CUSA released their football schedule recently. It was a realization for many that Liberty would not be playing a Power Five program for a second straight year.

With a low strength of schedule slated again for 2024 (Appalachian State will be a Sun Belt favorite and ECU averaged 7.5 wins playing in the AAC in 2021-22 before they lost the good teams to the Big 12, and don’t sleep on Western Kentucky who has won five straight bowl games or Jacksonville State that beat Florida State a couple years ago), we wanted to take a deeper look into why the schedules have not included Power Fives and address some other concerns we noticed while perusing a popular fan opinion outlet, “X”. 

We had great schedules lined up that included South Carolina, Virginia, Wake Forest, Duke, Virginia, North Carolina, and several other great matchups for the Flames. What happened? How did we drop so many games, and end up with no P5 games 2 years in a row now?

Well, we went from playing independently to playing in a conference. We had to drop from non-conference 12 games to 4 to make room for the 8 conference games. Looking back, I would say it was the right move for the program (Fiesta Bowl is still paying dividends).

Additionally, when many of those schedule contracts were signed, Liberty was a brand new FBS program that P5 teams looked at as an easy FBS win. Look no further than some of the games the newest FBS (and CUSA) call-up Delaware has recently announced. The nation learned very quickly, though, Liberty is a G5 powerhouse on the rise.

Once the Flames’ move from an Independent to CUSA, I’m sure the first calls we received were from administrators at P5 schools not wanting to play us anymore. When those types of games are scheduled from a P5 perspective, its for a guaranteed win. Being in a P5 conference, they are not trying to increase their strength of schedule with non conference games. They pick a program that counts as a FBS win towards bowl eligibility but that they will be a very large favorite to win. Its just how it goes.

Try and remove the EA Sports schedule maker mentality and put yourself in a P5 AD’s position, there is not much to gain from playing a G5 powerhouse on the rise. If you win, it doesn’t move the needle because it is expected, if you lose it can be season defining in a bad way. In some cases, the P5s we had on the schedule were more than happy to pay the contractual fee to remove the game off of their schedule. Couple their desire to get out of the game, with Liberty’s desperate need to eliminate 8 games from future schedules, and its easy to see why those were the first calls I am certain Liberty received. 

“Football scheduling is very challenging, especially with a highly successful program,” Liberty AD Ian McCaw told ASOR. “Every program wants to win its non-conference games, and when you have the kind of success that Liberty has enjoyed in recent years including multiple wins over Power 5 programs that severely limits the pool of teams interested in playing. Unfortunately, we had several Power 5 programs drop games around the time we transitioned from FBS Independent to Conference USA.”

McCaw has made the scheduling model clear from the announcement of joining CUSA. 1 FCS game, 2 competitive G5s and a Power 5 to make up the 4 non conference games each year. So what has been the delay in transitioning to that model in 2023 and 2024?

There are a few factors. First is timing, college football schedules are done and agreed upon several years in advance. Without paying a substantial fee, or mutually agreeing, many teams are locked into their non conference schedules for many years into the future. It’s also difficult to know how good (or bad) a team will be when the game is actually played. East Carolina this year is a good example, as is the series with James Madison in 2033 and 2034. The Dukes have had tremendous success the past couple of years, but who knows how good JMU (or Liberty) will be when those games are played.

“Since football series are typically scheduled 5 to 10 years in advance of the games, it is difficult to know the strength of an opponent at a future point in time when you play the game,” said McCaw.

The second factor is what we previously mentioned, we are a powerhouse G5 on the rise. In a lot of cases it is very difficult to find a Power 5 scheduling partner. I can say without any hesitation that the Athletic Director and Head Coach are not in any way shying away from playing competitive games and adding strength of schedule by design or scheduling philosophy. There are several cases where a Power 5 team needs a game because of an unforeseen opening, Liberty makes the call and the response has been the same, “you are too good, its a not a good opportunity for us”. Power Fives are still in the scheduling model, it just may take some time to get there. Patience while understanding there is a push from Liberty to add whenever possible. 

Adding Appalachian State and East Carolina for 2024 was excellent. The Mountaineers should be near the top of the Sun Belt, and ECU has traditionally been a strong player in the AAC. With an increased rankings reputation of CUSA, the Liberty strength of schedule in 2024 will certainly be an improvement from 2023.

I am hopeful there will be an opportunity in 2025 and 2026 to add a Power 5 and or another traditionally solid G5. The same folks that created the Independent schedules that included BYU, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Arkansas and Wake Forest are still making the schedules, and the head coach has a history of playing anyone anywhere. I am confident we will continue moving scheduling in the right direction as we transition from being Independent to playing in the CUSA.