2012 CFN Independent Preview
Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o
Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o
Posted Aug 13, 2012

2012 CFN Independent Preview - It's a tough decision now for the independents; should they stay solo?

Preview 2012

Independents Preview

- 2012 Army Preview | 2012 BYU Preview
- 2012 Navy Preview | 2012 Notre Dame Preview  

- 2012 Independents Preview
- 2012 Independents Unit Rankings
- 2012 Independents Schedules & Picks 
- 2012 CFN All-Ind. Team & Top 30 Players
- 2012 Ind. Team By Team Looks & Breakdowns  

By Pete Fiutak

The independents have to quickly figure out exactly what their goals are. Expansion and realignment have been changing the college football landscape on what seems like a daily basis, and the playoff talk has been all the rage as the conferences are trying to figure out the best way to crown a national champion.

Army and Navy are set. Neither one will ever be in the national title hunt and Navy is off to the Big East in 2015. Army is almost certain to follow at some point.

But for Notre Dame and BYU it gets a bit more complicated.

Notre Dame has enjoyed life on its own for a long, long time, and it's been able to make money hand over fist through NBC and whenever it gets a bowl invite. But it's becoming harder for the Irish to find bowl games to play in.

The Champs Sports Bowl could only take the Irish once from 2010 to 2013, grabbing them last year to play Florida State. But with the bigger conferences taking up more bowl slots – the SEC has ten bowl tie-ins - it's going to be hard for Notre Dame to find a home considering the schedule is way, way, WAY too tough to dare to dream about getting into the BCS.

Army is tied into the Military Bowl, if eligible, and Navy will go to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl if it gets to six wins. Both bowls are at the right level for the two programs, but for BYU it's BCS or the Poinsettia this year and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in 2013.

If you have to think for a second about who one either of those two bowl games last year, you get the point.

But BYU seemingly likes to be on its own. It has a strong built-in fan base, a network, and it's on ESPN just enough to get decent exposure from time to time. The problem is that without a conference title to play for, the regular season is nothing more than a fun exercise before going off to San Diego to play someone from the Mountain West. There's no real carrot at the end of the stick.

BYU isn't going to get an invite from the Pac-12 any time soon, and the Big 12 might be interested, but again, BYU appears to like being an independent. But soon, it's options are going to be fewer and fewer if the big BCS leagues keep moving forward and adding more schools.

Notre Dame is in a different situation because it's Notre Dame. It can join any conference it wants just for the asking. The problem continues to be the right fit, considering the Irish have no interest in playing third fiddle – at best – in the Big Ten and it isn't going to go off to the ACC or Big East. The Big 12 makes a little bit of sense, but the academic side of things might not sit too well with the powers-that-be, and the SEC is too nasty to deal with.

The Pac-12 wouldn't be a bad choice, but it's all speculation at this point and nothing is moving forward on any front. The simple fact is that Notre Dame doesn't really need a conference tie-in right now. Playing USC, top Big Ten schools, and this year, Oklahoma, is more than enough to make up for not having a conference title to play for.

Soon, all the independents will have to find a chair if and when the rise of the mega-conferences really does happen. For now, though, making lots of money is good enough.

Team That'll Surprise
Army – Fine, so we don't think the Knights will come up with a winning season, but Navy, BYU and Notre Dame don't really belong in this category. If you liked what the nation's leading running game was able to do last season, then you'll love what's about to come next. The defense is too small and will get beaten on, and the O line is way too light and won't push anyone around, but it's an experienced team with a nice backfield that should crank out more than the 346.5 rushing yards per game it averaged in 2011. After going 3-9 the pressure will be on to start converting a great ground game into wins, but with Stony Brook, Kent State, Eastern Michigan and Ball State on the slate, along with a slew of other teams that could get caught napping like Temple and Wake Forest, 6-6 and the Military Bowl are possible. Not likely, but possible.

Team That'll Disappoint
Notre Dame – Schedule, schedule, schedule. There might be measurements or formulas that say someone else has the nation's toughest slate, but they'd be wrong. The Irish only have one back-to-back home tilt, and it's not exactly easy facing Stanford and BYU. They have to start out by going to Ireland to face Navy before coming back to turn it around in a hurry to deal with Purdue, at Michigan State, and Michigan in a three game Big Ten run. With road games at Oklahoma and USC and no dates with anyone from outside a BCS conference – with the exception of independents Navy and BYU – good luck.

