The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 23, 2012

2012 FBS Independents Preview

The life of an independent is not as rewarding as it once was.  Throughout history, independents have won numerous national championships.  During the 50-year period between 1942 and 1991, independents won the national title 19 times:

 

1943

Notre Dame

1944

Army

1945

Army

1946

Notre Dame

1947

Notre Dame

1949

Notre Dame

1952

Michigan St. (not yet in Big Ten)

1959

Syracuse

1966

Notre Dame

1973

Notre Dame

1976

Pittsburgh

1977

Notre Dame

1982

PennState

1983

Miami (Fl)

1986

PennState

1987

Miami (Fl)

1988

Notre Dame

1989

Miami (Fl)

1991

Miami (Fl)

 

 

Many football historians believe the 1944 and 1945 Army teams were the most dominant teams in college football history.  Imagine if Marcus Lattimore were to transfer to another school and find himself the third best running back on the team!  The equivalent occurred in 1945.  Mississippi State’s Shorty McWilliams, the SEC’s Lattimore of that time, transferred to Army and became the third choice in the backfield behind the legendary Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, Felix “Doc” Blanchard and Glenn Davis.

 

Notre Dame was one of the most dominant programs of all time in the latter 1940’s, going 36-0-2 between 1946 and 1949.  The 1949 team featured the Heisman Trophy winner, Leon Hart.  From that team, 26 players would eventually be selected in the NFL draft!

 

Let’s return back to 2012.  There are just four independents.  The ranks will swell by 50% next year, now that Idaho and New Mexico State have decided to go independent in football.  Navy will leave for the Big East in a couple years.

 

There is no media poll for the independents.  Instead, we will show you the consensus total over/under wins from the Las Vegas sportsbooks.

 

 

Independents

 

 

Rank

Team

Over/Under Wins

1

Notre Dame

8.5

2

B Y U

8.5

3

Navy

6.5

4

Army

5.5

 

 

PiRate Ratings

Rank

Big East

PiRate

1

Notre Dame

118.4

2

B Y U

108.2

3

Army

92.1

4

Navy

91.1

 

 

Vintage Ratings

Rank

Big East

Vintage

1

Notre Dame

113

2

B Y U

110

3

Army

97

4

Navy

94

 

 

Team

Army Black Knights (Cadets)

               
Head Coach

Rich Ellerson

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

West Point, NY

               
2011 Record              
Overall

3-9

               
PiRate Rating

92.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

86

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

97

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

77

               
2012 Prediction              
Overall

6-6

 

Army retreated last year, falling from seven wins to three.  The option offense was more productive than in 2010 (led nation with 346.5 rushing yards per game), but the Black Knights’ turnover margin went from +16 to -9.

 

Trent Steelman has one year to go until he receives his commission.  The senior quarterback has started all but two games in three years.  Last year, he rushed for 645 yards and 12 touchdowns.  He only attempted 45 passes, but he averaged 9.4 yards per pass attempt.  He just missed rushing for 1,000 yards in 2010, and if he stays healthy, he could crack through the quadruple digit barrier.

 

The Black Knight backfield returns all its key components from last year.  Slotback Raymond Maples led Army with 1,066 yards, averaging 7.3 yards per rush (many as the pitch option where he received a pitch with daylight).  Jared Hassin rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2010, but he was injured for most of last year.  He returns along with Larry Dixon to make the fullback position dangerous.  Add Malcolm Brown to the mix at the slot, and you have a team that could challenge for 400 rushing yards per game, something that has not been done since Nebraska pulled the trick in 1995.

 

Two new starters need to be found at the wideouts, but when your leading receiver caught just 10 passes, it isn’t going to affect the offense much.  As long as Army can come up with four guys that can block in the secondary and run deep to take defensive backs out of the area of attack, it will be sufficient.  The playbook will do the work getting them open when Steelman pulls up and throws the play-action pass.

