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This season’s Big South Conference (BSC) football champion could come down to the Nov. 22 regular-season finale between Liberty University and Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C. Preseason polls project the two teams as favorites and, if this holds true, the winner would secure the conference’s automatic bid to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Playoffs.
This year, Liberty faces another strong non-conference schedule, starting with its season opener Aug. 30 at the University of North Carolina and including an Oct. 4 homecoming clash with Richmond. On Oct. 11, the Flames, who are seeking to join a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) conference, travel to Boone, N.C., to challenge Appalachian State, a member of the FBS’s Sun Belt Conference. If the Flames can take care of business in conference play, they expect to be vying for their seventh BSC championship. Check out the full schedule and buy tickets from the Flames Football site.
Defensively, the Flames are anchored by senior linebacker Nick Sigmon, the team’s active career leader with 174 tackles through three seasons, and senior safety Jacob Hagen, who ranked ninth in the nation with six interceptions last fall. Both were named to the 2014 Sports Network FCS Preseason All-America teams. In 2013, Liberty ranked fifth in the nation in interceptions (19) and third in turnover margin (plus-1.3 per game).
Junior quarterback Josh Woodrum has emerged as a vocal team leader with impressive statistics to back up his words in the huddle. He ranked No. 1 in the Big South in passing yards (2,581) and passing touchdowns (19) last season. In two years, he has completed 381 of 575 passes for 4,547 yards and 30 TDs.
Woodrum, who was named to the College Football Performance Awards (CFPA) Quarterbacks Watch List in June, has some exceptional receivers to work with again this season, including his top three targets from last fall — junior Darrin Peterson (58 catches, 825 yards, 7 TDs), senior Gabe Henderson (47-641, 3 TDs), and sophomore Dante Shells (29-432).
Liberty third-year Head Coach Turner Gill also has a stable full of young but promising running backs. The group is led by D.J. Abnar (72 carries for 411 yards and six TDs, eight catches for 102 yards in 2013) and fellow junior Austin Kaigle, as well as redshirt freshmen Todd Macon and Joshua Smith.
Four recent Liberty alumni are currently making names for themselves in the National Football League. Rashad Jennings (’09) is the projected starting running back for the New York Giants. He signed a free-agent contract following a breakthrough season with the Oakland Raiders last year. Former Flames quarterback Mike Brown (’11), meanwhile, has worked his way into the wide receiver rotation for the Jacksonville Jaguars, enjoying an auspicious second season.
Two cornerbacks on Liberty’s 2013 team are challenging for playing time in the Miami Dolphins’ secondary — Walt Aikens, who was selected in the fourth round of the NFL draft, and Kevin Fogg, who signed as a free agent.