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.
While one football series between an ACC and Big Ten team may be hard to come by, North Carolina and Minnesota have put together a future home-and-home scheduling agreement to look forward to. The Tar Heels and Gophers will meet for the first time on the football field in 2023 and follow up with a second game in 2024, the schools announced on Wednesday.
North Carolina will host Minnesota on Sept. 16, 2023. The two schools will then open the 2024 season at Minnesota, either on August 31, 2024 or for a Thursday opener on August 29, 2024.
The ACC and Big Ten each require their members to play one game against another power conference opponent each season. North Carolina already satisfied that requirement in 2024 with a season-opener against South Carolina scheduled to be played in Charlotte, NC, but the 2024 game fulfills the power conference scheduling requirement for the Tar Heels. The home-and-home series will also satisfy Minnesota’s obligation to the Big Ten scheduling policy for both seasons (Minnesota is getting an exemption for 2018 and 2019 due to previous scheduling arrangements being in place prior to the Big Ten’s stance on strength of schedule in non-conference play.
Ever since the in-state rivalry between Penn State and Pitt came to a temporary end in 2001, it has been a struggle to get the two schools back on the field for any stretch of time. With the third in a four-game series upcoming this fall, Pitt is hoping to find a way to continue playing the Nittany Lions on future schedules, but the offer is now apparently in Penn State’s hands awaiting a response.
Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke told reporters Wednesday she has proposed a four-year series beginning in 2026 to her Penn State counterpart, Sandy Barbour, but Penn State has not responded to the offer.
“We’re going to wait a tad more patiently, but not much,” Lyke said, according to Trib Live. “We can’t. We have people who want to play us and good opportunities to play what would be a very attractive game.”
The four-game series currently ongoing between the Panthers and Nittany Lions comes to a close after their meeting in the 2019 season in Happy Valley. According to FBSchedules.com, Penn State will not have another opening for a non-conference game until 2021. That is also the first season Pitt will have scheduling availability for non-conference matchups. Both schools already have power conference opponents lined up through 2025 as well, perhaps eliminating the desire to add another power conference opponent to the schedule.
Both Penn State and Pitt have scheduling requirements for non-conference play from the Big Ten and ACC, respectively, to include at least one game against another power conference opponent. It seems like a natural solution for Penn State and Pitt to agree to a long-term scheduling commitment to satisfy their respective conferences’ scheduling requirements, but the old issue has always come down to the financial incentive of a game. With Penn State playing in a larger stadium, it would be losing out on potential revenue that could be gained by an extra home game when possible. And playing road games at Pittsburgh only helps another program in the state by filling the seats more than any other home game on Pitt’s schedules in just about any season (Notre Dame and West Virginia would be other candidates to help Pitt fill Heinz Field).
It took so long just to get the two schools together for a two-year series, which was later expanded to a four-year arrangement. Don’t count on this in-state rivalry being renewed for quite some time after the 2019 season.
Quarterback Blake Barnett is now on the graduate transfer market. According to Bruce Feldman of Sports Illustrated, via Twitter, Barnett will find a new program to wrap up his college football career as a graduate transfer. South Florida is reportedly set to get an official visit from the former Sun Devils and Alabama quarterback.
Barnett started his football career at Alabama, where he sat out the 2015 season as a freshman. During his redshirt freshman in 2016, Barnett appeared in just three games as Jalen Hurts rose to become Alabama’s starting quarterback that would lead the Tide for the next two seasons (until halftime of last season’s national championship game). Barnett transferred to Arizona State, leaving behind a seemingly tumultuous relationship with Nick Saban, and played in just two games for the Sun Devils last fall, while Manny Wilkins established himself as the quarterback for former head coach Todd Graham.
A former four-star recruit out of high school, Barnett has played in just five games and completed 14 of 24 pass attempts for 259 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. Barnett’s latest transfer news comes a day after former UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen took a swipe at Barnett, who was ranked ahead of Rosen in various recruiting rankings out of high school.
“Blake Barnett was the Elite 11 MVP,” Rosen said, per SEC Country. “He was the dude that was going to go to ‘Bama, win a couple championships, call it quits and go to the league as the first overall pick. You don’t really hear about him too much.”
As a graduate transfer, Barnett will be eligible to play immediately this fall.
With eight quarterbacks on the roster, Kody Wilstead opted to leave the Cougars in mid-March. A little over a month later, Wilstead has found a new home, albeit a little further down on the college football ladder.
According to the Deseret News, Wilstead has signed to play at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas. As Coffeyville is a junior college, the quarterback will be eligible to play immediately in 2018.
It’s expected that Wilstead will spend at least one season at the JUCO level before looking at making a move back up to the FBS.
Wilstead, a three-star 2015 signee, took a redshirt as a true freshman last season after serving an LDS mission the previous two years.
After Wilstead’s departure, the seven remaining Cougar signal-callers are, in alphabetical order, Stacy Conner, Joe Critchlow, Hayden Griffitts, Beau Hoge, Tanner Mangum, Baylor Romney and Zach Wilson. Mangum, last year’s starter, is recovering from an Achilles tendon injury he suffered in November of last year but remains on track to return for the start of summer camp in August.