2011 Spring Preview - The Joy Of Independence
Jake Heaps, Kriss Proctor, & Manti Te'o
Jake Heaps, Kriss Proctor, & Manti Te'o
Posted Mar 21, 2011

Notre Dame doesn't want to join anyone's party, BYU is looking to make a big splash on its own, and Army and Navy are thriving without a conference schedule. Being an independent might start to look good to those big enough to take the plunge, so who might be next? What players need to have big springs? What are the key storylines? All this and more in the 2011 CFN Indy Spring Preview.

2011 Spring Preview - No. 18

Who Wants To Be An Indy?

Click for each team's spring preview
ArmyBYU | Navy | Notre Dame 

2011 Spring Preview

- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 1-10) 
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 11-20) 
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 21-30) 
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 31-40) 
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 41-50) 
- No. 19 - Is a smaller Big 12 better? 

By Pete Fiutak

Oh yes, they were heady times for the Mountain West.

Utah might have been off to the Pac-12, but Boise State was on its way to fill the spot and plans were in the works to bring in Fresno State, Hawaii, and Nevada. The MWC was finally going to have a truly legitimate claim to being a real, live, BCS conference worthy of an automatic bid. With TCU, Boise State, and BYU as anchors, and with solid programs filling in the midsection, it was about to be time to come of age.

BYU wasn't so hot on the idea.

Before TCU decided to bail and go off to the Big East in 2012, BYU quickly, and slightly under the radar, chose to go it alone. With LDS Church related cable and satellite stations ready to form a built-in network, and with the ability to create a terrific schedule that could put the program in the national spotlight on a regular basis, BYU made the big move to become an independent, and it's not likely to be the last school to willingly do so in the near future. 

While many criticized the move as a school taking its ball and going home after not being invited to the Pac-12 party, BYU should end up making more money from the deal, it should up its profile a bit, rather than be lumped in with the rest of the non-AQs, and it could position itself to be a regular in the BCS discussion. Going 10-2 as a Mountain West team doesn't get you close, but going 10-2 as an independent, if the two losses are extremely strong, might bring a big money BCS game.

And then there's Notre Dame, who still holds the ticket to any conference it wants to join. The Big Ten, of course, would be the natural fit, and the Big East would be the easiest move - being the biggest fish in a medium pond, unlike the Big Ten - but geography doesn't matter when it comes to the Irish, but dollars might. The Irish brass continue to love the independent lifestyle and cherish the snob factor, and now there's no way the program is going to make a major move to a conference when head coach Brian Kelly has things on the upswing. Why split the pie when a 10-2 season brings in all the BCS money home? Even so, timing doesn't matter and conference configurations don't matter. The SEC or Pac-12 would go to 13 teams yesterday if it means getting the Irish, and the Big Ten will always be knocking on the door, even if the head honchos in Park Ridge, Illinois deny having any real interest.

While the four current independent teams should remain without a conference home for the foreseeable future, the big storyline to keep an eye on over the next few years will be Texas. By not making the big move to the Pac-12 or the Big Ten, and with the Big 12 staying alive by the skin of its teeth last offseason, the stage has been set for the Longhorns to call their own shots an be catered to even more than usual. Missouri, for one, has always had a problem with the Big 12 being all about Texas, and Nebraska apparently couldn't bolt fast enough to the Big Ten after being asked. Now, if there's going to be a Big 12 down the road, the political and financial pressure will be put on to keep UT in a conference when the money would be coming in by the truckload if the school went independent. 

With a 20-year, $300 million dollar deal in place with ESPN to form a Texas 24-hour network, the TV and multi-media side of things is in place for UT to go rogue and be its own entity, keeping the natural rivalries with Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Baylor, keeping the state politicians happy, while also picking and choosing its own national games. Like Notre Dame, Texas might like the idea of keeping all its bowl money and not sharing with the Big 12 also-rans.

For now, the independents are all going to be interesting with Notre Dame about to be in the mix for BCS game talk, BYU returning strong enough to hang around the top 20 all year, and Navy and Army destined for bowl games yet again. All will play fun games throughout the season, all have entertaining teams, and all are going to make independent life look very, very nice.

The Top Five Independent Players Who Need A Big Spring
1. Tommy Rees, QB Notre Dame
2. Kriss Proctor, QB Navy
3. Lo Wood, CB Notre Dame
4. De'Von Richardson, S Navy
5. Riley Stephenson, PK/P BYU

The Top 5 Position Concerns/Battles
1. Notre Dame quarterback
2. Navy safety
3. Notre Dame running back
4. BYU defensive back
5. Army offensive line

The 5 Biggest Independent Spring Storylines
1. Who's going to play quarterback for the Irish?  Tommy Rees looked like a keeper over the second half of last year, but Dayne Crist will be back from a knee injury to work out a little bit. If Rees isn't great, it'll be Crist's gig when he's ready to go.
2. Is Jake Heaps the real deal? The superstar BYU quarterback recruit played like a true freshman last year at times, but he also showed enough of a spark to think that he could be the next great Cougar passer. It's his job without question, and he needs to be great for the Cougars to take a step forward.
3. Can Army beef up the lines quickly enough to improve as a team? Black Knight spring ball is over, and the lines needed the most work with so much turnover. The offensive front appears to have come together over the course of the spring, but the defensive front still needs work. Overall, though, things aren't that bad considering how many new starters are in the mix.
4. Is Kriss Proctor as good as Ricky Dobbs? No, but the new starting Navy quarterback is brilliant at running the triple option and should be able to keep the attack moving. He's not a passer like Dobbs, and he doesn't bring any power inside, but he's experienced and makes all the right reads. The offense is his now.
5. How fast can the top Notre Dame recruits make an impact? By the time the season starts, the buzz about the Irish defensive front will be around Aaron Lynch, Ishaq Williams, and Stephon Tuitt, three of the mega-recruits from this year's class. The Irish return three starters on the defensive front, but no job will be safe unless the returning veterans are terrific this spring.

The Pre-Spring Call For Top Independent Players
1. Manti Te'o, LB Notre Dame
2. Michael Floyd, WR Notre Dame
3. Matt Reynolds, OT BYU
4. Dayne Crist, QB Notre Dame
5. Kriss Proctor, QB Navy

The Spring Independent Team Rankings
1. Notre Dame
2. BYU
3. Navy
4. Army

Click for each team's spring preview
Army | Navy | Notre Dame 

2011 Spring Preview

- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 1-10) 
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 11-20) 
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 21-30) 
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 31-40) 
- Top 50 Non-Conference Games (No. 41-50) 
- No. 19 - Is a smaller Big 12 better?