The 2020 Liberty football season is in the record books, but it is one that will be remembered for a long time. The Flames set many program firsts in a season that felt like it might not be played at all. Best start in school history at 8-0. First ever win over an ACC opponent. Knocking off Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on a last second field goal. First ever top 25 ranking. First ever win over an FBS Top 25 opponent. Finishing the season with 10 wins, tied for a program record, thanks to an overtime win over former Big South rival Coastal Carolina in the Cure Bowl.
“Man, what a year,” Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze said. “It’s one of the more memorable years that I have had in coaching. I just really can’t wait to kind of reflect on it. Obviously, there were a lot of obstacles that our program had to handle along with many others that had to play college football. Just thankful, thankful for our administration, all of the staff of nutritionists, medical team, equipment staff, everybody that worked so many extra jobs to make this happen. Most of all, I’m just thankful for our kids and staff that I get to work with. We had a tremendous year, what a way to end it in the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl again.”
This summer, we ranked the 5 best Liberty football teams in school history. At that point we had no idea the run the Flames would take us all on just a few months later. We ranked last year’s team, the 2019 version and the first under Freeze, as the best ever. An argument could be made that either the 2008 or 2014 team had better resumes than the 2019 team with 5 losses. However, that 2019 team played at the FBS level, playing in and winning the first ever bowl game in program history. With 6 wins over FBS teams, it was by a school record at the time.
In 2008, led by Rashad Jennings, Liberty won 10 games, the only other squad to reach double digit wins in school history, but there were no FBS wins and no postseason. In 2014, Liberty finished 9-5 and had wins over FCS Top 25 teams Bryant, (#1) Coastal Carolina, and James Madison. That squad also knocked off FBS Appalachian State.
But those teams don’t even sniff the 2020 squad who has set the new bar that all future Liberty football teams will be judged by.
“I don’t think there’s any question,” Freeze said when asked about if he thinks this is the best team in school history and that was before his team beat Coastal. “I think this is the best season in Liberty football history. You’re one point from being (11-0) and you’re ranked in the top 25 in the country. I don’t think it’s even a question as to what team goes down as being the best team in Liberty history. It’s got to be this one. There’s too many standards that have been made and set for anyone to argue that fact.”
The 2020 Liberty team becomes another in the long line of strong teams under Freeze. In 2009, his second year as a college head coach, Freeze’s Lambuth team finished 12-1 and advanced to the NAIA Quarterfinals. In his only season as head coach at Arkansas State, Freeze helped lead the Sun Belt members to a 10-2 mark. In 2015, he had his best season at Ole Miss, finishing 10-3 and ranked in the top 10 following a Sugar Bowl win.
“Our Sugar Bowl team at Ole Miss was really good and played really well, but this one was probably as rewarding,” Freeze said of the best teams he’s ever coached.
Still, this Liberty football team did not garner the national respect they have deserved. Yes, the Flames have been ranked in the Coaches and Associated Press Top 25 poll for much of the second half the season, though never being ranked higher than 21. The Flames never cracked the College Football Playoff Committee’s Top 25 even despite the impressive record, Power Five wins, and the only loss coming by one point on a blocked field goal against a team that is currently ranked in the CFP Top 25.
“It has been a little bit troubling or irritating in our locker room as this football committee that does the rankings on Tuesday night, I just wonder really what people look at sometimes,” Freeze said Saturday night after his team’s win over Coastal Carolina. “I would ask you guys, as you’re writing and talking about our team, what team in the Group of Five played 3 Power Five’s and beat a top 15 team? Anybody answer that? Yet, when those rankings come out…Listen, Cincinnati and BYU and Coastal, what great years they’ve had. I think the world of all those teams, I’m glad to see all of them, but I don’t know of anybody play the schedule that we did. I hope it’s reflected in the way people see at the end of the season, but we’re 10-1 and we lost one game at a Power Five opponent on their field by one point. I don’t know. It’s been hard for me to understand. People talk about they want you to go schedule strong games and play opponents, and we did that. Hopefully people see it that way now with us beating an undefeated top 15 team to add to our resume.”
Liberty’s final resume is certainly worthy of a top 15 national finish, if not even higher. The Flames could end up with the best resume of any non Power Five team in the country. Only Cincinnati could threaten that. If the Bearcats, currently ranked No. 8 in the CFP Top 25, are able to defeat No. 9 Georgia on New Year’s Day to finish 10-0, they would deserve to own that honor. But, if they fall, Liberty should be considered the best non-Power Five team in the country. Currently, Cincinnati does not have any P5 wins and their only win against a team currently ranked in the CFP Top 25 is No. 24 Tulsa. Liberty’s win over Coastal is better than that. BYU and Louisiana could make a case, but they both lost to the Chanticleers. San Jose State is 7-0 but they have no P5 or top 25 wins.
Hopefully as final season rankings come out, the Liberty Flames will begin to garner the respect they deserve, but regardless of the proper national respect, the 2020 Liberty Flames are unquestionably the best team in school history.