school history and with a new quarterback at the helm. It was supposed to be a rebuilding season.
It has been anything but.
Despite being just one of six FBS teams in the country that has started three or more quarterbacks this season, Liberty is 7-1 and ranked inside the top 25 polls for a second year. The Flames’, now ranked No. 23 in the country, only loss was a one-point setback at nationally-ranked Wake Forest in which Freeze opted to go for two, and the win, with about a minute left in the game. The play failed, but the team has since reeled off five straight wins to crack the top 25 polls.
The win streak was extended to five with one of the biggest wins in school history when Liberty steamrolled BYU, 41-14, prior to its bye week this past Saturday.
All that has set up a showdown against an SEC program. The entire college football world will be keeping tabs on the game in Fayetteville, Arkansas, as Liberty looks to pick up win number eight for a fourth straight season and the Arkansas Razorbacks hope to improve to 6-3 and secure bowl eligibility.
“You know that more eyes are on you,” Freeze said earlier this week of the matchup. “More eyes are on your team. I don’t think any coach that is worth his salt wants to put an embarrassing product on the field at any time, much less when a lot of the eyes are on you. You want it for your program, for your kids, to be able to compete and get into the second half and be in a ball game in this arena. It fires you up some.”
Freeze loves accomplishing firsts. A win over Arkansas would be the first ever for Liberty over an SEC program, and it will certainly vault the team into the College Football Playoff Top 25 rankings for the first time ever.
It would also arguably be the biggest win in school history with arguably the largest set of eyes the Flames have ever had on them. Those are bars that both continue to rise under Freeze. Knock off the Razorbacks and Liberty will have more national attention on them than ever before. A truly mammoth opportunity awaits.
“I love opportunities like this and I think our players will relish it,” said Freeze. “Are we at a point where we can go in there and compete for 60 minutes with a very good SEC team? I don’t know. It’s hard for me to judge that, particularly with some of the challenges we are facing. It’s still a great opportunity, a great experience.”