The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 28, 2009

2009 FBS Independents Preview

2009 FBS Independents Preview

A PiRate Look

In the third in our series of conference previews, we look at the FBS Independents.  There are only three of these teams left, and three previews makes for a rather short piece here, so we will editorialize a bit today.  We here at the PiRate Ratings believe all three independents would be better off joining a conference.  Here’s how we think the realignment should take place.

First, the NCAA should declare that only teams affiliated with a conference can be eligible for a post-season bowl game.  Notre Dame could either choose to discontinue bowl participation like they did until January 1, 1970, or they could join a conference.  I believe they should be members of the Big East, just like they are in other sports.  Now, from the Big East, Pittsburgh should move to the Big Ten, giving that conference 12 teams and allowing for a split into two divisions.

Meanwhile, Memphis and East Carolina should join the Big East.  With one defection and three additions, the Big East would now have 10 teams.  Conference USA would be down to 10 teams, and both Army and Navy could be added to keep that league at 12.

Now, the six big conferences could crown their champions with those fortunate teams qualifying automatically in a 12-team playoff field.  The top six remaining teams regardless of conference would then be added as at-large teams.  That would give the Boise State’s and Utah’s a fair chance of playing for the national championship. 

As for Notre Dame’s television contract with NBC, if NBC should decide to keep it, we don’t see any reason why that contract couldn’t be renewed.  We believe the Big East wouldn’t mind the extra exposure.  However, with ratings weakening for those games, NBC might prefer having a Big East Game of the Week much like CBS has with the SEC.  That would give the weakest of the BCS conferences a huge boost.

A 12-team playoff would then utilize the top 11 bowls as playoff venues.  The teams would be seeded one to 12, with the better seeds getting preferential treatment in the bowl they are sent to in the first two rounds.  The first round would consist of four bowl games played on the Friday and Saturday falling between December 11 and December 17.  The top four seeds would get byes as rewards for their exceptional seasons.  Round two would take place one week later (The Friday and Saturday between December 18-24).  The semifinal games would be played on New Year’s Day or January 2 if the first fell on a Sunday.  The championship game would be played on the Saturday falling between January 12 and January 18.

Okay, rant over.  Let’s preview the three independents.

Last year, Notre Dame backed into a bowl game by the skins of their teeth.  The Irish finished the regular season at 6-6 after losing four of their final five games including a home game with Syracuse.  Charlie Weis occupies the hottest seat among FBS head coaches this season, and there are several possible trap games on the schedule in 2009.

Navy has dominated Army as of late winning the last seven games in the series.  The Midshipmen will be rebuilding this season, while Army looks to begin a slow climb back toward respectability.  However, they have a long hill to climb, and we believe the Cadets will suffer an eighth consecutive defeat to their rivals.

Here are the preseason PiRate ratings for the Independents.  The ratings have been rounded to the nearest whole number even though we calculate them to two decimal places.  To understand what the rating means, it is set so that 100 is average.  Thus, a rating of 110 means the team is 10 points better than the average team in the FBS.  The average of all 120 FBS teams should round to 100 if the math has been successfully calculated.

For those who have not followed the PiRate Ratings before and wonder about the home field advantage, we do not assign set in stone advantages.  These are assigned on a game-by-game basis.  For instance, if Army was to get really lucky and host Penn State, it would be expected that the Nittany Lion fans would find a way to get to West Point and make it a home game for the visiting team.  However, if that same Army team hosted Hawaii when the Rainbows played at Idaho the week before, then the Cadets could enjoy as much as a touchdown in home field advantage.  The PiRates think it’s ridiculous to issue a blank home field advantage for all teams or even assign a range of set home field advantages.


Independents Preseason PiRatings



Prediction *




    Notre Dame












    *  Predictions not based on PiRate Rating but  
    on expected changes to rating during the year  


Notre Dame: It’s win big or else for Coach Weis in South Bend this season.  The Irish have a 10-15 record the last two seasons, and anything short of making the three year record a winning one may be the end of the Weis era.  The Irish must win nine games, or else we believe the brass in South Bend will open the vault in an attempt to lure Urban Meyer away from Florida.  Meyer has stated in the past that Notre Dame is his dream job.

The Irish offense should resemble Weis’s first two at Notre Dame.  Junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen should top 3,500 yards passing with 30 touchdowns.  A year like that would entice him to declare for the NFL draft.  Clausen has talented receivers to aim for in Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, and tight end Kyle Rudolph.  Throw in new starter Duval Kanara, and the Irish have one of the top receiving units in the land!

