Liberty next up to make jump up a level in football

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Already in the past several years, a handful or two of Div. 1-AA (FCS) football programs have made the jump to the Div. 1-A (FBS) level.  This year alone, four programs — South Alabama (Sun Belt), Texas State (WAC), UMass (MAC) and UT-San Antonio (WAC) — will be making the jump.

Georgia State will be making the move to the big-boy level of football next year, as will Charlotte in 2015, while Appalachian State is on the verge of doing the same.

Now, another program is prepared to take that step up the football ladder.

During his commencement address Saturday, Liberty University chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. (pictured, left) announced that, as the Lynchburg News & Advance wrote, the Flames are ready to make the leap to the Football Bowl Subdivision.  The decision is the result of a feasibility study that commenced in December, shortly after the hiring of former Kansas head coach Turner Gill (pictured, right) for the same position with the Flames.

While a press conference will be held at 1 p.m. Monday afternoon to address the decision, Falwell Jr. issued a press release confirming the news he broke during the commencement speech.

“Competing at the highest levels of collegiate competition has been the vision for Liberty University since its founding in 1971,” Falwell said in a press release. “It is exciting to watch the fulfillment of that dream taking shape as Liberty now has the financial resources, facilities, academic support and athletics professionals necessary to move forward.”

Even as Liberty, a private Christian university founded over 40 years ago by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, has the desire to move up a level, they cannot do so without an official invitation from a 1-A conference, which is much the same position in which Appalachian State finds itself.

The News & Advance notes that the Sun Belt and MAC are the most likely options, and the school is hoping that the positive end to the feasibility study will prompt conferences to take an interest in the football program.

One plus for the two conferences mentioned is stadium size.  While Williams Stadium seats just 19,200 fans now, there are plans to expand the stadium to a capacity of 30,000 in the very near future.  Such a number would put LU behind just three of 12 schools in the MAC* — Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan at 30,200, Central Michigan at 30,199 — and make them very competitive attendance-wise in the Sun Belt — seven of the 10 schools currently in the conference have stadiums with listed capacities between 30,000 and 31,000, with new member South Alabama topping the league at just over 40,000.

(*13th member UMass will play its home games at Gillette Stadium, home of the NFL’s New England Patriots)

Adding Liberty would expand the MAC’s footprint to seven states, the Sun Belt’s to eight.

Regardless of where Liberty ultimately lands, the school is confident it’s ready to take that next step with its football program.

“There has always been great commitment from our university to our NCAA Division I athletics programs and everything we have done has been with intent and purpose,” athletic director Jeff Barber said in his statement. “Our university and athletics program have gone through tremendous transformation during the past five years, and because of this, we are ready for FBS football.”

(Photo credit: Liberty athletics)

Three DBs among four who have left Syracuse since end of season

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Especially when it comes to the defensive side of the ball, Syracuse’s roster has seen a significant amount of attrition over the past couple of weeks.

Since the end of the 2017 regular season 17 days ago, a total of four players have left the Orange football program. Three of those who have taken their leave are defensive backs — Juwan Dowels, Daivon Ellison, Cordell Hudson — while the other is defensive tackle Kayton Samuels (pictured).

Dowels and Samuels were the latest to part ways, with both announcing on social media their decisions to transfer over the weekend.

Both of those two, along with Hudson, are leaving the Orange as graduate transfers. That transferring trio would all be eligible to play in 2018 if they move on to another FBS program.

Samuels played in 34 games during his time with the ‘Cuse, while Dowels played in 24. The latter’s 2016 season was cut short because of a knee injury in Week 2.

SMU confirms hiring of Sonny Dykes as new head coach

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After a year away from the head-coaching game, Sonny Dykes is back in it.

Not long after reports had surfaced earlier Monday, SMU confirmed a short time ago that Dykes has been named as the football program’s new head football coach.  Dykes replaces Chad Morris, who left for the same job at Arkansas late last week.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to be introduced as the Head Coach at SMU,” a lengthy statement from Dykes began. “This is home and this is a program I grew up watching. I watched Mustang legends compete and I could always see myself putting on that iconic pony. Today, I’m proud to do just that.

“Coach Morris did great things here and I am fortunate that I have been selected to take the foundation Chad and his staff put in place and take it to a new level. And, make no mistake – That is what we plan to do.”

Prior to 2017, Dykes had spent the previous seven seasons as a head coach — four at Cal (2013-16) and three at Louisiana Tech (2010-12).  After being fired by the former school, he was considered a candidate for the offensive coordinator position at Arizona State.  Family issues, however, made TCU a better fit as he spent this past season as an offensive analyst with the Horned Frogs.

A native of Texas who played college baseball for Texas Tech, Dykes has gone 41-45 as a head coach — 22-15 at Louisiana Tech, 19-30 at Cal.

In Morris’ third season at SMU, the 7-5 Mustangs are bowl-eligible for the first time since 2012.

Florida DL Taven Bryan declares for NFL Draft

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The Dan Mullen era has everyone excited in Gainesville, but one key contributor won’t stick around to see it.

Defensive lineman Taven Bryan announced Monday he will leave school to enter his name in the 2018 NFL Draft. According to the statement released on his Twitter account, it sounds as if he made his mind up during the Jim McElwain and Randy Shannon regimes and nearly returned upon Mullen’s arrival.

Bryan ranked fifth on the team with 40 tackles while also recording six TFL and four sacks, just half a sack off the team lead.

A native of Casper, Wyo., Bryan will attempt to become just the third Wyoming native to be among the ranks of active NFL players.

SMU reportedly tabs former Cal, La Tech head coach Sonny Dykes as new head coach

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Sonny Dykes will take over as SMU’s head coach, according to multiple reports. The move was first reported by FotballScoop on Monday morning, and since confirmed by ESPN and Sports Illustrated.

Dykes takes over for Chad Morris, who left last week to become the head coach at Arkansas.

Morris was hired to re-establish ties with the Texas high school community after the program flatlined under June Jones, and Dykes has a similar appeal as his predecessor. Like Morris, Dykes is a former Texas high school coach, though only briefly. (He spent one year as the running backs coach at Richardson Pearce High School in 1994.) But more importantly he’s a name that will resonate with Texas high school coaches as the son of the legendary Spike Dykes.

The younger Dykes served as an assistant at Navarro Junior College and Texas Tech before taking over as the head coach at Louisiana Tech, where he led the Bulldogs to a 22-15 mark with one WAC championship from 2010-12. That success led him to Cal, where he took the Golden Bears to one bowl game in four seasons.

He was let go after the 2016 season, and spent the 2017 campaign laying low nearby the Hilltop, as an offensive analyst at TCU.

Dykes will inherit a 7-5 SMU team that ranked eighth nationally in scoring offense and 113th in scoring defense. The Mustangs will meet Dykes’s former team Louisiana Tech in the inaugural Frisco Bowl on Dec. 20 (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Interim head coach Jeff Traylor garnered significant support inside the locker room to take over on a full-time basis, so it will be interesting to see if Dykes works to keep the former Texas high school coach on staff, perhaps in an offensive coordinator capacity.