On August 30th, the Liberty Flames will travel to Chapel Hill for the Tar Heels’ first football game. This is the classic game between a power conference team (UNC), and a very small, little known school (Liberty), that many good teams schedule for an easy non-conference win. These games are designed to build confidence and improve a team’s record. Last season, North Carolina played Old Dominion and won 80-20. The year before, they dominated Elon (winning 62-0) and Idaho (winning 66-0). Like I said, easy wins.
However, if UNC takes this game too lightly, they could lose. It may seem unlikely, but remember when Michigan (then ranked 5th in the country) got stunned by Appalachian State in 2007, losing 34-32. If UNC suffers a similar fate, they would not only be humiliated, but would have a very difficult time overcoming the loss to have a successful season.
Liberty Scouting Report
Last season, Liberty went 8-4 (4-1 in the Big South Conference), finishing 2nd out of 6 teams in the conference. They suffered a huge blow when Desmond Rice, a running back who rushed for 967 yards last season, suffered a season-ending injury this spring. A good ground game could have helped the Flames keep pace with Carolina’s offense. Liberty will now have to rely on their starting quarterback Josh Woodrum, who threw for over 2500 yards last season and ran for 200 more.
UNC and Liberty had one common opponent in 2013-14: Old Dominion. North Carolina beat Old Dominion by 60; the Flames lost 21-17. While these are only two games, they illustrate the huge difference in skill level between Carolina and Liberty. No offense to Liberty, but they simply are not at the same level as UNC.
Liberty has lost its last three season openers, all to FBS teams, like UNC. The Heels should be able to extend the streak to four come August 30th.
Three Keys to the Game
1. Good Start. Whenever facing a huge underdog, it is imperative to get off to a good start. If you let an underdog hang around, they start to get hope and it becomes very difficult to put them away. As we see every year in the NCAA basketball tournament, underdogs are very dangerous if you give them hope.
2. Fast-Paced Offense. A fast-paced offense like Carolina’s can be effective against some of the best defenses in the country. Last season against South Carolina, the Heels were able to wear down the Gamecocks defense, with players for USC looking visibly exhausted. If the quick pace had such an effect on a top-ten team in the country, imagine how tough it would be for Liberty to keep up. If the Heels can wear down the Flames’ defense, they will be able to score a lot of points, and put a lot of pressure on Liberty’s offense to keep the game close.
3. Don’t Look Ahead. I don’t think this will be a huge problem, but Carolina has to be careful not to take this game too lightly. Their third game of the season is against East Carolina, and the Heels are likely very eager to avenge the 55-31 embarrassment they suffered at the hands of the Pirates last season. However, they have two games which come before that, and North Carolina has to focus on these first and take it one game at a time (sorry for the cliche, but it definitely applies in this situation). Like I said, I don’t think this will be a problem, because in the Larry Fedora era the Heels have won all the non-conference games that they should have.
Prediction North Carolina is too good a team to be beaten by Liberty. The only way they could lose would be if they didn’t take this game seriously. But, since it is the first game of the season, and at home, I think the Heels will be eager to have a great game and won’t have too much trouble putting the Flames away.