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)

Scott Frost wants Nebraska football roster to grow to 150 players or more in 2018

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In the days before you were limited to 85 scholarship players, it was not totally uncommon to see teams stock their rosters full of players and wind up in the triple-digits with close to 200 players on a team. Even after the NCAA mandated a limit of 85 scholarships, roster sizes were still not that much smaller when you factored in walk-ons and others on a squad.

It appears Scott Frost wants to get back to those sort of days in Lincoln and is apparently pushing the school to help him expand the Cornhuskers roster right into the 150 range.

“I’d like to accommodate (Frost’s) desire” to expand the roster, athletic director Bill Moos said this week in an interview with Rivals’ HuskerOnline. “But we do have that issue with Title IX” along with locker room facilities challenges, organized practice schedules, and other daily management nuts and bolts to sort through.

“Nebraska has been known for having a lot of players on the team…a lot of walk-ons. I’d like to get back to that,” Frost had said on Signing Day earlier in the month. “The best thing Coach (Tom) Osborne did was have everybody practice… and part of that is what led to the development of players and helped walk-ons and young players get better faster and get on the field and help the team. I think that’s an asset that Nebraska can have if we’re willing to expand the roster.”

HuskerOnline details some of the compliance and budgetary challenges that going to 150 would entail but it certainly sounds like the school is making the effort to beef the numbers up. The Cornhuskers are well known in college football history for their walk-on program and roughly 10-15 walk-ons per class would apparently help them land right around Frost’s ideal roster size after factoring in the 85 full-scholarship players he would recruit.

Interestingly, going to 150 would allow the program to pass Michigan for the Big Ten’s biggest roster. The Wolverines under Jim Harbaugh are reportedly sitting at around 135 players after the 2017 season while most of the other conference’s schools are mostly around the 120 mark with a few exceptions. Title IX is not surprisingly the biggest obstacle for teams but it seems like some can manage things with no issue.

Frost was hired this offseason to help take Nebraska back to their perch atop college football and it seems like he is certainly attempting to do that in more ways than one when it comes to Big Red.

Purdue hires Utah State’s Mark Tommerdahl as special teams and tight ends coach

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Jeff Brohm is bringing in longtime coaching veteran Mark Tommerdahl to fill out his staff and serve as Purdue’s special teams and tight ends coach.

The Boilermakers announced the move on Saturday afternoon as Tommerdahl heads to West Lafayette after spending just a season at Utah State where he also coached running backs and ran the Aggies’ special teams. While his stay in Logan was brief, Tommerdahl has been all over the country in 34 years as a coach and is highly regarded for his work in the kicking game.

Tommerdahl has plenty of prior Power Five coaching experience and spent four seasons with Sonny Dykes at Cal where he coached three different position groups and served as assistant head coach. Prior to that he also had stops at Louisiana Tech, Texas A&M, Alabama, TCU and several other schools.

The move to bring in Tommerdahl fills the spot on the Boilermakers’ staff that was left when former Houston coach Tony Levine left after one season with the school to pursue opportunities outside of the coaching profession. Brohm’s 10th assistant Kevin Wolthausen was also given special teams responsibilities when he was elevated to a full-time role so it’s possible the team is really beefing up their emphasis on the third phases of the game with the two new coaches splitting duties when it comes to special teams.

Either way, after a surprising 2017 season that ended with a bowl game victory it’s pretty clear that Brohm is not just sitting back when it comes to his coaching staff and is bringing in some veteran names to help the team take the next step in 2018.

Iowa State OC Tom Manning reportedly leaving Ames for Indianapolis Colts staff

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After one of the most successful seasons in recent memory at Iowa State, it appears head coach Matt Campbell will not be able to keep the band together for another run.

Campbell confirmed to The Des Moines Register on Saturday morning that offensive coordinator Tom Manning was leaving Ames and will be taking a job in the NFL. The paper later was able to confirm that the team in question will be the Indianapolis Colts for a spot on Frank Reich’s new staff. ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg says Manning will be the team’s tight ends coach.

“I’m really happy and proud of him,” Campbell told the Register.

Manning has been with Campbell for years and the two actually played (and coached) together at famed D-III power Mount Union in the early 2000’s. Both were on the same staff at Toledo and Manning served as offensive line coach both there and at Iowa State. As offensive coordinator in 2017 he guided the Cyclones to a bit of an offensive renaissance despite relying on backup quarterback Kyle Kempt for most of the season, helping the team produce the third most points per game in school history while ranking in the top five in both total yards and passing.

ISU memorably upset Oklahoma in Norman and capped off an eight-win campaign in the Liberty Bowl with a victory over a ranked Memphis team.

The move leaves two openings on Campbell’s staff for 2018 but the Register notes that graduate assistant Jeff Myers is a possibility for the offensive line job and special teams analyst Joe Houston could be the team’s potential 10th assistant coach.

Rutgers offensive line went curling and it was no Miracurl on Ice

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The Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang are almost over but one of the best moments to happen over in South Korea came early Saturday morning stateside as Team USA completed an improbable run toward a gold medal in curling. John Shuster and company wound up capturing America’s first ever Olympic curling gold medal and fittingly won by beating the No. 1 ranked team in the world from Sweden in what is now being dubbed the Miracurl on Ice.

It’s no stretch to say that curling is not just enjoying its quadrennial moment in the spotlight but is genuinely seeing interest in the sport peak in places from coast-to-coast. That even includes the bustling winter sports capital of… Piscataway.

Rutgers offensive line apparently tried their hands at curling for the first time earlier this week and The Players’ Tribune sent along a camera to see how they did against a local club.

Let’s just say that the Scarlet Knights should stick to football. That said, a Big Ten curling tournament should definitely be in the works ASAP.

Either way, congrats to Team USA on the gold medal and let’s hope their victory tour includes teaching offensive lines far and wide how to bring the, ahem, hammer.