There are only four teams currently playing without a conference affiliation, but three of them should finish in the top 25! Notre Dame, BYU and Army should play a major role in the upcoming season. The Irish and the Cougars, both have a shot to crash the BCS party at season’s end. The Cadets are also poised to have one of their best seasons, in recent memory.
NOTRE DAME The Irish are coming off a disastrous 4-8 campaign. Brian Kelly was able to save his job, but he cleaned house, firing much of his coaching staff. The hopes are that new coordinators, Chuck Long (offense) and Mike Elko (defense) will improve both sides of the ball. The Irish will again play five squads from the ACC and will host both Georgia and USC. Brandon Wimbush takes over at quarterback. The highly touted recruit, has a strong-arm and is mobile. Six of the top seven receivers return from last year. Josh Adams rushed for 955 yards and should easily top 1,000 behind a top-notch offensive line. The schedule is tough, and Kelly will likely have a meltdown, which will result in an unexpected loss. A double-digit win season is within reach.
IMPACT NEWCOMER………OL Tommy Kraemer, redshirt freshman who should start at right tackle.
FUN FACT……….The Irish have dropped five straight in Miami.
BYU Head coach Kalani Sitake enters his second season in Provo. Sitake welcomes back 13 starters and has Tanner Mangum back under center. Mangum will operate behind a solid offensive line that has 85 career starts! The first order of business in the spring was to find capable receivers. Offensive Coordinator Ty Detmer, thinks he has the right mix of receivers to accomplish that goal. The top three tacklers return to a defense that allowed only 19 points per game. The Cougars are bigger and faster on that side of the ball, so I expect even better numbers, despite the tough early schedule. Wisconsin will be a key home game in September. A win here and the Cougars will get to double digits in the win column.
IMPACT NEWCOMER……….DL Handsome Tanielu, top notch JC recruit. With a name like that, at least the opposing cheerleaders will take notice.
FUN FACT……….BYU has lost six straight “Holy Wars”.
ARMY Life is about to get real interesting along the Hudson. This Army team is loaded and poised to have a breakout season. Head coach Jeff Monken has his best team ever at his disposal. The service academies rarely return a lot of starters, but Monken has 16 returning. The offense is locked and loaded. Quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw will direct a potent ground game, that features the top five rushers returning. I expect at least two 1,000 rushers from that group. Four offensive linemen return (77 career starts) and they get back former starter Victor Nieves back as well. Monken gets back seven starters on a defense, that is much more athletic than in years past. The Cadets could actually be favored in all but two games. The last time the Cadets had a 10 win season was 1996. I have them pegged at 10-2 and bringing the Commander-in-chief trophy back to West Point.
IMPACT NEWCOMER……….WR Christian Poe, 6-3 receiver will give Bradshaw a big target to throw too.
FUN FACT……….Army last won the Commander-in-chief trophy in 1996.
MASSACHUSETTS Umass dropped out of the Mid-American Conference in 2016 to go Independent. The results were a 2-10 season, as they took on a tougher schedule. This year the schedule is softer, and with a more experienced team, the results should be improved. The Minutemen will need to pull an upset to get bowl eligible, but the possibilities are within reach. Quarterback Andrew Ford has weapons in running back Marquis Young 951 yards rushing, and wide receivers Adam Breneman and Andy Isabella. The offensive line is major question mark and could struggle to protect Ford. Defense will be the strength of this team, with nine returning starters.
IMPACT NEWCOMER……….RB Jordan Fredericks, transfer from Syracuse.
FUN FACT……….The Minutemen have not been to a bowl since 1972.
HOW WILL THEY FINISH
NOTRE DAME 10-2