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Appalachian State and Liberty schedule future home-and-home series

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Appalachian State and Liberty have agreed to a future home-and-home series beginning in 2024. The schools announced future games to be played at Appalachian State in 2024 and at Liberty in 2025.

Appalachian State will host the Flames on Sept. 28, 2024. Liberty will host the Mountaineers the following fall on Oct. 11, 2025. Although this will not be the first time the two programs have played each other, it will mark the first time the two schools have faced each other with both being full FBS members.

Appalachian State and Liberty have faced off 10 times before. The most recent meeting in the series took place on Oct. 11, 2014, when Appalachian State was in its first season transitioning to from the FCS to the FBS. Liberty won an overtime shootout, 55-48. Liberty made the move from FCS to FBS in 2018 and is coming off its first bowl appearance, and victory, this past season against an Appalachian State rival, Georgia Southern.

“One of our goals in football scheduling is to play regional opponents to which our fan base can easily travel, and we’ve been able to do that with series like this one,” Appalachian State Director of Athletics Doug Gillin said in a released statement.

The addition of Liberty to Appalachian State’s future schedules fills the non-conference portion of the 2024 schedule for the reigning Sun Belt Conference champions. Appalachian State will also host East Tennessee State and play road games at Clemson and East Carolina in 2024. Appalachian State has two openings on its 2025 schedule, as of now. A home game against South Carolina is also booked for 2025 in addition to the road game at Liberty.

Liberty now has seven games booked for the 2024 season. The independent program will also host Coastal Carolina and Marshall and play road games at North Carolina, Eastern Michigan, Ball State, and UMass in 2024. Liberty still needs three more games to fill up the 2025 schedule, which is highlighted by road games at Army and Duke and a home game against Wake Forest.

Liberty becomes latest program to notch first bowl win by topping Georgia Southern in the Cure Bowl

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The early lesson from the 2019-20 postseason? Don’t play a team looking for their first ever bowl win.

Buffalo kicked things off in the Bahamas Bowl. Then Kent State followed it up against Utah State. Then on Saturday, Liberty became the latest to experience bowl win No. 1 with a 23-16 victory over Georgia Southern in the Cure Bowl.

The entire experience was not unlike the Flames season: disjointed, a bit bizarre and still not convincing anybody outside of their own fan base of its validity. QB Stephen ‘Buckshot’ Calvert threw for 270 yards and a pair of touchdowns but also turned in a few lowlights to go with his gunslinging nature by tossing two interceptions as well. Fellow senior Antonio Gandy-Golden had a quiet first half but the nation’s No. 3 receiver eventually found a rhythm with his signal-caller and finished the game with five catches for 63 yards and what proved to be the game-winning score in the third quarter.

Frankie Hickson chipped in with 120 yards rushing while Joshua Mack managed to find the end zone once on 11 carries.

While Liberty certainly did everything in their power to win the game, that didn’t mean they weren’t helped along by a Georgia Southern team that didn’t come close to playing their best. QB Shai Werts picked a bad time to throw his first interception of the season and the triple option offense failed to even win the time of possession battle, committing a number of bad penalties and generally failing to move the chains much at all until the final few stages. Though they rallied in the second half to make things somewhat interesting with some late field goals, it was not close to being enough as they failed to get over the hump against a team whose eighth win was unquestionably their best on a weak docket.

Not that Hugh Freeze will complain, fully enjoying the ice bath that came along with the clocks hitting zeros. The Flames head coach has played in far bigger bowls before while leading Ole Miss but given his fall from grace in Oxford and the medical issues that saw him coaching from a hospital bed, among other things, this year, he certainly might savor this one a little bit more than most would think. The Cure Bowl might not mean much to the average fan but to Freeze and the young Liberty program, it was a historic postseason game and, just as important, result.

Liberty out front of Georgia Southern as halftime arrives at the Cure Bowl

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Run Pass Option > Triple Option, at least through one half of play from the Cure Bowl.

Looking to become the latest program to win their first ever bowl game (barely two days into this year’s postseason), Liberty notched a 16-7 lead over Georgia Southern at halftime in Orlando as the entertainment value of the game far outpaced the total points produced.

