The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 14, 2018

2018 FBS Independents Preview

Note: The preseason ratings you see in the previews may not be the same as the ratings you see for the first game. We update every team’s rating based on player injuries, changes to the depth charts, and other factors that may change during preseason practice.

Some of our Group of 5 Conference won-loss predictions were figured before the beginning of August preseason practices. Thus, it could be that a player or players on some teams have already suffered season-ending or multiple game injuries or have left their teams, and these won-loss predictions no longer accurately reflect our ratings. We hope that by the time we preview the Power 5 conferences, we will know who is not going to be available (players and head coaches).

The number of FBS Independents has ballooned by 50% as Liberty moves up to FBS football and New Mexico State returns to this group after spending four years in the Sun Belt Conference.

There is no real affiliation between the six teams in the independent ranks. The top program, Notre Dame, is all but a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Irish play five ACC teams every year. In the past, Notre Dame may have been hurt by not being affiliated with a conference. That is no longer the case. Notre Dame has an easier path to the FBS Playoffs now that the top 4 teams qualify. With no conference championship game to play and the ability to arrange their schedule in the most convenient way, Notre Dame is a serious contender this year to make their first appearance in the playoffs.
If the Irish run the table or finish a strong 11-1, it will be the defense that carries them to the promised land. After surrendering 21.5 points per game and 369 yards per game in 2017, the outlook for 2018 looks better. A solid linebacking corps ranks among the nation’s elite. Middle linebacker Te’von Coney and outside linebacker Drue Tranquill may be the best duo in the nation in ruining enemy drives. Julian Love has a chance to be named an All-American from his cornerback position. The Irish are deep and talented on the back line of defense. The front four is the weakness of the defense, but in this case, the weakness means they are maybe the 30th best defensive line in the nation.

Look for an improved pass rush this year. Road games against Northwestern and Southern Cal are the two toughest on the schedule, and the Irish are strong enough this year to win both and should at least split these two games.

Brigham Young was one of the perennial best passing teams for decades during the Lavell Edwards days. A who’s who of quarterbacks including Ty Detmer, Jim McMahon, Marc Wilson, Gifford Nielsen, and Virgil Carter gave the Cougars the necessary tools to make the offense click. In recent years, not only has BYU not had a dangerous passer, passing has become a liability in Provo. Coach Kalani Sitake may have just one more year to turn things around before finding himself on another mission. The season may depend on whether the offensive line can keep senior Tanner Mangum upright and out of the hospital, something it has failed doing the previous two seasons. He is recovering from an Achilles’ injury and will lack a lot of mobility.

Speaking of passing, that word is not in the dictionary in West Point, NY. Army attempted just five passes per game last year, and completed just over 1 1/2 of those attempts per game. Still, with only 28 passing yards per game, the Black Knights averaged almost 31 points per game by leading the nation in rushing yardage. The 10-3 season was the best at West Point since 1996. The Cadets will take a small backward step this year with a decimated offense needing to rebuild, but the defense could limit opponents to 330 yards and 20 points per game this year.

Mark Whipple is a quarterback whisperer. He has a long history of getting the most out of his passers. Throughout his career, Whipple has helped tutor Greg Landry during his USFL stint, Ben Roethlisberger with the Steelers (including a Super Bowl Championship season), and Donovan McNabb when he threw for the most yards in his career and led the Eagles to the NFC Championship Game. As offensive coordinator at Miami in 2009, he got the most out of Jacory Harris. So, it should be no surprise that the man that took Massachusetts to a I-AA championship his first go around in Amherst, is on the verge of making the FBS version of the Minutemen into a bowl-eligible team. UMass finished 4-8 last year with enough near misses to make a bowl game if they had gone the other way. This year, with experienced quarterback Andrew Ford, we expect the Minutemen to crash through the barrier and enjoy a won-loss record on the plus side of .500. If Ford stays healthy for 12 games, he should crash through the 3,500 passing yard barrier and make a run at 4,000. He has talented and experienced receivers returning as well as the most experienced and talented offensive line protecting him since he arrived on campus. UMass should score around 35-38 points per game, and while the defense is still quite suspect, the Minutemen should win seven games and receive their first bowl bid since they played in the 1972 Boardwalk Bowl.

