There are four this year: Notre Dame, Army, Navy and new to the free-wheeling indys, BYU. They aren’t a conference so to speak, so instead of the usual previews, here’s a small capsule on each squad.
|QB Dayne Crist|
The Fighting Irish are, and always will be, that team that everyone either loves or hates. I for one fall into the second category, but we’re here to objective. Notre Dame should have a better season this year, coming off a 8-5 year with a bowl win. They get junior quarterback Dayne Crist back and, should he stay healthy, he should top his 2,033 yard campaign of last year. He still has Michael Floyd to throw to, although that is another can of worms that just gives us Irish haters more ammo. You have to like a team that returns 17 starters, their top QB, top RB, top 3 WR, and 7 of their top 8 tacklers. Watch junior linebacker Manti Te’o. He had 133 tackles last season in the inside LB position to lead a senior-heavy defense. The schedule is tough as always. They should be favored in all 6 homes games, and possibly at Pittsburgh, Michigan, Purdue, and Wake Forest. The season finale at Stanford should be the toughest game of the year. Interesting fact: October 22’s home game with USC is the first time in 21 years that the Irish will host a night game.
Predictions: 9-3, Pinstripe Bowl
|WR Cody Hoffman|
I didn’t understand this move personally. I’m not sure why BYU went independent in football and moved to the WCC in most other sports, unless that’s an admission that all other sports couldn’t compete in the Mountain West. Anyways, QB Jake Heaps gets a full season as the starter (took over for Riley Nelson after he was injured after 3 starts) Heaps set all sorts of BYU frosh passing records and gets 4 of his top 5 receivers back. The offense looks solid with ten starters back on a unit that averaged 366 yards a game (76th FBS). The real questions are on a defense with only 5 starters back and the top 3 tacklers gone from a season ago. They were 23rd against the pass last year, only allowing 192 yards a game, but this is a unit with only one starter back and one start between the other three. If there’s a relief to the ambivalent news, it’s that the home schedule is very manageable. The Cougars should be favored in all 6 games at Edwards Stadium (only question will be Utah), but the road will be difficult. Trips to Mississippi, Texas, Oregon State and Hawai’i with TCU at Jerry World will set some serious obstacles in front of BYU. This isn’t a team unfamiliar with pulling an upset or two and should best last season’s 7-win total. Interesting fact: This is the first time in the 87-year history of the Holy War that BYU and Utah are not in the same conference.
Predictions: 8-4, Armed Forces Bowl
|FB Alexander Teich|
Life without Ricky Dobbs will be tough on the Mids. Not much will change offensively. Navy will run the ball, no surprise there. But they will need to break in a new signal-caller in senior Kriss Proctor. The good news is that fullback Alexander Teich and slotback Gee Gee Greene are both back, a duo that combined for over 1,300 yards on the ground. The defense will also need time to gel, but they aren’t in a horrible place. They only return 3 starters, but there is a ton of experience on the depth chart. In fact, there are no underclassmen slated to start opening day. The top 4 tacklers are gone, but this is still a unit that will have to improve from 75th in total defense (390 ypg) to keep the offense in games. The schedule also gets more difficult. They get Air Force at home, but will have rough trips to South Carolina and Notre Dame. The short and sweet is that this should be a bowl team, but putting up 9 wins again will be a stretch. Interesting fact: Navy has 3 teams (Troy, Southern Miss and San Jose St.) on the schedule for the first time.
Predictions: 6-6, Military Bowl
|QB Trent Steelman|
The Black Knights are the last of our independents and their outlook is looking the roughest. The offense is in place with 6 starters returning, including junior QB Trent Steelman, FB Jared Hassman, and last season’s top 3 recievers. The problem is that offensive line is relatively short on experience and this is an offense that put up 251 ypg on the ground (8th FBS). There’s the problem. Army averaged 4.5 yards a carry last year and if the line doesn’t gel quickly, it could be a long year in the Army backfield. The defense is also looking rough with only 2 of the top 8 tacklers returning and 5 starters back. This is also an older unit with only a few sophomores among the upperclassmen. They will have to work hard to match last season’s stats. They were 31st in pass defense (199 ypg) and 29th in total defense (338 ypg). Another manageable schedule, but they’ll be underdogs in at least 4 of 6 road trips (NIU, Vandy, Air Force and Temple). Northwestern visits Michie Stadium this year, but Army is 1-6 at home against BCS schools since 2005. Interesting fact: Army hasn’t won the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy since 1996.