Flames QB Stephen ‘Buckshot’ Calvert (220 yards, 1 TD) was responsible for one of the big plays, hooking up with Johnny Huntley for a 57 yard score in the first quarter to score the program’s first ever points in a bowl game. That was not the only time the scoreboard was updated in Liberty’s favor but it was the most memorable for Hugh Freeze’s team as they looked very solid in their first postseason taste in Year 1 of even being eligible for it.

If there was one surprise in the game though, it was was the general absence of Antonio Gandy-Golden. The receiver is third in the country in yards and had nine touchdowns in the regular season but notched just two receptions in the first half for 18 yards.

A lot of that had to do with the Eagles’ defensive game plan to bring pressure and force quick throws. It would have worked a lot better had their own offense done much of anything to help out too, as they mustered just one lengthy scoring drive. Otherwise Georgia Southern simply failed to move the chains and committed a number of key penalties to hamper their other efforts.

Eagles QB Shai Werts also made a bit of history, throwing his first interception all season (and first since late 2017). While not normally known for throwing the ball in the option offense, he actually attempted 10 passes in the half — completing four of them for 20 yards and otherwise scrambling on pretty much every dropback. Wesley Kennedy III was one of the few offensive bright spots as a result, scoring the team’s lone touchdown while rushing for 51 yards.

This one has had a bit of a strange vibe as the two teams have threatened to either break things open or get back into it. We’ll see how the second half plays out but the contrast in styles should at least provide for some added interest in what could be a rather historic day for one of the two programs involved in this one.

College Football Bowl Preview: Your Dec. 21 Viewer’s Guide

College Football Bowl Preview
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Your trusty and semi-daily college football bowl preview that today takes a quick-hit look at the Dec. 21 bowl menu, which on opening weekend features six games.  Included in that is a battle of 10-win teams and, most notably, the Chris Petersen Bowl.

WHO: Central Michigan (8-5) vs. San Diego State (9-3)
WHAT: The 14th New Mexico Bowl
WHERE: Dreamstyle Stadium, Albuquerque, New Mexico
WHEN: 2 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Talk about going from worst to (nearly) first.  Last season, Central Michigan went a school-worst 1-11. This season, under first-year head coach Jim McElwain, CMU won the MAC West title and came within six points of winning in the conference championship game. … With a win, San Diego State will reach 10 (or more) for the fourth time in five seasons. The Aztecs have already won seven or more games each of the past 10 seasons. … Here’s a statistic to note: The Chippewas are undefeated (8-0) when they rush for at least 140 yards this season. … Here’s another statistic, this one to chew on: The Aztecs are currently second nationally in run defense, giving up 72.3 yards per game. … Of the 54 touchdowns CMU scored on offense, 35 came on the ground. The Aztecs’ seven rushing touchdowns allowed are the fourth-fewest in the country. … Do you sense a key-to-the-game vibe I’ve got going on here? … If not, how about this one: San Diego State hasn’t given up more than 23 points in any game this season, while CMU is 0-5 when they score fewer than that number in 2019. … This game will mark the first-ever meeting between the two football programs.
THE LINE: Central Michigan, +3½
THE PREDICTION: San Diego State 23, Central Michigan 15

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WHO: Liberty (7-5) vs. Georgia Southern (7-5)
WHAT: The 5th FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl
WHERE: Exploria Stadium, Orlando, Florida
WHEN: 2:30 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network
THE SKINNY: Cure Bowl fact: All four previous games have been decided by 10 or more points. … In just its second season at the FBS level, Liberty has qualified for its first bowl berth. So pleased with the program’s progress, university administrators have already handed first-year head coach Hugh Freeze a contract extension. … While not quite the neophyte as their opponent, Georgia Southern will be playing in just its third bowl game. In fairness, they have only played at the FBS level for six seasons. … The Flames and Eagles have one common opponent this season: FCS Maine.  GSU beat them 26-18, while Liberty won their matchup 59-44. … Another similarity? Both teams went 2-2 in the last four games of the regular season. … To say that GSU is run-heavy is a bit of an understatement. The Eagles’ 261.5 yards rushing per game is eighth nationally and second in the Sun Belt. To further highlight how ground-dependent they are, leading passer Shai Werts has rushed for nearly as many yards (683) as he has thrown for (704). … GSU’s run-pass ratio this season is 621-136. … For those curious, the Flames’ give up 192.7 yards per game on the ground, which is 100th in the country. … One final note: Liberty’s starting quarterback goes by the nickname “Buckshot” — and Stephen Calvert‘s thrown 26 touchdowns vs. just five interceptions — so I know who I’m going with.
THE LINE: Liberty, +4
THE PREDICTION: Liberty 34, Georgia Southern 21

