Mar 27, 2007

Gearing up for the gridiron: A breakdown of the Flames non-conference football schedule for the 2007 season

by Jared Pierce, Asst. Sports Editor
Well, the Flames released their 2007 football schedule.

This is (sort of) old news to some, but new to those who don’t read libertyflames.com everyday.
(On a separate note, Liberty has one of the finest athletic Web sites around. After trying to obtain tons of info from various university athletic sites, I have found that Liberty’s may not be flashy or fancy, but it is extremely user-friendly.

My only gripe would be the useless 24-style clock in the top right. I’m sorry, but I just don’t need to know how many days, hours, minutes and seconds I am away from the next Liberty athletic event.)
Anyways, I digress. Here is a team-by-team breakdown of each non-conference opponent Liberty will face this season.

Sept. 1: Tusculum College (Home)
Mascot (Location): Pioneers (Tenn.)
Conference: South Atlantic Conference (Division II).

2006 Results: Tusculum matched Liberty’s last season record of 6-5 overall. Not great – but to be fair, it did play top-ranked D-II teams such as No. 3 North Alabama (Loss), No. 13 Newberry (Loss) and formerly ranked Bethel (Win).

The Pioneers also defeated woeful St. Paul’s (2-8 last season) by one point more than Liberty did, 28-0.

Side Note: The team’s Web site has this headline – “2003 SAC Champion.”
That’s kind of like winning your March Madness office pool and leaving the winning bracket framed on your office door for the next four years.

Game Prediction: The Pioneers return quarterback Corey Russell, who threw for more than 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns while running for 433 more yards last season. They also get top rusher Patrick King back. With Liberty losing crucial defensive leadership, it might be a long day for the Flames. Nevertheless, Liberty pulls out a nail biter at home, 31-28.

Sept. 8: Shippensburg University (Home)
Mascot (Location): Raiders (Pa.)
Conference: Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (Division II).

2006 Results: Though the Raiders managed only a 5-6 record, they scored at least 14 points in nine of the 11 games and won by two touchdowns or more in three of their five wins. However, they lost by two or more touchdowns in five of their six losses.

Side Note: The losses to Indiana and California on their schedule don’t look too bad. That is until you realize they are not the major universities of two U.S. states, but instead oddly named colleges in Pennsylvania. Also, when you pull up the season stats for football, the part at the top of the browser says ‘baseball stats.’ Even their Web site is confused by this game of “football.”

Game Prediction: Shippensburg’s defense allowed just over 23 points per game last season. That’s not a bad total, but it does not help when your offense can only score 21 points per game.
On top of that, only one of the top three tacklers from last season will return. Not good for the Raiders against a much more offensively charged Liberty team. The Flames take this contest, 35-14.

Sept. 15: College of William and Mary (Away)
Mascot (Location): Tribe (Va.).
Conference: Atlantic 10 (Division I-AA).

2006 Results: The Tribe went a dismal 3-8 last season. Maybe Willie and Mary should join the Big South. Two of last season’s wins came against  teams from that conference (Liberty and VMI).
Side Note: The Tribe won the 2004 A-10 title, but there was no banner on the Web site. Someone at Tusculum needs to check into this.

Game Prediction: The Tribe defense will suffer from personnel losses at pivotal positions, which sees a combined 289 tackles follow out the door.

With the exception of running back Elijah Brooks, the offense keeps stability. As this is a home game and the second in a row against the Big South (VMI), Willie and Mary should take the Flames out only after a bitter battle, 28-27.

Sept. 22: Elon University (Away)
Mascot (Location): Phoenix (N.C.).
Conference: Southern Conference (Division I-AA).

2006 Results: The Phoenix finished a meager 5-6 last season but managed a win over Big South Conference Champion Coastal Carolina. That win, however, came early in the season. The last time Elon played the Flames was 2004 in Lynchburg. Liberty won that season ending match, 27-17.
Side Note: Elon’s head coach is named Pete Lembo. How many headlines has his name been good for? No less than three per season. “Elon in ‘Lembo’.” “(Star Player) in ‘Lembo’ with head coach.” “Phoenix hover in ‘Lembo’.” It’s just too easy.

