Certainly, the most anticipated game on the Flames’ non-conference schedule will be the Sept. 21 matchup with Richmond at Robins Stadium as Liberty battles the head coach who turned the Flames’ program around -- Danny Rocco.
COACH: Danny Rocco, 8-3, 2nd year at Richmond; 55-23, 7th year overall.
2012 RECORD: 8-3, 6-2 CAA
A LOOK BACK
In an odd twist of fate, Liberty may have cost its old coach his first shot at the FCS playoffs.
Richmond’s only FCS losses came to New Hampshire by four points and Old Dominion by eight points. No shame in those defeats. The other loss came to Virginia in the season opener in Charlottesville. Richmond, by all rights, should have still been in the field of 20 last November. But a weak FCS non-conference slate (Gardner-Webb and VMI) and Liberty’s upset of Stony Brook ended up costing the Spiders.
If Stony Brook wins that game, Coastal Carolina doesn’t make the playoffs, opening a spot that probably would have gone to the Spiders. Instead, Rocco was on the wrong end of another playoff snub. He got used to those when he coached the Flames.
Still, Rocco proved his ability to turn around programs was no fluke. He took Liberty from 1-10 to 6-5 in his first season in Lynchburg, and he made a five-game improvement from 3-8 to 8-3 in his first season at UR. With 17 players who started the season finale against William & Mary back, the Spiders will have an excellent opportunity to return to the postseason in 2013.
* WR Ben Edwards (80 rec., 852 yards, 3 TD)
* QB Michael Strauss (125 for 194, 1,169 yards, 9 TD, 2 INT)
* TE Sam Roller (20 rec., 194 yards)
* LT Jacob Ruby
* LG Sedale Young
* C Austin Gund
* RG Mark Speir
* RT Nick Ritcher
* DE Justin Williamson (15 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU)
* NG Evan Kelly (51 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF)
* DT Kerry Wynn (45 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 5 PBU, 2 FR, 1 FF)
* DL B.J. Scott (28 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 PBU)
* LB Eric Wright (78 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 1 FR)
* LB Aaron Roane (76 tackles, 6 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 2 FF)
* CB Wayne Pettus (34 tackles, 1 TFL, 5 INT, 3 PBU)
* CB Reggie Barnette (60 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 INT, 6 PBU)
* S Ayo Ogunniyi (25 tackles, 1 INT, 3 PBU)
* FB Kendall Gaskins (148 rushes, 604 yards, 13 TD; 21 rec., 193 yards, 3 TD)
* WR Stephen Barnette (56 rec., 848 yards, 4 TD)
* TE Kevin Finney (27 rec., 247 yards, 5 TD)
* LB Darius McMillan (86 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT, 5 PBU)
* S Cooper Taylor (78 tackles, 5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 4 INT, 9 PBU, 2 FF)
* P Nick Hicks (54 punts, 38.8 avg., 5 TB, 16 FC, 23 inside 20)
* K Remington Hinshaw (15-22 FG, 41 long; 38-46 PAT)
1. Well, there’s the obvious one. Rocco secured a series with Richmond while he was still at Liberty and he honored the series once he arrived at Richmond. There are still plenty of players on Turner Gill’s squad who played for or were recruited by Rocco, so it will be strange for those players to see him on the opposite sideline.
2. Barring a last-second miracle, Michael Rocco won’t play for his uncle this season. Richmond applied for a waiver for the former UVa and LCA quarterback to play immediately upon his transfer to Richmond after the 2012 season. The NCAA denied both the waiver and the appeal of the ruling in April, meaning Rocco will have to wait until the 2014 season to play. Normally, players who transfer from an FBS school to an FCS school are eligible immediately, but because Rocco only had one year of eligibility remaining at Virginia, he had to sit a year no matter where he transferred within Division I.
Michael Strauss, another UVa transfer, started Richmond’s final four games last year and took most of the first-team reps this spring.
3. Who replaces Kendall Gaskins at running back? Rocco’s biggest goal this spring was to identify a starter at that position, but Jacobi Green, James McKinney and T.J. Moon ended spring ball the way they started it ... lumped together on the depth chart, with no one standing out.
“There’s no way I can name a starting running back at this point,” Rocco told the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s John O’Connor after the Spiders’ spring game.
DID YOU KNOW?
Jacob Pierce, a fifth-year senior defensive lineman from VES, is expected to be an impact player on defense for the Spiders this season. He and Michael Rocco are the only local athletes on the Richmond roster. ... Richmond’s 3-8 season in 2011, which came under interim coach Wayne Lineburg, who took over after Latrell Scott was fired, was the Spiders’ only losing season since 2004. ... Richmond will have the same head coach for consecutive seasons for the first time since Mike London in 2008-09. ... Richmond is 67-33 since 2005. ... Richmond and Liberty have never met, but the Spiders are 8-0 all-time against Lynchburg College, which last fielded a team in 1932.
* Sean Casey, former MLB first baseman, three-time All-Star
* Tim Finchem, PGA Tour commissioner
* Tim Hightower, NFL running back
* Paris Lenon, Heritage High graduate, Arizona Cardinals linebacker
* Gregg Marshall, Richmond
* Todd McShay, ESPN NFL draft analyst
* Bruce Hornsby, Grammy Award winning artist (attended, did not graduate)
* Leland D. Melvin, NASA astronaut, Heritage High School
WHOM TO FOLLOW
Richmond football: @Spider_Football
John O’Connor, Richmond Times-Dispatch Spiders beat writer: @RTDjohnoconnor
Spider TV: @Spider_TV
Official UR athletics: @SpiderAthletics
Aug. 31: VMI, 6 p.m.
Sept. 7: at North Carolina State, 6 p.m.
Sept. 14: at Gardner-Webb, 6 p.m.
Sept. 21: LIBERTY, 6 p.m.
Sept. 28: MAINE, 4 p.m.
Oct. 12: at James Madison, 3:30 p.m.
Oct. 19: at Rhode Island, 1 p.m.
Oct. 26: TOWSON, noon
Nov. 2: ALBANY, 4 p.m.
Nov. 9: at Stony Brook, 1 p.m.
Nov. 16: at Delaware, noon
Nov. 23: WILLIAM & MARY, 4 p.m.
Follow Chris Lang on Twitter: @ChrisLangLNA