How well Notre Dame runs the ball will determine whether the Irish can control the ball when the situation calls for that.  Armando Allen, Robert Hughes, and James Aldridge should see their numbers increase thanks to a vastly improving offensive line.  We see the Irish topping 125 yard per game on the ground to go with 275-300 passing yards per game.  It adds up to an attack unit that scores more than 30 points per game.

If Notre Dame is to challenge for a BCS Bowl bid, the defense will have to make a leap forward.  The talent is there, but there are enough holes to make that possibility a bit iffy.  The strength of the defense is a skilled secondary.  Free safety Harrison Smith covers up a lot of mistakes, and he is like having Willie Mays in center field.  Strong safety Kyle McCarthy makes a lot of open field tackles, and together they make up one of the top 10 safety tandems in college football.

The trio of linebackers is better than average and with a little improvement could be exceptional.  Middle linebacker Brian Smith has the potential to be a star.  Steve Filer needs to take a leap forward and play up to his potential.

The defensive line is the question mark of this team.  The Irish cannot be a top 10 team if they continue to give up more than four yards per rush like they have both of the last two years.

The schedule is manageable but tricky.  An opening game at home against Nevada could be an ambush game if Wolfpack quarterback Colin Kaepernick fires on target from Nevada’s pistol offense.  Next up is a trip to Ann Arbor to face Michigan in a game that could prove to be a coach’s elimination contest.  If ND wins those two games, then the third game at home against Michigan State could be the big one that allows the Irish to return to move into the top five or six teams.  Games against Purdue and Washington precede a crucial off week to prepare for a home tilt against Southern Cal.  The Trojans are not infallible this season.  Boston College should be somewhat weaker this season than last, and then the Irish gets Washington State and Navy.  On November 14, they play at Pittsburgh, and if the ND record is 8-2 after that game, then they should defeat Connecticut and Stanford and earn a trip to a BCS bowl.  If they lose four or more games this season, the fans in Gatorland will become nervous.

Navy: When Paul Johnson bolted last year to Georgia Tech, Navy fans weren’t sure the Midshipmen could continue their winning ways running the offense that he perfected at Hawaii and Georgia Southern in addition to Annapolis.  Coach Ken Niumatalolo learned well as offensive coordinator, and the Middies won eight games last year making it eight or more wins for six straight seasons.  We think that string is going to come to an end this year, as Navy lost too much talent on offense and doesn’t have enough talent on defense to win low scoring games.  In fact, we think Navy will lose eight times this year.

New quarterback Ricky Dobbs has a little experience, but he plays erratically.  Look for the rushing and passing numbers to drop off a good amount from the numbers put up by departed QB Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada.  We expect the Midshipmen to rush for 225-250 yards, but this is a miniscule amount compared to recent years when Navy averaged 318 rushing yards over the last six years.

The running back corps was hit hard by graduation, as Shun White and Eric Kettani are gone after combining for more than 2,000 yards and 12 touchdowns.  Even though passing is basically a surprise weapon, the opposing defense must respect the deep threat to keep them from stacking up against the run and eliminating the option.  This Navy team just doesn’t have that necessary receiver.

The offensive line returns some experienced starters, but in this offense, that isn’t as important as in passing offenses.

Defensively, Navy always has trouble stopping good quarterbacks and for good reason.  They never really have an able scout team quarterback in practice because they don’t recruit that type of player.  Thus, even in recent good years, they have allowed 230 yards per game through the air and over 65% completion success.  There’s some talent on the defense with safety Wyatt Middleton and linebacker Ross Pospisil combined for 12 passes deflected.

The schedule provides a few easy wins, but there are just as many sure losses.  The season kicks off with a road game at the giant horseshoe against Ohio State.  Game number two at home against Louisiana Tech might drop the Middies to 0-2.  Following that game, they play at Pittsburgh and could easily be 0-3 and no better than 1-2.  A home game against Western Kentucky must be a win, or else it’s going to be a very long year.  Navy must play at Rice and SMU, and with their pass defense woes could easily be two more losses.  Wake Forest, Temple, and Hawaii are probably losses, and Air Force is a tossup at best.  Delaware and Army are not sure wins either, so it looks like a long year in Annapolis.

