Give them Liberty? Unbeaten Flames are next up for surging FIU football team


With a victory over the undefeated Liberty Flames on Saturday night, host FIU would match its victory total from last season.

Mike MacIntyre, hired in December of 2021 to turn around an FIU football program that had sunk to 1-11 in the final season under previous coach Butch Davis, went 4-8 last year.

The next logical step for MacIntyre and the Panthers is to get at least six wins to become bowl eligible.

So far, FIU is off to a 3-1 start, including three straight wins with true freshman Keyone Jenkins at quarterback.

However, FIU is 0-1 in Conference USA. Liberty, which is in its first year in the league, is 3-0 overall and is considered a co-favorite along with Western Kentucky to win the conference.

New Liberty coach Jamey Chadwell, 48, has been running college programs since 2009, compiling a 102-57 record. His best season came in 2020, when he was named the Associated Press Coach of the Year after leading Coastal Carolina to an 11-2 record.

Chadwell, hired by Liberty in December with a $4-million annual salary that runs through 2030, brings with him a triple-option offense.

Liberty’s key player is quarterback Kaidon Salter, who has nine touchdown passes and zero interceptions. Salter has passed for 763 yards and rushed for 191 yards and three TDs.

In Liberty’s 55-27 win over Buffalo last week, Salter passed for 347 yards and five touchdowns, including a 75-yarder that traveled about 55 yards in the air.

Prior to that, Liberty beat New Mexico State, 33-17, as Salter ran for two touchdowns and also passed for two scores. And, in a season-opening 34-24 win over Bowling Green, Liberty’s defense took center stage, grabbing five interceptions.

Liberty is coming off an impressive 8-5 season that included a 21-19 win over Arkansas. That was Liberty’s first-ever victory over an SEC program, and it vaulted the Flames to a No. 19 national ranking.

Also last season, the Flames routed BYU, 41-14, and lost by one point to a pair of ACC schools, falling 37-36 to Wake Forest and 23-22 to Virginia Tech.

The Flames faded down the stretch, losing four straight games, including 21-19 to Toledo in the Boca Raton Bowl.

However, four of Liberty’s five losses last season were by a total of seven points.

Meanwhile, FIU is trying to stack wins early as its schedule closes with two tough games – at Arkansas on Nov. 18 and at home on Nov. 25 for Western Kentucky, a school that pounded the Panthers 73-0 last year.

For now, though, the challenge is Liberty, and FIU linebacker Avery Huff said his Panthers are ready.

“Liberty is fast,” Huff said, “but so are we.

“Good luck.”


Liberty leads Conference USA with a 40.7 scoring average. FIU ranks sixth, averaging 25.3 points per game. Both teams are allowing an average of 23 points per game on defense.

Jenkins leads C-USA in passing yards per game (289.0). Salter ranks third (254.3).

Liberty running back Quinton Cooley, a Wake Forest transfer, ranks second in C-USA with 73.7 yards per game. FIU’s Shomari “Showtime” Lawrence is third with a 72.8 average. Lawrence has the better average per rush (6.2 to 5.4).

FIU wide receiver Kris Mitchell leads C-USA with 92.5 reception yards per game and with four touchdown catches. Liberty wide receiver C.J. Daniels, a big target at 6-3 and 205 pounds, ranks second in reception yards per game (84.0).

FIU middle linebacker Donovan Manuel leads C-USA with seven tackles for losses. He also ranks third with stops per game (12.0). Liberty middle linebacker Tyren Dupree ranks fifth (9.3).

FIU’s 2023 schedule is unusual in at least two aspects. First, Florida Atlantic is absent, although that rivalry will resume next year. In addition, after Liberty, FIU will play four straight Wednesday-night games from Oct. 4 to Oct. 25.