Game of the Year
Notre Dame at Oklahoma, Oct. 27 – The date with USC to close things out might turn out to be bigger, but the OU game is the crown jewel of the brutal Notre Dame schedule. The two last played in 1999 with the Irish winning 34-30, but more historically the matchup marked the beginning and end of Oklahoma's legendary 48-game non-losing streak, starting off with a 28-21 loss to the Irish in the 1953 opener and finishing with the classic 7-0 loss in Norman in November of 1957. This one will hardly have the nearly the same significance, but there's a chance the Sooners will be unbeaten and gunning for a national championship.

5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight
1. WR Cody Hoffman, Jr. BYU
2. RB Raymond Maples, Jr. Army
1. LB Kyle Van Noy, Jr. BYU
4. LB Matt Warrick, Sr. Navy
5. DE Jarrett Mackey, Sr. Army

Coach on the Hot Seat
Brian Kelly, Notre Dame – Keeping it just to what has happened on the field and forgetting for a moment the disastrous controversies, Kelly's tenure hasn't been awful. Two 8-5 records wasn't exactly what Irish fans were hoping for, but it was Year Three when he took Central Michigan to the MAC title and Cincinnati to the Orange Bowl. With Notre Dame's schedule, if Kelly can go 8-5 again consider it a Coach of the Year type of performance. However, the expectations are higher. He's not going to get fired unless the wheels come completely off, but remember, Bob Davie and Charlie Weis got their Irish teams to BCS games.

5 Games the Independents had better take very, very seriously
1. Purdue at Notre Dame, Sept. 8
2. Utah State at BYU, Oct. 5
3. Army at Eastern Michigan, Oct. 20
4. BYU at San Jose State, Nov. 17
5. Navy at Troy, Nov. 10

Bold Statements

- What good is being an independent if you can't come up with a schedule that plays to your advantage? BYU doesn't face the murderer's row of big teams that Notre Dame does, but four of its last five games are on the road. Granted, going to San Jose State and New Mexico State should be layups, but for all intents and purposes BYU won't be relevant over the final month of the season. The back-to-back road games at Notre Dame and Georgia Tech close out October, and then there's a week off to prepare for Idaho, the Spartans and the Aggies. Whoopee.

- For Army to win with its way-too-small lines and zero passing game it has to control the clock. That wasn't an issue last year, holding on to the ball for 33:28 per game. Part two of the equation has to be turnover margin, but the offense lost 22 fumbles and gave away four picks. The interceptions might not seem like a problem, but there were only 97 passing attempts on the year and the D only came up with eight picks and nine fumbles.

- Speaking of turnover margin, Notre Dame's muddled quarterback situation will come down to who will screw things up the least. The Irish were 1-4 when throwing two picks or more and managed to do everything possible to give games away with 29 ill-timed turnovers.

- Watch out for a meaner, nastier Navy. The call has gone out to get more physical, and while the running game will still be fine as is, look for bigger hits from the back eight and more pop from both lines.

5 Best Pro Prospects
1. LB Manti Te'o, Sr. Notre Dame
2. TE Tyler Eifert, Jr. Notre Dame
3. C Braxston Cave, Sr. Notre Dame
4. DT Louis Nix, Soph. Notre Dame
5. QB Gunner Kiel, Fr. Notre Dame

5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
1. Army LB Justin Trimble for Steve Erzinger
2. Notre Dame S Zeke Motta for Harrison Smith
3. Navy DT Wes Henderson for Jabaree Tuani
4. Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt for Aaron Lynch
5. BYU Ryker Mathews for Matt Reynolds
- 2012 Army Preview | 2012 BYU Preview
- 2012 Navy Preview | 2012 Notre Dame Preview  

- 2012 Independents Preview
- 2012 Independents Unit Rankings
- 2012 Independents Schedules & Picks 
- 2012 CFN All-Ind. Team & Top 30 Players
- 2012 Ind. Team By Team Looks & Breakdowns