Samantha Ponder, ESPN, Liberty University alum

ESPN's Samantha Ponder on the set of College GameDay. Ponder is listed as among Liberty University's most well-known alumni. (Photo by Allen Kee / ESPN Images)

Auburn will win Saturday’s football game against unheralded Liberty as it looks ahead to the Iron Bowl next week. Right?


Sure it will. But here’s where sports commentator Lee Corso’s line comes with “Not so fast, my friend.”

There are a few side notes Auburn fans should be aware of going into Saturday’s 3 p.m. kickoff against the Liberty Flames:

And this is why…

One of the early upsets this season was the Troy Trojans traveling up to Nebraska and upsetting the Cornhuskers 24-19 on their home turf.

Troy sports an impressive 8-2 record.

Who was one of those two losses? Yep, Liberty, by a final tally of 22-16.

Perhaps the most stunning upset of the year so far this season was Old Dominion’s 49-35 shocker over Virginia Tech.

And who beat Old Dominion?

Yep, Liberty, by a convincing final score of 52-10.

Liberty is in its first season playing what formally was known as Division I football with the big boys such as Auburn in the SEC.

Wins over Troy and a team that beat Virginia Tech by two touchdowns is not a shabby start.

Flames on the Plains

Liberty University is a Christian school tucked in the beautiful central-Virginia countryside surrounding Lynchburg.

The nickname Flames seems like an oxymoronic kind of name for a Christian university, doesn’t it?

Nevertheless, people already familiar with Liberty University seem to have plenty of good things to say about it, and we welcome its fans to Auburn.

President Donald Trump, of all people, was the first to publicly announce Saturday’s football game between Auburn and Liberty.

He was visiting Liberty in spring 2017 to deliver his first commencement address as a sitting president.

"Wait until the world hears the football teams you'll be playing starting next season," Trump said. “President (Jerry) Falwell (Jr.) gave me a list of some of those schools, the ones you're going to be playing in 2018.

"I'm a little bit concerned,” Trump said. “UMass. Virginia. Auburn. Jerry, are you sure you know what you're doing? Jerry. Auburn? I don't know about that. This could be trouble, Jerry."

Liberty’s football team, however, seems plenty up to the challenge, and most likely the president of the United States only added to the locker room bulletin board used for motivation.

That said, even on a bad day for the host Tigers an upset seems unlikely, and if it does happen, there will be plenty bigger and meaner headlines around these parts than any well-done salutes to Liberty

It’s who you know

Another thing of note about Liberty: politics.

There was a reason for Trump being there when he announced the Auburn-Liberty game, and it wasn’t to talk football.

Liberty is one of the hotspots when it comes to conservatives on the campaign trail, as everyone from Ronald Reagan to Mitt Romney, George W. Bush, John McCain and plenty others have included the university as a must-do visit.

The school has its roots with Jerry Falwell Sr., but it is far from being known simply as a conservative, Christian university.

Liberty’s on-campus enrollment has grown to more than 15,000, and its online numbers have swollen to an impressive 100,000-plus.

It also likes to show off its list of famous alumni and associates, which includes ESPN co-host and former sideline reporter Samantha Ponder, Christian music artist TobyMac, NBA star Seth Curry, and Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham.

Go have fun

Tickets are still available for Saturday’s game; $25 at the gate, $6 or lower from various online vendors. That’s about as cheap as you’ll ever catch a home Auburn game other than give-away tickets from season ticketholders.

It’s also the last chance for Auburn fans to see Tiger seniors play at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

If you go, be sure to welcome the Liberty fans as our guests.

Enjoy the game.

Troy Turner is editor of the Opelika-Auburn News. He can be contacted at or followed on Twitter @troyturnernews.

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Troy Turner is editor of the Opelika-Auburn News. He previously served as the news editor in New York for the nation's second largest newspaper company, and as the senior editor at several other news entities around the nation. He is an Auburn alum.

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