2016 Preseason Big South Preview: Liberty

*Preview courtesy Libertine on AGS







Unequivocally, the biggest question mark in the Big South conference hovers over Liberty.  After finally getting the playoff monkey off their back in 2014, the Flames entered 2015 with four senior All-Americans on the roster, some high expectations and a general sense of promise.  While some of that promise was fulfilled in wins over top-10 FCS opponents Montana and Coastal Carolina and a road win over FBS bowl-bound Georgia State (which still feels weird to say out loud), those moments, like any item off of the Applebee’s lunch menu where the bread in an otherwise disappointing sandwich is easily the best part of the meal, surrounded bad losses on the road to Gardner-Webb, Monmouth and Southern Illinois.  

In 2016, Liberty has to replace their top two rushers from the last three seasons, the all-time leading receiver in school history, the all-time leading passer in school history, the all-time leading sack leader in school and conference history and the all-time leading FG kicker of 50 yards+ in school, conference and national history.  Yeah, that’s a lot.  Still, while those personnel losses are obviously significant, they are pretty much the only significant losses and, particularly with the departure of Coastal Carolina to FBS, there is still enough talent waiting in the wings for Liberty to make a run at what would be a league-leading 8th conference title.

Stephon Masha
Stephon Masha

On offense, QB Stephon Masha had been the primary backup to Josh Woodrum for the last two season and now steps into the starter role.  While Masha played sparingly in a wild-card role in 2015, he filled in for an injured Woodrum during Liberty’s 2014 playoff run, starting two games including a road upset of top-ranked Coastal Carolina.  Masha will need to stay healthy and productive, however, as the two players behind him on the depth chart are talented true freshmen.  Second-leading rusher from year ago, Todd Macon, returns to a backfield with three less seniors in it but is no less crowded.  Prized recruit Frankie Hickson should see time after redshirting 2015 as will human bulldozer, Carrington Moseley.   WR BJ Farrow returns from his breakout season a year ago as does slot Zac Parker.  Up front, the Flames replace former-walk-on-turned-all-American Jon Burgess and German national Max Sommer with a now-healthy Lucas Holder and Norwegian national Ernst Anderson.

On the defensive side of the ball, the loss of sack artist Chima Uzowihe is hard to replace but Juwan Wells performed well enough in spot duty to get the nod for this season.  At linebacker, Liberty lost their starting Mike to graduation but brings back virtually everyone else including standout weakside backer Nick Newman.  In the defensive backfield, nearly everyone returns from last year’s two-deep returns for the Flames with only S Alpha Jalloh in their last year of eligibility.

John Lunsford
John Lunsford

On special teams, Liberty lost a major weapon to the NFL in the massive leg of John Lunsford.  The threat of being able to score points from the midfield logo made defenses play LU a little differently than they otherwise might.  The Flames will enter 2016 with true freshman, Alex Probert, at the placekicker position but return upperclassmen at the punter and long-snapper spots.

The Flames 2015 schedule was, on paper, difficult but, in reality, was more so as the schedule also featured a four-game road swing and caught five of the first six opponents immediately after an open week.  This year’s has less of that.

The schedule:

@ Virginia Tech (9/3)

Jacksonville (9/10)

@ SMU (9/17)

Jacksonville State (9/24)

Robert Morris (10/1)

@ Kennesaw State (10/15)

Monmouth (10/22)

Gardner-Webb (10/29)

@ Presbyterian (11/5)

Charleston Southern (11/12)

@ Coastal Carolina (11/17)

Written by 

2010 graduate of The University of Northern Iowa. Resident loudmouth and stat nerd on AGS. Follow me on the Twitter, @cdl1018, for random blasts of MVFC stats and thoughts. Want to contribute to The FCS Wedge? Drop me a line on Twitter or email me at [email protected].

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