|-3 NCST (-114) @ Draftkings|
My 10* Game of the Week (Weekend Wipeout) is on NC State at 7:30 ET.
The Liberty football program was competing in Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) but announced it would start a transition to the top level of NCAA football in July 2017. The Flames became a provisional FBS member in 2018, and became a full FBS member with bowl eligibility in 2019. Hugh Freeze 'exploded' on the scene when he led Arkansas St to a 10-2 record in his first season as a head coach back in 2011. He quickly 'jumped ship' to Ole Miss and led the Rebels to four straight bowl appearances (3-1), including his 2015 team going 10-3 after a Sugar Bowl win (Rebels finished 10th in the final AP poll. However, trouble was brewing in Oxford over recruiting and academic violations committed under both Freeze and his predecessor, Houston Nutt. After a 5-7 season in 2016, he was let go. He was named head coach of the Liberty Flames football team on December 7, 2018 and in his first season Liberty went 8-5, including a 23-26 Cure Bowl win over Ga Southern. This year's team is 8-0 and entered the AP top-25 for the first time in school history back on Nov 1. The Flames will visit NC State on Saturday, ranked No. 21 in the latest poll.
Dave Doeren is in his 8th season at NC State and after a 3-9 'rookie' year,' led the Wolfpack to FIVE straight winning seasons and bowl berths (3-2). NC St opened 4-2 in 2019 but lost its final SIX games (also 0-6 ATS), finishing 4-8. TEN starters returned on offense in 2020, so it was expected that NC St's PPG (just 22.1 last season) would significantly improve in 2020. After all, the Wolfpack averaged 30-plus PGG in FOUR of the five seasons during their bowl streak (2014-18). NC State's offense has improved (up to 33.5 PPG) but its defense allows 33.9 PPG. The Wolfpack welcome the Flames to Carter-Finley Stadium with a 5-3 record.
Liberty is led by dual-threat QB Malik Willis who has completed 67.8% for 1,645 yards with 15 TDs and just ONE interception. He is also the team's leading rusher with 700 yards on 7.1 YPC with nine TDs. Three RBs chip in between 370 and 534 yards, giving the Flames a running game averaging 254.5 YPB on 5.7 YPC. Four WRs have between 15 and 10 receptions, while 10 different players have caught TD passes. Liberty's defense is allowing 22.1 PPG, plenty good enough when the offense is averaging 40.5 PPG (Flames are 6-2 ATS).
Devin Leary was the returning QB for NC State but had COVID issues early on and then a broken leg ended his season. Bailey Hockman (started early in the season for Leary) has again taken over and in the last two games, a 44-41 loss to Miami-Fl and a 38-22 win over Florida St, he's thrown for 513 yards with five TDs and two INTs. Anytime your quarterback is playing well, I don't care what level of football you're playing, you've got a chance to be really good," head coach Doeren said. "He's played at a high level for two weeks, so we're very excited." Doeren also had to be happy with WR Thayer Thomas' career-high 11 catches and 135 yards with two TDs against FSU. The running game produces about half of what Liberty does (133.8 YPG on 3.7 YPC) and remember that Wolfpack D is allowing 33.9 PPG.
Hugh Freeze said it's important to stay the course, realizing that Liberty might be a targeted team. "Just don't change. Don't change anything," he said. "Remember why you're having the success." That said, SEVEN of Liberty's eight wins have come over two FCS schools, as well as 3-6 Western Ky, 0-4 FIU, 2-8 UL-Monroe, 1-7 Syracuse and 2-6 Southern Miss. The team's "marquee win" has come over 4-4 Va Tech 38-35 in a 'miracle' finish. Tech has been ravaged by COVID-19 problems and was a 17-point favorite in that game. Liberty's perfect season ends right here!