Game Prediction: Home is not a special place for Elon. Last season, they lost more games at home than they won (2-4) and only averaged a bit more than 6,000 fans per home game (in comparison, Liberty averaged more than 11,000 per game last season). With little home field advantage and an even more talented Liberty team, the Flames soar past the Phoenix, 28-18.

Sept. 29: St. Francis University (Home)
Mascot (Location): Red Flash (Pa.).
Conference: Northeast Conference (Division I-AA).

2006 Results: After enduring a rough seven game losing streak in the middle of the season, the Red Flash were only able to muster a 3-8 record. Their only wins came at home, and two were against conference foes with a combined 6-16 record. The other win? It was a 38-3 drubbing of Saint Peter’s College, which ended the season with an (un)impressive 2-8 record.

Side Note: One of the three wins for the Red Flash last season came against the Wagner College Seahawks. This season’s schedule shows Wagner’s homecoming game against Marist College.
The weird part? It is the second game of the season. Who has homecoming after only one game? Do they pick the homecoming king and queen a year in advance just to have time to prepare the floats?
Maybe they just dislike Marist and wanted to play them for homecoming, but they could only get a week two game worked out. Who knows?

Game Prediction: St. Francis plays in a weak conference and loses too many games to attract top recruits. Liberty will dash past the Red Flash, 42-10.

Oct. 6: University of Toledo (Away)
Mascot (Location): Rockets (Ohio).
Conference: Mid-American Conference (Division I).

2006 Results: The Rockets just missed a bowl berth with a 5-7 record in 2006. They were stellar at home (4-2), but embarrassing on the road (1-5). They scored more than 30 points five times during the season, going 4-1 when they did.

Side Note: Toledo’s home stadium, known as the Glass Bowl, was originally built in the 1930s as a Workers Progress Administration (WPA) project.

As a part of the New Deal, the WPA was formed after the Great Depression of the late 1920s sent most of America’s working class into the unemployment line. It has been updated throughout the years to adjust to advances in technology.

Game Prediction: Toledo plays in a much tougher conference against higher quality foes, so don’t let their record confuse you. They have the best 2007 recruiting class in the MAC and offensive tackle John Greco is on the Lombardi Trophy watch.

Liberty also arrives on the third home game in a row for the Rockets, who play great in the Glass Bowl. Expect Toledo to thoroughly dismantle the Flames, 35-14.

Oct. 27: Presbyterian (Homecoming)
Mascot (Location): Blue Hose (S.C.).
Conference: South Atlantic Conference (Division II).

2006 Results: At 7-4, the Blue Hose boast only the second winning record of Liberty’s non-conference opponents.

Side Note: I feel bad for Presbyterian. Homecoming matches are supposed to be easy wins. Not only are they Liberty’s homecoming foe this year, but they played the same role against fellow SAC conference school Tusculum.

The funny part? They not only beat the Pioneers that game, but they finished two spots ahead in conference play as well.

Game Prediction: The Blue Hose will play, including Liberty, four Big South opponents next season. Liberty has lost its last two homecoming games, but is much improved over both of those seasons. Liberty makes the homecoming crowd happy with a 31-21 victory.

Final Analysis

If my predictions hold true, then Liberty will have a non-conference schedule of 5-2. I understand that some scheduling difficulties forced the Flames to play two D-II schools, but maybe having two lighter games will help Liberty’s confidence going into the William and Mary game.

Playing Toledo will be a good measuring stick for the Rocco program. They will probably lose the game, but if they play well, recruiting in the talent-rich state of Ohio may get easier.

Next week, I will run down the conference schedule and see who the Flames biggest Big South worry is this upcoming season.

Contact Jared Pierce at jpierce2@liberty.edu.
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