 

The offensive line benefits from a lot of double-team blocks, so replacing starters is not as difficult as it would be for other offenses.  The Knights have three players returning up front with extensive starting experience plus a fourth player with part-time starting experience.  Left guard Frank Allen is the top player here.

 

Usually, the service academies tend to play a lot of seniors, so they do not always return a lot of starters.  Army bucks the trend this year, especially on defense, where eight starters return to their double-eagle flex alignment.

 

Zach Watts moved from linebacker to quick end to replace the injured Jarrett Mackey.  Mackey returns this year, and Watts will back him up.  Whip end Holt Zalneraitis started seven times last year at tackle, but he should be able to take advantage of his quickness to produce bigger numbers.  He was too small to play tackle.

 

Geoffrey Bacon returns at the middle linebacker, while Zach Williams looks to see action there as well.  Nate Combs starts at the bandit linebacker position.  He was one of three Cadets to pick up three quarterback sacks last year.

 

The secondary has several experienced players coming back, led by cornerback Josh Jackson.  Jackson led Army with five passes defended.  Thomas Holloway started at free safety last year and finished second on the team with 76 tackles, but Coach Rich Ellerson moved him to rover this year.  He figures to back up Justin Trimble.

 

There are enough winnable games on the schedule to allow Army to return to a bowl.  The turnover margin has to swing back the other way before that will happen.  It could come down to breaking the 10-year losing streak to Navy.

 

 

Team

Brigham Young Cougars

               
Head Coach

Bronco Mendenhall

               
Colors

Blue and White

               
City

Provo, UT

               
2011 Record              
Overall

10-3

               
PiRate Rating

108.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

37

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

110

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

21

               
2012 Prediction              
Overall

9-3

 

Last year, the Cougars returned to their winning ways with their fifth double digit winning season in the last six years.  A lot of talent returns and, as always, there are players returning from missions.

 

The Cougars continue to have a balanced offense under Coach Bronco Mendenhall.  Last year, BYU averaged 160.3 yards rushing and 245.4 yards passing (405.7 total) and 30.1 points per game.

 

Quarterback Riley Nelson took over as starting quarterback after Jake Heaps proved to be inconsistent.  Nelson went 6-1 as a starter.  He completed 57.4% of his passes and averaged 8.5 yards per pass attempt.  Nelson is a dual threat QB, as noted by his 392 rushing yards (461 with sacks removed).  Nelson should pass for more than 3,000 yards this year if he stays healthy.

 

An experienced and talented receiving corps will make Nelson’s job easier.  Cody Hoffman led the Cougars with 81 receptions for 943 yards and 10 touchdowns.  Ross Apo caught 34 passes but scored nine times.  Tight ends Marcus Mathews and Austin Holt combined to catch 38 passes.

 

Michael Alisa took over as the top running back at the end of last season, and he returns to start from the beginning this year.  Alisa rushed for 455 yards, averaging 5.4 yards per carry.  There is questionable depth behind him, so if he were to be injured, this could become a problem.

 

The Cougars are loaded up front with a deep offensive line.  Mendenhall has two quality centers in Houston Reynolds and Blair Tushaus, and he could actually platoon there.  Braden Hansen returns at left guard, while Brock Stringham and Famika Anae look to platoon at right guard.  Ryker Mathews will be the new left tackle, while Braden Brown starts at right tackle.  Hansen has an NFL future ahead.

 

BYU should top 35 points and 425 yards per game for the first time in three years.  Since the Cougar defense should be as good as last year, it bodes well for the folks in Provo.

 

The strength of the defense (there really isn’t a weakness this year) is at linebacker where three starters return this year.  Brandon Ogletree led the Cougars with 76 tackles, while middle linebacker Uona Kaveinga added 57 tackles and Will linebacker Kyle Van Noy was the real star with 68 tackles, seven sacks, 15 tackles for loss, 10 QB hurries, three interceptions, and six passes defended.

