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Liberty claims the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bowl slot

The Flames beat out SMU despite having the worst strength of schedule in the nation.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 24 Liberty at WKU Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The No. 23 Liberty Flames have claimed the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bowl slot for the 2023 college football season and will face the No. 8 Oregon Ducks in the Fiesta Bowl on January 1. The Flames were the highest ranked G5 conference champion in the final College Football Playoff rankings, just beating out No. 24 SMU, and became the first Conference USA program to claim the bid.

Under the guidance of first-year head coach Jamey Chadwell, Liberty posted a perfect 13-0 record in their first season in Conference USA. The Flames carved right through the schedule and capped the year by beating New Mexico State 49-35 in Friday’s Conference USA Championship Game. The team was powered by dynamic sophomore quarterback Kaidon Salter, who accounted for 2,750 passing yards, 1,064 rushing yards, and 43 touchdowns for the season.

Even with a perfect 13-0 mark, the decision for Liberty to get the NY6 bid is a bit controversial considering it had the weakest schedule in the country per ESPN’s power index. The Flames didn’t play a single Power Five opponent this season and ran through a league where over half the teams finished with at least eight losses. Meanwhile, SMU finished the 2023 season with an 11-2 record, where its lone losses were to Oklahoma and rival TCU. The team managed to win the AAC, which has claimed seven of nine G5 NY6 bids since the format was introduced in 2014. The Mustangs were only ranked in the final CFP rankings that came out this afternoon, but were unable to jump the Flames.