The Independent teams in college football all seem to be on the rise this year as they continue to excel without being in a conference. Notre Dame has always been independent but there have been talks about them moving into a major conference. We definitely don’t see that happening. Notre Dame is still the cream of the Independents but how will BYU, Arny and Navy do this year?
1- Notre Dame – The Fighting Irish have been a big disappointment so far under Brian Kelly in his first two years. Back-to-back 8-5 finishes is not where they want to be. This year Kelly has his best offense to date with 8 returning starters. They increased their offense by 2.9-ppg from 2010 to 2011 and we see that getting better this year. The Irish are lead by QB Tommy Rees but Soph QB Andrew Hendrix is right on his tail. TE Tyler Eifert was First Team All-American last year and will help lead a balanced attack. The defense returns 6 starters and may be the most athletic ND defense we have seen in years. Both the offense and defense are improved but ND does have an extremely difficult schedule this year. We will look for 9-10 wins despite the tough schedule this year
2- BYU – The Cougars had a great season last year going 10-3. The offense got better as well as the defense. QB Riley Nelson stepped and performed well as he completed 57% of his passes and had a 19:7 ratio. Look for more improvement from him this season which can lead to bigger production on the offensive side of the ball. BYU has 14 starters back from last year’s team and that gets HC Bronco Mendenhall excited. If the Cougars can improve their TO margin this will be a team that can potentially top last year’s wins total of 10. BYU has a tough schedule but we look for another successful season.
3 – Army – The Cadets are coming off a disappointing 3-9 season after going 7-6 in 2010. Look for a big turnaround in 2012 as they have 15 returning starters back. The offense is led by Trent Steelman as he is the catalyst of the triple-option offense. Last year, the Cadets had a drop-off in offense as they went from 26.6-ppg in 2010 to 24.8-ppg in 2011. We look for the offense to be much improved and that will help lead them to more wins this year. The defense is small but fast and returns eight on that side of the ball. The TO margin is going to have to improve in order to be eligible and we think it will. HC Rich Ellerson always has his teams prepared and will play hard all the time. We think they have a great shot and being bowl eligible in 2012 based on many winnable games at home.
4 – Navy – For the first time since 2002 the Midshipmen did not have a winning record and that left a bad taste in HC Ken Niumatalolo’s mouth. This is a school that prides itself on hard work and dedication in everything they do. The offense has never been a problem for Navy. The defense really let this team down last year as they went from allowing 22.0-ppg in 2008, 19.4-ppg in 2009 and 23.3-ppg in 2010 to 28.9-ppg in 2011. The defense really needs to improve in order for this team to become bowl eligible. We think that they will as they do have 7 returning starters back on defense. Matt Warrick, who led the team in tackles returns and will lead the defense in 2012. On offense Navy always is in the top 5 in rushing with their triple-option attack. QB Trey Miller played in seven games last year and will lead the option attack as a full-time starter. We look for the offense to not miss a beat this year and put up similar numbers as they always do. The schedule is not as difficult as it was last year and look for the Midshipmen to get back to a bowl in 2012.