2022 Liberty Flames Preview

by Matt Fargo

Liberty Flames

2021-22 Season Record 8-5 (N/A) - 7-6-0 ATS - 5-7-1 O/U

Returning Starters

Offense - 7
Defense - 4

Overview

Liberty has been in a tough spot since joining the FBS ranks in 2018. The Flames have no conference affiliation as they have played as an Independent since the start which makes scheduling more difficult and on the more broad scope, they are not playing for a conference championship, just a lower-tiered bowl game. Liberty has accomplished the latter each of the last three seasons after not being eligible in the first year and at some point, trying to make new goals becomes more difficult. For instance, in 2020 the Flames went 9-1 with the only loss coming against NC State by one point and their reward was a trip to the Cure Bowl and they ended up No. 17 in the final AP Poll. This changes next season when they become a member of C-USA so it is one more year for head coach Hugh Freeze to motivate the troops for another who cares bowl game and while some top talent has been lost, another winning season is very attainable.

Offense

The offense was chugging along last season and it was off to a 7-2 start but then over the final three games, the Flames scored 14, 14 and 16 points and lost all three games with a turnover margin of -11. They were led by quarterback Malik Willis and finished No. 47 in total offense and No. 42 in scoring offense but Willis has moved on and the job likely goes to veteran Charlie Brewer who has solid experience at Baylor and Utah. He has a solid offensive core to work with as the two top receivers are back in Demario Douglas and C.J. Daniels who combined for 1,330 yards and 13 touchdowns. The running game never got going last season and while it finished No. 51 in rushing offense, it should have been a lot better as it relied on Willis too much. T.J. Green rushed for 477 yards and is ready for a breakout and he will be behind an offensive line that is filling holes with incoming transfers from some major schools.

Defense

Praise goes to the defense that has allowed just 319 ypg over the last two seasons and finished No. 12 last season overall while allowing only 21.7 ppg. It faltered down the stretch as well but were pinned back often because of the turnovers on offense and now Liberty has to replace seven starters and some big ones at that. They lost two of their top three tacklers and they are from the middle so the linebacking corps will be the weakness and they will turn to Aakil Washington who was second on the team with 4.5 sacks while adding some transfer talent. The defensive line was strong and will be just as good this season behind ends TreShaun Clark and Durrell Johnson and are beefed up in the middle with Auburn transfer Dre Butler. The best returning player on defense is safety Jason Scruggs who was second on the team with 61 tackles and will head a secondary that has two solid corners and should be much better in takeaways.

2022 Season Outlook

The Flames have one more go as an Independent before taking a step up into the conference world which will bring in more top recruits as they have been No. 89 or lower in those rankings the last three years. Freeze has built something good here and while that has been his present goal, he is aiming to get back into the Power Five mix but 2022 is the main focus right now. Liberty opens on the road at Southern Mississippi before a tough home game against UAB and then a tougher test at Wake Forest. After that, it looks like four straight wins barring any glitches against Akron, Old Dominion, Massachusetts and Gardner Webb. Three tests remain against BYU, Arkansas and Virginia Tech but the first and third of those are at home. The O/U win total is set at 6.5 and the first game could set the tone as they are a slight favorite so a win there should push them over but a loss means an upset or two down the road will be needed. 

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