Army: It’s hard to imagine, but in 1944 through 1946, Army was as powerful then as Florida and Oklahoma are today, maybe even more so.  That squad of Cadets went 26-0-1 with the one tie being the historic 0-0 game against unbeaten Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium.  Recent Army teams have more closely resembled what used to be called I-AA teams.  In fact, Army has been only competitive against what is now called FCS teams.  They lost at home to New Hampshire 28-10 last year; they barely edged Rhode Island in overtime in 2007, so the first order of building toward the future is to dominate VMI when the two military institutions square off at West Point on November 14.

Army introduces their fifth head coach since 2001.  The new leader, Rich Ellerson, turned Cal Poly into a FCS monster.  His team beat San Diego State last year and would have upset Wisconsin if they could have converted just one of three missed PATs in that game.  Ellerson is a master in multiple triple option football run out of a spread formation.  Army switched to a spread option scheme last year, so the learning curve should be much shorter.  The Cadets could actually rush for 275 yards per game this year.  Quarterbacks Chip Bowden and Carson Williams aren’t prototypical option-style players, but with military discipline, they both became adequate last year.  Fullback Bryson Carl tries to replace Collin Mooney, but Mooney rushed for 1,339 yards and eight scores last year.  Carl will be lucky to rush for 800 yards.

Damion Hunter and Jameson Carter will try to keep secondaries honest by providing downfield passing options, but neither is a roadrunner.  Army will be fortunate to average 50 passing yards per game. 

The offensive line has been shredded due to graduation.  Only one starter returns.  As far as the running game goes, the frequent double team blocks and quarterback reads lessen the necessity for super linemen, but pass blocking is a different story.

Defensively, Army was an improved ball club last year, and it showed in the statistics as they allowed one touchdown per game less in 2008 than in 2007.  Enough talent returns on the stop side for the Cadets to equal that performance again in 2009.  The secondary has two exceptional defenders in cornerback Mario Hill and safety Donovan Travis.  End Joshua McNary could compete for playing time at a Big East school.  Middle linebacker Stephen Anderson is a pint size version of a standard MLB, but his hustle makes up for his lack of size.

Army’s schedule actually gives them a chance to become bowl eligible.  The opening game at Eastern Michigan could be the tell-tale sign.  Following that game, they host Duke and Ball State in successive weeks.  If they are 2-1 at that point, the fourth game at Iowa State could be the one that sets the Cadets on course to turn things around in year one of the Ellerson regime.  Army then hosts a very beatable Tulane team and then the road gets a bit tougher.  A home game with Vanderbilt, a game at Temple, and a home game with Rutgers looks like three losses.  The Cadets need to be 4-4 after this stretch.  The final four games are at Air Force, home with VMI, at North Texas, and against Army in Philly.  If they are 4-4 entering this stretch, then the North Texas game on November 21 could be for bowl eligibility.  We tend to think it will take another season of experience, and Army will lose a couple of those winnable games.

Next up: Can Boise State make it seven out of the last eight in the WAC?  Can Nevada, Fresno State, or Louisiana Tech threaten to end the Broncos’ reign at the top?  Can Utah State, Idaho, or New Mexico State break through with a bowl-eligible season for the first time this century?


  1. OMG where do you “dig” up your information from ? you don’t mention Steelman probably QB for next 4 years, i don’t see the double flex mentioned…or speed they have picked…this analysis seems to be taken out of a history book….

    Comment by lv4921391 — August 29, 2009 @ 3:13 pm

    • At the time this preview was written, Trent Steelman had not been elevated to number one quarterback, and even as of this writing, it is not 100% set in stone. 185-pound freshmen who hold onto the ball too long and take a lot of punishment don’t usually make it through a full season without missing playing time. Bowden can take more punishment and won’t fumble the ball as much, so he’s still in the mix.

      The three game stretch against Iowa State, Tulane, and Vanderbilt will be the true test for your team. While these teams are not powerhouses, Iowa State and Vanderbilt have some hard-hitting defenders that outweigh Steelman by 100 pounds.

      As for the double flex or desert swarm defense, it is still a 40 defense. We don’t attempt to explain teams’ playbooks here, even though we have two former football coaches supplying previews. This is a blog that rates college and pro teams and tries to select winners.

      As for the historical information about Army in the preview, our founder wrote that part. We can assure you he didn’t need to consult a history book either, as he knew two of the players on those Army teams–Jack Green and Shorty McWilliams.

      Comment by piratings — August 29, 2009 @ 8:24 pm

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