New Mexico State left the Sun Belt on good footing, as the Aggies finished with a bowl win and winning season in their SBC swan song. The Sun Belt was never a good fit for this team; this school would be an excellent addition to the Mountain West, where rival New Mexico already plays, or Conference USA, where rival UTEP plays. Coach Doug Martin has enough key talent returning on both sides of the ball to return to a bowl in 2018, but they will have to stay healthy in the back half of their schedule after facing a brutal beginning. NMSU will play on August 25 against Wyoming and a short five days later, play at Minnesota. Then, on September 8, the Aggies have another tough road game at Utah State.  They could 0-3 to start the season.

Liberty finished 6-5 in their final year in FCS football last season. The Flames beat Baylor, so they will not be intimidated this year when they line up against teams like Old Dominion, North Texas, and New Mexico. Coach Turner Gill’s team won last year with a brilliant passing attack, as they frequently outscored their opponents in their wins. They gave up more than 40 points in two of those wins! In Liberty’s favor, most of their brilliant offense returns in 2018, but the schedule is about 20 points stronger per game this year than last. Don’t expect Liberty to contend for a winning season in year one in the FBS.

There is no FBS Independents media group that meets and hears speeches from the coaches and then interviews players before voting in a preseason poll. Rather than leave this section empty, I will show you how a conglomerate of 10 of my peers believe the teams will finish.

Independents 1st Place Votes
1. Notre Dame 10 60
2. Army 0 47
3. BYU 0 43
4. New Mexico State 0 26
5. Massachusetts 0 24
6. Liberty 0 10

The PiRate Ratings mostly agree with these other 10 very successful computer geniuses, and where we don’t it is probably because they are correct, and we are not.

FBS Independents
Team Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Notre Dame 0-0 125.6 121.5 123.7 123.6
BYU 0-0 95.9 97.0 96.3 96.4
Army 0-0 95.6 96.4 95.5 95.9
Massachusetts 0-0 89.8 92.4 92.0 91.4
N. Mexico St. 0-0 82.0 85.3 82.5 83.3
Liberty 0-0 75.2 73.9 74.2 74.5
Independents Averages 94.0 94.4 94.0 94.2

New Coaches
There are no new coaches among the six independents. Sitake is most definitely on the hot seat at BYU, and if something were to happen in South Bend, and the Irish terribly under-perform, Brian Kelly might be in trouble. However, we cannot see a scenario happening with Notre Dame this year, and the Irish have a better chance of going 12-0 than 6-6.

Predicted Won-Loss Records

Independents Record
Notre Dame 12-0
Army 8-4
New Mexico State 7-5
Massachusetts 7-5
BYU 6-6
Liberty 2-10

Bowl Tie-ins
This year, no Independents have a definite bowl contract. Notre Dame counts toward the ACC when bowls pick representative, and they can be selected ahead of any ACC rival if they have at least one win fewer than the ACC alternative. In other words, if Duke is 9-3 and the Irish are 8-4, bowls can take Notre Dame ahead of Wake Forest. If Duke is 10-2 and Notre Dame is 8-4, then Duke must be selected before Notre Dame.
BYU has an agreement with ESPN that if the Cougars become bowl eligible, ESPN will place them in one of their televised bowls as an at-large opponent.

Liberty is not eligible for a bowl this season, but there are technicalities involved that could send the Flames to the Cure Bowl.
New Mexico State has a secondary bowl tie-in with the New Mexico Bowl.