 

Up front, end Ian Dulan returns from a redshirt year following a mission.  Eathyn Mamumaleuna starts at the other end position, while Romney Fuga starts at the nose.  Fuga tips the scales at more than 320 pounds, and it will take a lot to move him out of the middle.

 

Two starters return to the secondary, but the two new starters saw considerable action as key backups last year.  Cornerback Preston Hadley and strong safety Daniel Sorensen teamed for 22 defended passes. 

 

One possible problem exists in the kicking game.  Justin Sorensen is nursing a sore back, and his availability for the season opener is in doubt.

 

Speaking of the season opener, BYU hosts Washington State in what should be a quite interesting game.  An easy win over Weber State follows.  Game three finds the Cougars facing their arch-rival Utah in Salt Lake City.  Utah embarrassed the Cougars 54-10 last year.  They follow that emotional game with a trip to Boise State just five days later, and it looks likely that BYU will be 2-2 at this point.  Three consecutive home games with Hawaii, Utah State, and Oregon State should leave the Cougars at 5-2 when they travel to South Bend to face Notre Dame, and then they have to travel across country again a week later to face Georgia Tech and their triple option.  After that game, they have their bye week before ending the season at home against Idaho and on the road against San Jose State and New Mexico State.  It is a given that BYU will be bowl eligible.  For the Cougars to win 10 games again, they will have to pull off at least one upset and win their bowl.

 

 

Team

Navy Midshipmen

               
Head Coach

Ken Niumatalolo

               
Colors

Navy and Gold

               
City

Annapolis, MD

               
2011 Record              
Overall

5-7

               
PiRate Rating

91.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

93

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

94

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

86

               
2012 Prediction              
Overall

6-6

 

Last year, the Midshipmen suffered through their first losing season since 2002, as their defense had to rebuild with just three returning starters.  Among their seven losses were a three-point loss at South Carolina, a one-point loss in overtime on a failed two-point conversion to Air Force, a one-point loss at Rutgers, a three-point loss to East Carolina, and a three-point loss at San Jose State.  With a little better defense, Navy could have gone 10-2.

 

Six starters return on defense this season, so there should be some improvement in the points and yardage allowed (28.9 & 413.8).  Navy uses a 3-4 defense, and defensive coordinator Buddy Green will have to rely on three new starters up front.  Left end Wes Henderson did start three times last year and played in five others, recording 26 tackles and a sack.  Barry Dabney is an aircraft carrier.  The nose tackle weighs 297 pounds, and he should plug holes and allow the linebackers to pursue the ball.  Evan Palelei moves to the right end spot after playing linebacker at the beginning of his career.

 

Three starters return at linebacker, but not all three are expected to start this year. Striker (outside) linebacker Josh Tate is getting a late start due to his failure to pass the Academy’s physical readiness test.  Tate had won a starting spot in the spring, but Green does not believe he will move back to the first team by the start of the season.  Matt Warrick (103 tackles) is an excellent pass defender from his inside spot and Brye French is a better pass rusher at the other inside spot.  The other outside spot will see a platoon between Keegan Wetzel and Ubi Uzoma, neither of whom has much game experience.

 

The secondary expected to return all four starters, but cornerback David Sperry was dismissed from the Academy.  2011 backup Jonathan Wev replaces Sperry and will team up with Parrish Gaines.  This is a vulnerable area.  The safety position is in better shape.  Tra’ves Bush and Chris Ferguson teamed for 136 tackles, four interceptions, and four additional passes broken up.

 

The offense should continue to confound opponents, especially those that do not also play Army, Air Force, or Georgia Tech.  Coach Ken Niumatalolo must break in a new quarterback, but Trey Miller saw limited action when Kriss Proctor was injured.  Miller rushed for 150 yards and passed for 205.  He started against Notre Dame, which just happens to be Navy’s first game this year.  Miller could be the best passing quarterback at Navy since the Middies switched to the option offense.  Navy threw about 11 times per game last year, but that number could move up to about 15-18 passes this year.

