Make room for one more Football Bowl Subdivision program. The Liberty Flames are moving up from the FCS to the FBS, and they will not need a conference to join as they do so.
Liberty announced the NCAA approved a waiver request for FBS reclassification. A waiver request was submitted to the NCAA in January. Liberty will now begin a two-year reclassification transition and will be a full FBS program starting in the 2019 season, at which time they will be considered eligible for a postseason bowl berth if they meet the minimum number of wins. They will also be required to host five FBS opponents, which should not be too difficult to accomplish.
“This is a very exciting day for Liberty Athletics and our football program,” said Director of Athletics Ian McCaw (who was previously at Baylor as the scandal during the recent scandal news was breaking). “We are grateful for President Falwell’s vision and leadership in spearheading Liberty’s move to FBS football. We look forward to continuing our upward trajectory of success and meeting the level of competition in FBS.”
As far as programs making the move up to the FBS are concerned, Liberty appears to be in a better position than many that have made the move in recent years with a strong alumni base to support the program. It also brings Turner Gill back to the FBS. Gill last coached in the FBS as the head coach at Kansas in 2010 and 2011 after a successful four-year run with Buffalo prior to that, where he was MAC coach of the year in 2007. He has been the head coach of the Flames since 2012, leading the program to three consecutive Big South championships in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Future conference options figure to be Conference USA or the Sun Belt Conference, unless the program can convince the American Athletic Conference to give them a hard look in the next few years. Not having a conference home will not be easy, as UMass, Idaho and New Mexico State will demonstrate, but Liberty is hopeful the alumni support for the program will carry it for the long haul in a similar way BYU has experienced with its following. Liberty does have a loyal foundation to fall back on, which should help make this transition a little bit smoother than other programs have seen, but the Flames will still go through plenty of growing pains along the way as well.
As for the 2017 season, Liberty will open the season on the road against Baylor.
Alabama and Clemson appear to be on a collision course for a third straight meeting in the College Football Playoff national championship, and the Crimson Tide and defending national champion Tigers remain the top two favorites to win the national championship this season, according to the latest updated odds from Bovada.
Alabama’s odds have moved to 19/10 after being 2/1 last week. Right behind Alabama is Clemson at 9/2 a week after having 11/2 odds. Despite having one loss on their record already, the Ohio State Buckeyes remain in the thick of the race as well with the third-best national title odds after four weeks of play. Ohio State is listed at 7/1 by Bovada, staying ahead of USC (15/2) and Oklahoma (8/1) despite a head-to-head loss to the Sooners in Columbus in Week 2.
Penn State comes in at 10/1, followed by Michigan at 12/1. Georgia is on the rise as well with 14/1 odds to stay ahead of Washington (16/1). The biggest drop of the week was by Oklahoma State, who fell from 9/1 to 20/1 after a home loss to TCU. The Horned Frogs jumped up from 75/1 to 33/1 this week.
Bovada also updated their Heisman Trophy odds, with Penn State running back Saquon Barkley moving to the top of the board.
Coming off a monster performance against Iowa, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is now the new leader in the clubhouse for the Heisman Trophy, according to Bovada at least.
Bovada’s weekly updated Heisman odds put Barkley atop the Heisman board with 7/4 odds. He moves ahead of Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, USC quarterback Sam Darnold, and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson of Louisville, and separates himself from Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph.
Barkley has rushed for 518 yards with four rushing touchdowns in the first four weeks of the season. That alone would not be worthy of such high Heisman praise, of course, but Barkley has shown how good he is by contributing to the Penn State passing game. Barkley currently leads the Big Ten with 23 receptions and a conference-leading 335 receiving yards. Barkley has also added some yards on special teams returns, although he has not broken loose for a significant kickoff return just yet.
Barkley is not the only running back moving up Bovada’s board, however. Stanford running back Bryce Love went from 66/1 up to 33/1 following a big performance against UCLA. LOve is currently the nation’s leading rusher.
Two players were dropped from the Bovada board this week. Ohio State freshman running back J.K. Dobbins went from having 25/1 odds last week to off the board this week. I’m not entirely sure why Dobbins fell off the map so quickly, but he’ll have a chance to pop back on the board in the coming weeks. LSU running back Derrius Guice also fell off the board this week after having 50/1 odds last week.
Rutgers cornerback Blessuan Austin will miss the remainder of the 2017 season after suffering a season-ending ACL injury on the road at Nebraska this past weekend. Rutgers head coach Chris Ash confirmed the unfortunate news for the Scarlet Knights at a press conference Monday morning.
“As most of you know, Blessuan Austin came out of that game,” Ash said, per NJ.com. “It was confirmed yesterday with an MRI that he has a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season.”
With Austin now gone for the rest of the season just as Big Ten play opened up, Rutgers will bump Damon Hayes into the spot as a starter in the secondary.
“He played in place of Blessuan and did some good things. He has to continue to improve and develop,” Ash explained. “But I really like Damon and excited for him to go out and have this opportunity and be a full-time starter.”
Rutgers is currently ranked fifth in the Big Ten in passing defense with an average of 179.5 passing yards allowed per game, with five touchdowns allowed and five interceptions. Austin, a junior, had recorded one of those interceptions.
Before the headlines in Gainesville took a rough turn for the worst off the field, Florida head coach Jim McElwain created some news with addressing the offense. This week, Luke Del Rio will be the starting quarterback for the Gators.
This comes as little surprise for a team that has been struggling on offense for the majority of the season. Despite a miracle finish against Tennessee two weeks ago, Feleipe Franks struggled on the road against Kentucky, forcing McElwain to make a switch to get Del Rio back in the fold on the field. As a result, whether coincidence or not, Del Rio led the Gators to avoid the school’s first loss to Kentucky in over three decades.
First up for Del Rio as the Florida starter will be Vanderbilt, who comes off a drubbing at the hands of Alabama. Before the Crimson Tide came to Nashville, the Commodores were hailed as having one of the top defenses in the SEC outside of Tuscaloosa. This will be no easy task for Del Rio and the Gators against Vanderbilt because they still do not have the kind of offense that can overpower their opponent the way Alabama can.
Florida has a long way to go, but we’ll see if Del Rio can keep any momentum on their side for more than one week.