The Independents: Is Going Solo a CFB No No?
College football teams going their own way are a disappearing breed.
Even the four major indepenent football teams have or will soon edge closer to conference ties due to the new playoff system.
The face of the independents, of course, is Nôtre Dame. The Fighting Irish are coming off an 9-4 season after playing for the BCS championship the year before in a mismatch with Alabama that surely had a role in the college game moving to a four-team playoff.
There's been turmoil already in 2014, with Nôtre Dame suspending four players and putting a fifth on hold because of a possible academic scandal. That puts more pressure on quarterback Everett Golson, who himself is back after sitting out last season due to an academic suspension. The Irish have three running backs who will see action: Cam McDaniel, Tarean Folston, and Greg Bryant, while Corey Robinson is a go-to receiver.
Nôtre Dame aligned with the ACC so their other sports would have a home, but this came with a committment for the football team to load ACC foes on their schedule. That includes Florida State this season. They also face Michigan in South Bend, as well as Stanford and Louisville. Besides a trip to Tallahassee, Coach Brian Kelly's team must also travel to USC.
BYU finished 8-5 last season and started this campaign with a thumping of UConn. The Cougars have a schedule that is conducive to winning ten games as teams like Savannah State, UNLV, Middle Tennessee State dot its itinerary. This isn't an attempt to eat cupcakes; rather, it's a result of the difficulty involved in not being aligned with a conference under the new CFB format. The Cougars may have to re-think its independent status, but frankly, the only Power Five conference that has room for them right now -- and the landscape may suddently change again -- is the Big XII.
Taysom Hill will be running the offense for coach Bronco Mendenhall once again. BYU has a great runner in Jamaal Williams, although he was suspended for the UConn game. Defensively, the Cougars will sorely miss lineback Kyle Van Noy, but will still be strong overall, especially with the addition of Nebraska transfer Harvey Jackson.
It's been 12 years since Army has defeated Navy, and although the game is a long time away, it's the one that these schools circle on their calendars.
Navy has had stability with its well-disciplined option offense. Coach Ken Niumatalolo and the Midshipmen again have a manageable schedule this year. Leading up to Army, Navy does face behemoths like Ohio State and Nôtre Dame -- as well as a historically difficult clash with the Air Force -- but the overall outlook is a season with eight or nine wins is not out of the question.