 

Sophomore fullback Noah Copeland takes over for Alexander Teich and will see about 15 attempts per game.  The two slotback spots have returning starters in Gee Gee Greene and John Howell.  This duo mostly saw the ball on pitchouts off the option, and they teamed for 841 yards on 99 carries (8.5 avg.).

 

The Middies don’t rely on their passing game to move the ball, but when both expected starters appear to be out for the season-opener, it is quite a concern.  Josh Turner did not pass his physical readiness test until mid-August, and he will not be ready on September 1.  Matt Aiken has a knee injury and will definitely miss the first game.  Turner and Aiken combined for just 27 receptions last year (18.6 per catch), but both are excellent blockers, and this offense needs perimeter blocking as much as a pro-offense needs blocking from its guards.

 

Speaking of line blocking, two starters return to the interior line, but apparently just one of those will start this year.  The returning starter that will start again is left guard Josh Cabral, who can aptly block linebackers away from the point of attack.  Graham Vickers has moved from tackle to center, while Bradyn Heap has moved from center to tackle.

 

How many teams have entered August practices with six possible players vying for the starting kicking duties?  Even into late August, Niumatalolo must decide between three finalists. 

 

The schedule starts with the biggest neutral game disadvantage there can be.  The Middies face the Fighting Irish in Ireland.  After they drop this game, they get a week off to face Penn State in State College.  The Nittany Lions will definitely be several points weaker than they would have been without the Sandusky affair, but this early in the season, they won’t be as affected as they will be later in the year.  Following that game, Navy hosts VMI and San Jose State, before venturing to the Springs to face Air Force.  They have a short week following that game and play at Central Michigan on a Friday night.  They host Indiana, play at East Carolina, host Florida Atlantic, play at Troy, and host Texas State on November 17.  They then have three weeks to prepare for Army (Army enjoys the same benefit).  There are enough winnable games for the Middies to gain bowl eligibility, but this team will not remind fans of the 2009 team.

 

 

Team

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

               
Head Coach

Brian Kelly

               
Colors

Navy and Gold

               
City

South Bend, IN

               
2011 Record              
Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

118.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

113

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

13

               
2012 Prediction              
Overall

8-4

 

Back-to-back 8-5 seasons actually have Coach Brian Kelly on a warm seat.  He may face the heat if Notre Dame loses five games again this year.  It has been six years since the Irish last played in a BCS Bowl, and an amazing 19 years since they last won a top bowl game (1/1/1994 win over Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl).  Notre Dame remains steadfast that they will not join a conference in football.  The Irish continue to enjoy their exclusive contract with NBC for their home games, but recruits have not been pouring into South Bend like they used to.  Kelly is doing a much better job in this respect with back-to-back top 10 classes.

 

Kelly’s first order of business is choosing a starting quarterback.  It appears that Everett Golson will be under center when the Irish face Navy in the opener, but that does not mean he will be the starter for the rest of the season.  2011 regular Tommy Rees is suspended for the opening game as the result of four misdemeanor charges.  Rees completed 65.5% of his passes for 2,871 yards and 20 touchdowns, but he also threw 14 interceptions.  Golson is a redshirt freshman.  Andrew Hendrix is another option.  He saw limited action as a freshman last year but was not ready for the big stage.  True freshman Gunner Kiel was the nation’s top high school quarterback prospect.  He chose Indiana and then backed out.  He chose LSU and backed out, and he finally signed to play here.  Unless a series of unexpected events happens this year, he should redshirt.

 

Replacing Michael Floyd and his 100 receptions will not be easy, but the Irish have returning talent and experience at wide receiver and the clear-cut best tight end in college football.  That tight end is Tyler Eifert who caught 63 passes last year and should equal or even surpass it this year.  At 6-6 and 250, he has speed as well as strength.  T. J. Jones returns to the split end position after grabbing 38 passes, but he has never been a breakaway threat.  DaVaris Daniels will see time here (he could be the surprise star), and Jones could play in the slot, where his smaller size won’t be such a liability.  The flanker position is up for grabs.  Eifert could slip out to the perimeter for a number of snaps due to decent depth at the “Y.” Fifth year senior John Goodman has never lived up to his billing; he gets one more chance.  Daniels could see a lot of time here as well.  Former running back Theo Riddick caught 38 passes last year, and he should be more productive in the slot this year.  Robby Toma makes this position deep in talent. 

