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Instead of the independents, the collection of programs unaffiliated with a full conference slate should be called the dabblers.
Notre Dame proved last season that it really is possible to overcome a brutal-looking schedule, while BYU seemed to enjoy life outside of a conference just fine with four of its five losses coming by six points or fewer including a gut-wrenching 17-14 battle with the Irish. But both teams don’t seem to be settled quite yet, and that goes for the rest of the independents, too.
While it really is possible to have it all – the Irish proved that last season – it’s not a whole bunch of fun where there’s no big carrot at the end of the stick. With no direct bowl tie-ins, it’s not going to be BCS or bust for Notre Dame, but it’ll be hard to get pumped up for a simple post-season game after seeing the limelight of the national championship. For BYU, the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl is hardly the type of game players dream about, but that’s the destination unless the BCS comes calling. But that’s part of the risk/reward of not being tied into a league in a full-time basis – there’s no conference championship t-shirt.
So now the independents are either taking a little look to see if it might not be a bad idea to think about the possibilities, or their just waiting until it’s their turn to join a club.
After the WAC faded away, New Mexico State and Idaho were rudely left out in the cold by the Mountain West. They’re off to the Sun Belt next season after their year in exile, while Navy is going to the American Athletic Conference in 2015. Meanwhile, Notre Dame football will kinda, sorta be a part of the ACC starting next season with a five-game slate, getting a chance to try out conference life for a bit playing Florida State, Syracuse, Louisville, North Carolina and Wake Forest.
If Army isn’t on the radar of the AAC and Conference USA, it should be, and while the Pac-12 hasn’t shown any interest in BYU, there’s always the new and improved Mountain West to go back to if the Big 12 doesn’t make the call – if BYU really does want to give up its lone wolf status.
But for now, independence is a positive. Notre Dame might be even stronger, even if the record doesn’t show it, and BYU will be a nasty out for a slew of excellent teams on its slate. Army and Navy will do what Army and Navy do, only the Black Knights hope to do it a little better, and New Mexico State and Idaho each get a redshirt season with their new coaching staffs.
And if Notre Dame can get back to the BCS championship again, life as a rich independent could be even sweeter.
Team That'll Surprise
Notre Dame – Yeah, that was all cute how the Irish made their way through a nasty schedule and into the BCS championship game, but it was all the luck of the program, right? Captain Catfish might be gone, and quarterback Everett Golson might be trying to get everything back in order after his “poor academic judgment,” but the defense could be even stronger and the offense might be a bit more explosive if Tommy Rees and the downfield passing attack can get rolling. It might not be another 12-0 regular season, but the team isn’t going to fall off the map into an 8-5 2011-like abyss.
Team That'll Disappoint
Army – Every year it seems like the Black Knights are about to turn a corner under head coach Rich Ellerson, and every year there seems to be a problem. The cruel loss to Navy put a capper on a colossal disappointment of a 2-10 season, and while the team might be a bit better this year, the record won’t reflect it. The appearance in the 2010 Armed Forces Bowl was the last post-season date since 1996, and it’s going to take a few upsets against a soft schedule to break the trend.
Game of the Year
BYU at Notre Dame, Nov. 23 – Notre Dame kicker Kyle Brindza missed two field goals, but he hit the 24-yarder he needed to connect on in the third quarter, and George Atkinson ran for a two-yard score in the fourth to survive a 17-14 thriller against BYU. This year the Irish will enjoy two weeks off to prepare for the late-season showdown, while BYU gets a warm up against Idaho State the week before. With Stanford coming up next for ND, and with a road game at Nevada to finish things up for the Cougars, there’s still more work to be done.
5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight
1. OT Zack Martin, Sr. Notre Dame
2. WR Cody Hoffman, Sr. BYU
3. RB Raymond Maples, Sr. Army
4. WR Austin Franklin, Jr. NMSU
5. CB Parrish Gaines, Jr. Navy
Coach on the Hot Seat
Rich Ellerson, Army – After a fantastic stint at Cal Poly, Ellerson took over at Army and was supposed to make it the new Navy. After a nice 5-7 first season and a 7-6 bowl campaign, things haven’t exactly gone well going 5-19 over the last two seasons. Throw in the four losses to Navy, and it could be a make-or-break season for the coach as well as the program.
5 Games independent opponents had better take very, very seriously
1. Texas at BYU, Sept. 7
2. Navy at Indiana, Sept. 7
3. Wake Forest at Army, Sept. 21
4. Temple at Idaho, Sept. 28
5. Boston College at New Mexico State, Nov. 9
- Tommy Rees will come up with a huge senior season. Veteran quarterbacks tend to do really, really well under Brian Kelly, and Rees will carry the Irish to another double-digit win season.
- But he’ll have one meltdown, three interception game that will cost the Irish a perfect season.
- It’ll come against Oklahoma.
- ND will once again own the Big Ten tour beating Michigan, Purdue and Michigan State in back-to-back-to-back weeks.
- The Irish defense will be even better despite the loss of Manti Te’o.
- Brian Kelly will be coaching in the NFL next year at this time.
- Irish defensive end Stephon Tuitt will be a top ten draft pick.
- Army won’t finish dead last in college football in passing.
- There will be over 600 yards of combined rushing offense in Army’s game against Louisiana Tech in Dallas on September 28th.
- BYU quarterback Taysom Hill will be the hot name going into 2014.
- The Cougars will start the season 0-3 losing at Virginia and at home against Texas and Utah.
- And then they’ll go on a roll.
- After averaging 278 yards per game, Navy will average over 300 rushing yards per outing.
- Whatever the over/under is for the Navy game at Toledo on October 19th, take the over.
- Other than games against Abilene Christian, Florida Atlantic and Idaho, New Mexico State won’t come within double digits of anyone else.
- Under new head coach Paul Petrino, Idaho’s offense will improve by 100 yards per game.
5 Best Pro Prospects
1. DE Stephon Tuitt, Jr. Notre Dame
2. LB Kyle Van Noy, Sr. BYU
3. OT Zack Martin, Sr. Notre Dame
4. WR Cody Hoffman, Sr. BYU
5. DT Louis Nix, Sr. Notre Dame
5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
1. Notre Dame LB Jarrett Grace for Manti Te’o
2. Notre Dame TE Troy Niklas for Tyler Eifert
3. Army QB A.J. Schurr for Trent Steelman
4. Navy RB Geoffrey Whiteside for Gee Gee Greene
5. BYU P Scott Arellano for Riley Stevenson