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Notre Dame - BYU - Army - Navy - The Independents Preview
Independent football schools are a dying breed, but knowledge of them is imperative for handicapping key games. Due to a lack of a conference schedule they play in several big time games. For example, the Cougars of BYU will take on Texas, TCU and Ole Miss. Notre Dame will do battle with Big East favorites USF and Pittsburgh as well as Michigan, Michigan State, USC and Stanford. Let's take a look at the four independent football teams which are Army, Navy, BYU and Notre Dame.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish - Love it or hate, the Irish look to be back under the guidance of HC Brian Kelly. They finished 2010 with four straight wins the last of which was a 33-17 drubbing of rival Miami. Kelly gets back 9 starters on offense and 8 on defense. Junior Dayne Crist figures to get the QB job, but back up Tommy Rees is also very capable. WR Michael Floyd's return means the receiving corps are very strong. The schedule provides several challenges in the form of Big Ten foes Michigan and Michigan State along with a trip to Stanford, but the Irish look more than ready for the challenge. Double digit wins this year Notre Dame. The possibility of going undefeated isn't out of the question. It's BCS or bust for the Fighting Irish.
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BYU Cougars - Exiting the Mountain West Conference, the Cougars figure to perform strongly in their first year as an independent. In 2010 they regressed with the loss of RB Harvey Unga, but still won their Bowl game and had a winning record at 7-6. 10 starters are back on offense and half that amount returns for the defense. RB JJ Di Luigi figures to get most of the offensive load in his senior season. Jake Heaps will have marked improvement as a sophomore while playing QB. Games on the road against Ole Miss, Texas and TCU will give them problems, but Bronco Mendenhall's team looks ready to bounce back. Double digit wins is possible, but it will take plenty of luck.
Navy Midshipmen - Losing star QB Ricky Dobbs will mean regression from last year's 9-4 season. Senior Kriss Proctor takes over. He will make good use of his legs just as his predecessor did, but by no means is he on par with Dobbs. Getting back just 10 starters probably won't be a problem as HC Ken Niumatalolo hasn't ever returned many starters in his young career at Navy. A soft schedule will help, but matching production from 2010 is unlikely.
Army Black Knights - The Black Knights get back 11 total starters from a team that went 7-6 last year. QB Trent Steelman was impressive as he rushed for 11 TDs and passed for 7 more in 2010. He's got big time potential as a junior this year. The schedule is very soft with the only tough game coming at the end of the year against Navy. Reaching 6 wins in order to get to Bowl play will be their goal.
Additional Resource - Betfirms Independents Preview
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