 

The Irish return an excellent running back in Cierre Wood.  Wood rushed for more than 1,100 yards last year, scoring nine touchdowns and averaging more than five yards a pop.  Jonas Gray was actually the better player, and he rushed for 791 yards and 12 touchdowns before tearing his ACL in November.  Riddick could see considerable time back at running back, while George Atkinson does the same thing.

 

The offensive line has three returning starters, and this unit is a team strength.  Center Braxston Cave and tackle Zack Martin are potential all-Americans.  Guard Chris Watt has a chance to improve enough to become a NFL prospect.  Mike Golic, Jr. should start at the other guard position, while Christian Lombard gets the nod at right tackle.

 

The Irish averaged 29.2 points and 413.0 yards per game last year (160.4 rushing/252.6 passing).  This year, they should average 32-35 points and 425+ yards per game.

 

Whether the improved offensive production leads to additional wins this year hinges on what happens on the other side of the ball.  Notre Dame needs to improve its pass defense, and prospects are not looking great as the opening of the season approaches.  Already, one of the expected starters, cornerback Lo Wood, has been lost for the season due to a ruptured Achilles tendon.   Jalen Brown and KeiVarae Russell are the options.  Brown is a redshirt freshman, and Russell is a true freshman brought in to play running back.  The safety position has some questions too.  Jamoris Slaughter is the only experienced secondary player.  Zeke Motta will start beside him.  Notre Dame gave up more than 200 passing yards for the third consecutive season, and when you consider that they played Navy, Air Force, Maryland, and Boston College (combined averaged  about passing yards), you can see how this number was skewed.  The Irish gave up an average of 343 passing yards against Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford, and Florida State.

 

One area where Notre Dame takes a backseat to nobody is at inside linebacker.  Manti Te’o is a leading candidate for the Chuck Bednarik, Bronko Nagurski, and Dick Butkus awards as well as the Outland Trophy.  Te’o led the defense with 128 tackles, five sacks, and 13 ½ tackles for loss.  Dan Fox added 48 tackles from the inside of the 3-4 defense.  Prince Shembo returns to one outside spot, but the other spot is unsettled.  Prior to suffering a concussion, Danny Spond had earned this spot.  Ben Councell did not play last year, but he appears to be the starter here.

 

Two starters return up front.  Nose tackle Louis Nix has the size to plug multiple gaps.  He also got in on 45 tackles last year.  End Kapron Lewis-Moore is a better run defender than pass rusher, while new starting end Stephon Truitt saw extensive action last year, even starting a trio of games.  The Irish will be tough to run on, but the key is how good the pass rush becomes.

 

Will another 8-4 regular season be the end of the line for Kelly?  We cannot answer that question, but it sure looks like the Irish are headed that way.  Games against Michigan State, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Southern Cal make it hard for this team to improve on their record of the last two seasons.  Should the Irish lose one more, they could be looking for a new coach in 2013.  Kelly is a highly competent coach, and the administration needs to learn that they can hire successful coaches every three years, and the results will be similar.  This team needs to join a conference.  The Big East is the obvious choice, since they belong to this league in all other sports.  Eventually, the SEC will expand to 16 teams, and this would be a coup if Notre Dame could become one of those two new teams.

 

Coming Friday afternoon, August 24: A look at the Atlantic Coast Conference.  Florida State is getting a lot of mention as a national title contender, but they have to deal with Clemson, North Carolina State, and Virginia Tech, as well as rival Florida.  Can the Seminoles run the table?

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