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WHO: SMU (10-2) vs. Florida Atlantic (10-3)
WHAT: The 6th Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl
WHERE: FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Florida
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
THE LINE: FAU, +3
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: Florida International (6-6) vs. Arkansas State (7-5)
WHAT: The 6th Camellia Bowl
WHERE: Cramton Bowl, Montgomery, Alabama
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: A win in the second-to-last game of the regular season clinched bowl eligibility for Butch Davis and Florida International for the third time in his three seasons at the Conference USA school.  The fact that it came at the expense of Davis’ old school, Miami, was simply icing on the cake and still makes me ROTFLMAO every single time I think about it. … Blake Anderson‘s wife lost her brave fight with cancer in mid-August and, after being away for a couple of weeks, the head coach rejoined the team in Week 2. Over the last nine games of the year, the Red Wolves went 6-3. … One of the best matchups of the early bowl season could be Omar Bayless vs. the FIU secondary.  The Arkansas State All-American has caught 84 passes (tied for ninth nationally) for 1,473 yards (second) and 16 touchdowns (second). He’s also averaging 17.5 yards per reception.  Conversely, FIU is sixth in the country in allowing 178.5 yards passing per game.  The Panthers give up just 6.45 yards per attempt as well. … If you’re a gambling man/woman, and I’ll bet you are, keep this tidbit in the back of your mind as you open your wallet: The first five Camellia Bowls have been decided by a combined 17 points.  Average score, rounded down? 31-27.
THE LINE: FIU, +2½
THE PREDICTION: Arkansas State 24, FIU 23

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WHO: Boise State (12-1) vs. Washington (7-5)
WHAT: The 28th Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl
WHERE: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, Nevada
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC
THE LINE: Boise State, +3½
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: Appalachian State (7-5) vs. UAB (6-6)
WHAT: The 19th R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl
WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
WHEN: 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE LINE: UAB, +16½
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

This year’s Cure Bowl will make gender broadcast history

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Thursday evening, on the way to winter workouts for softball, my 13-year-old daughter brought this topic up, saying she had seen something about it on Facebook or some other social media website. “You’re going to do something on it, right?” she asked, a string of words that were two parts question and 98 parts admonition.

How could I not?

Dec. 21, the Liberty Flames will take on the Georgia Southern Eagles in the fifth annual Cure Bowl. The postseason matchup will mark the first-ever bowl for the Flames, but that’s not what makes this game unique. And historical.

Earlier this week, the Cure Bowl revealed its announcing crew for the national radio broadcast of the game — play-by-play voice Jamie Seh, color analyst Dani Welniak and sideline reporter Melanie Newman. In the 150th season of college football, this will mark the first time that an FBS game will feature an all-female broadcasting crew.

“The FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl has been working to take this concept to completion and team up with BowlDayRadio to bring together Jamie, Dani and Melanie for this historic broadcast,” Cure Bowl executive director Alan Gooch said in a statement. “Jamie has been an ambassador for our game since its inception and was recognized as a Cure Bowl Community Service Soldier in 2017. Melanie provides a great perspective and has the first-hand experience covering the Liberty Flames this year, while Dani’s experience speaks for itself as a sideline analyst for the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network and a former captain of a professional football team.”

Kudos to the Cure Bowl for its forward-thinking.

And kudos to my daughter for being herself.