The Liberty Flames saw its 2021 regular season come to an end on Saturday with a 35-16 setback to the Army Black Knights. The Flames finish the regular season having dropped three straight games to Ole Miss, Louisiana, and Army as Liberty finishes the regular season with a 7-5 record.

Coming off a record-breaking 2020 season where the Flames finished the year at 10-1 and ranked No. 17 in the final Associated Press top 25 poll, expectations were higher than ever under Hugh Freeze in his third season with the program. Despite the disappointing end to the season with the three straight losses, Liberty has finished the regular season with its highest ever ESPN FPI ranking at the end of the year.

Following the conclusion of Liberty’s 2021 regular season, the Flames are currently ranked No. 69 in ESPN’s Football Power Index with a 0.2 rating. This is up from the 2020 season which finished ranked No. 76 with a -2.1 rating. The Flames’ first season at the FBS level, in 2018 under Turner Gill, Liberty finished 113th out of 130 FBS programs with an FPI rating of -14.8 following the team’s 6-6 season. In 2019, the first under Hugh Freeze, Liberty was up from 113 to No. 97 with a -8.4 rating.

Liberty’s final ESPN FPI rating:
2021: 69*
2020: 76
2019: 97
2018: 113
*pending final ranking following bowl games

FPI is a predictive rating system designed to measure team strength and project performance going forward. Each team’s FPI rating is composed of a predicted offensive, defensive and special teams component. These ratings represent the number of points each unit is expected to contribute to the team’s net scoring margin on a neutral field against an average FBS opponent.

Liberty’s wins this season came against #65 UAB, #89 Middle Tennessee, #95 North Texas, #101 Troy, #105 Old Dominion, and #130 UMass. Liberty’s losses were against #17 Ole Miss, #52 Louisiana, #57 Army, #72 Syracuse, and #120 Louisiana-Monroe.

Coming off the most successful season in school history in 2020, expectations have risen significantly around the Liberty football program. After winning 10 games, two against Power Five programs, beating an unbeaten and ranked Coastal Carolina in the Cure Bowl, and spending much of the last half of the season ranked in the top 25 will do that.

However, as an FBS Independent, it becomes difficult comparing the team’s success from year to year as the schedules change so much each season. Most teams have 8-9 games set from year to year from a conference schedule, and the primary goal would be to compete for a conference championship. That’s not the case for Liberty. Some seasons Liberty could play multiple top 25 teams or several strong Power Five opponents, and the next it may be just the opposite.

“When you’re not in a normal, every year schedule with a conference with a few out of conference teams, you’re playing basically a new schedule every year,” Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze said before the season began. “Which there is some excitement to that and some positive to that also, but 8 wins on a given year versus a certain schedule could really be equal to 10 or 11 wins against another year’s schedule. I’m very careful not to put quantitative values on what success looks like for a given season.”

“I believe a reasonable expectation for our program is for us to be competing week in, week out with whoever is on our schedule and for us to end up hopefully going to bowl games most every year,” said Freeze in the pre-season, something he has repeated throughout the year. “To me, that is really where we should just keep our focus and that’s being ultra competitive, no matter who is on the schedule, that doesn’t mean you win them all, and ultimately being able to represent our university on a national stage in a bowl game.”