By JOHN MARSHALL
AP Sports Writer
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Liberty held up its end all season, knocking off every team on its schedule.
The run, not to mention having the nation’s best rushing attack, should have been good enough to get the Flames into a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Even so, Sunday’s selection show came with some anxious moments until pairings showed they will face No. 8 Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day.
“Today was surreal to our program and our players and to see our name or logo up there in the Fiesta Bowl was something that really caught beyond our dreams,” said first-year Liberty coach Jamey Chadwell, who coached the previous five seasons at Coastal Carolina. “And then on top of that to play one of the premier college football programs in the country with Oregon, it was something that typically doesn’t happen to, you know, programs like us.”
The Flames have been building toward this since becoming a full Division I member in 2018.
Liberty won six games its first season under Turner Gill and went to four straight bowls as an independent while being led by Hugh Freeze before he left for Auburn last year.
The Flames (13-0) took another step in their first season under Chadwell, finishing as one of four undefeated teams in the FBS. Liberty moved up to No. 18 in the AP Top 25 on Sunday and was No. 23 in the College Football Playoff rankings following its first conference title at the FBS level.
The Flames were the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion after beating New Mexico State 49-35 in the Conference USA championship game.
Liberty is the first CUSA champion to clinch a New Year’s Six bid in the College Football Playoff era.
“This team is playing well and it seems like they’re operating on all cylinders,” Oregon coach Dan Lanning said. “To go unbeaten in college football is extremely tough.”
Liberty faces a huge test against the Ducks after playing one of the nation’s weakest schedules.
Oregon (11-2) had a stellar season as quarterback Bo Nix put himself in the Heisman Trophy conversation, but couldn’t get past Washington.
The second-ranked Huskies beat the Ducks during the regular season and ended their College Football Playoff hopes with a 34-31 win in the Pac-12 championship on Friday night in Las Vegas.
Oregon was No. 8 in the final CFP rankings in its final Pac-12 season before leaving for the Big Ten next year.
“This is the biggest, obviously, challenge that we faced, maybe ever in the history of our program, and so we know we’ll have to play extremely well to try to get a victory,” Chadwell said.
Dejected after the Ducks’ loss in the Pac-12 title game, Nix was noncommittal on whether he would play in a bowl game or skip it to prepare for the NFL draft.
Lanning said Nix is all-in for the Fiesta Bowl.
“It speaks to his character, what he thinks of this team, what he feels like he owes the players on this team around him.” Lanning said. “He certainly doesn’t owe anybody anything and for him to go out there and to go play, I don’t think it was really ever a question for him.”
Nix threw for 4,145 yards this year to become the second Oregon quarterback to throw for more than 4,000 yards in a season, joining Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, who threw for 4,454 yards in 2014.
Nix leads the country in passing touchdowns (40) and completion percentage (77.2), and is second in passing yards per game (318.8) and passing efficiency (186.2).
Liberty steamrolled its way through an undefeated season with the nation’s top rushing offense.
The Flames averaged 302.9 yards rushing per game, finishing more than 27 yards ahead of No. 2 Air Force.
Quinton Cooley led the way, finishing eighth nationally with 1,322 while scoring 16 touchdowns, tied for sixth nationally.
Dual-threat quarterback Kaidon Salter threw for 2,750 yards and 31 touchdowns, adding 1,064 yards and 12 more scores on the ground.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll