From Delaware State to West Virginia, with stops in between to Southern Illinois and Georgia State, the Flames’ 2015 football schedule is probably its toughest under head coach Turner Gill. Here’s how I rank LU’s opponents 1-11:
1. West Virginia
It’s the Flames’ annual Power 5 opponent. Liberty has met West Virginia once before, losing to the Mountaineers 33-20 in 2009 in what was Mike Brown’s coming out party. Led by coach Dana Holgorsen, WVU is coming off a 7-6 season in which they went to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Running backs Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood pace the Mountaineers’ offense.
2. Coastal Carolina
Under head coach Joe Moglia, the Chanticleers have become a household name amongst the FCS elite. They have advanced to the playoffs in 3 consecutive seasons and 4 of the past 5. The Chants have advanced to the quarterfinals in each of the past 2 seasons where they fell to eventual national champion North Dakota State both times. Big South Offensive Player of the Year Alex Ross and fellow first-team All-Big South member De’Angelo Henderson both return and have their eyes set on Frisco.
The Grizz will seek to return to being an FCS elite program under first year head coach Bob Stitt. Stitt comes to Montana after spending the past 15 seasons as head coach of Division II Colorado Mines where he led the Orediggers to a 108-62 overall record and 3 playoff appearances.
4. Southern Illinois
The Salukis finished 3-5 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, the best conference in all of FCS. They finished the season 6-6 overall with losses to Purdue, North Dakota State, Illinois State, Indiana State, Youngstown State, and Northern Iowa. Playing any MVFC team, especially on the road, is difficult, just look back to the Flames’ game against Indiana State a season ago.
5. Georgia State
Yes, the Panthers are FBS, but that hasn’t meant much to this point for the struggling program. Georgia State was 1-11 last season with their only win coming against FCS, 6-6 Abilene Christian, 38-37. They lost to Appalachian State 44-0. The Panthers are 2-33 over the past 3 seasons and 0-15 since joining the Sun Belt prior to the 2013 season.
Head coach Jamey Chadwell has built the Buccaneers into a borderline top 25 team. Charleston Southern has knocked off both Coastal and Liberty in Chadwell’s first two seasons in North Charleston, and with both of the Big South’s premier teams paying a trip to CSU this year, Chadwell looks to continue the Buccaneers’ climb.
Every couple of years, the Blue Hose seem to over perform as they did in 2014 winning 3 conference games. Will head coach Harold Nichols be able to keep PC at that level for consecutive seasons? A drastic improvement on the offensive side of the ball is needed to duplicate their 3-2 Big South mark.
The Hawks faced an uphill battle in their first season in the Big South, finishing just 1-4. They have shown some potential in nonconference matchups over the past 2 seasons, but the grind of conference play wore on the Hawks last year. Monmouth will face its first ever FBS opponent on September 12th when they face Central Michigan.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs lost 5 straight to close the 2014 season at 4-8 overall and 0-5 in conference play. GWU hopes to bounce back quickly, but must do so without the services of Lucas Beatty, Kenny Cook, and Seth Cranfill.
10. Delaware State
The Hornets finished 2014 with a record of 2-10. They played one common opponent as the Flames, opening their season at Monmouth. The Hawks beat DSU 52-21. Kenneth Carter is in his first season as head coach. He was most recently Youngstown State’s wide receivers coach. The Hornets have had just one winning year since their 2007 playoff season.
11. Kennesaw State
It’s their first ever season playing football, so its tough to predict what to expect out of Big South newcomer Kennesaw State. The Owls will be led by head coach Brian Bohannon who spent the 2008-2012 seasons as Georgia Tech’s quarterbacks coach. He’s also had stints at Georgia Southern and Navy, so we should expect KSU to run the triple option. With a student enrollment of 32,000 and having the Atlanta recruiting market in its backyard, don’t expect KSU to remain at the bottom of the conference long.