Coming Tomorrow–The American Athletic Conference

August 14, 2015

2015 FBS Independents Preview (including in-depth Notre Dame coverage)

At one time, there were more than 30 major college football teams playing as independents not affiliated with a conference.  45 years ago, a look at the top-ranked teams found independents dominating the polls with teams like Penn State, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Air Force, Houston, Florida State, and Boston College competing at the top level of the NCAA.
With Navy joining the American Athletic Conference this year, the number of independents has dwindled to just three.  Notre Dame, BYU, and Army (West Point) are all that remain.  There is a rising trend amongst the coaches and athletics directors of the other schools to mandate that all teams that wish to be eligible for the postseason playoff must be a member of a conference.  This is a direct stab at Notre Dame and their plum TV deal with NBC.
The only other news item among the Indies this year involves a name change.  Army is now to be called “Army West Point.”

Because there is no official media poll or All-Independent team, and because it is obvious that Notre Dame is the top of the trio and Army West Point is at the bottom, we will dispense with these parts of the preview and give you an in-depth look at the Fighting Irish.

Notre Dame
Coach Brian Kelly is in an advantageous position this year.  Notre Dame is sitting on a potentially big season with the return of 10 defensive starters and seven offensive starters.  A team that went 8-5 with three close losses last year is considerably more talented in 2015.  The schedule is more favorable than last year’s as the Irish host Texas and USC.  Road games against Clemson and Stanford are the only roadblocks between a 12-0 slate that would put this team in the playoffs.

New starting quarterback Malik Zaire auditioned for the job last year by making his first start in the Music City Bowl.  Against a tough LSU defense, he guided the Irish offense on a 15-play touchdown drive that consumed nearly eight minutes off the clock, capping it off with a 12-yard scoring pass to William Fuller.  The drive looked similar to how the Vince Lombardi Green Bay Packers frequently started games.  Removing the sacks, Zaire topped 100 yards rushing in that game, and he completed 12 of 15 pass attempts for 96 yards and a score.  Look for the sophomore to have a break out season this year.  If Zaire suffers and injury, there is no experienced depth behind him, but Kelly has recruited this position well.  Two former 5-star recruits will vie for the backup spot.
The running game is talented but not that deep but with a wildcard.  Tarean Folston led the team with 889 yards last year, and it looked as if he would split time with Greg Bryant until academic ineligibility sent him to junior college in Florida.  The wildcard here is slot receiver C. J. Prosise.  Prosise was the star of Spring Practice as both a receiver and a ball carrier.  True freshman Dexter Williams may now see appreciable playing time.  With Zaire’s ability to excell in the zone read, the running game is going to be much better this year, and the Irish could top 200 rushing yards per game.

The passing game may not be as fruitful as last year, but it could be just as effective, albeit less utilized.  Fuller is back after leading the team with 76 catches and 1,094 yards.  Prosise will get his reps in the slot.  Chris Brown is almost as talented as Fuller.  Corey Robinson would start for at least half of the Big Ten teams.  Additionally, there are four or five other players capable of contributing to this deeply talented unit.  Kelly was pleased in the Spring with new starting tight end Durham Smythe.  Smythe will not replicate the numbers put up by last year’s star tight end Ben Koyack, who now plays in the NFL.

The offensive line returns four players with significant starting experience, and this unit is strong and agile.  Notre Dame will control the line of scrimmage in most of its games, and Kelly will pound the ball between the tackles more like he did in 2012.  Center NIck Martin and tackle Ronnie Stanley both have NFL potential.  The Irish can go two deep here and not see much of a drop in production.

The Irish defense was not up to par for Notre Dame standards last year, but with most of the starting lineup returning, things promise to improve in 2015.  It won’t be a repeat of 2012, but if Notre Dame can give up just 20 points per game this year, they stand to be quite successful.

Defensive tackle Sheldon Day decided to forego an early admission to the NFL and come back for his senior year.  He will team with Jarron Jones to give the Irish possibly the best tackle tandem in the nation.  Opponents will not exploit Notre Dame with inside running plays.  Both of last year’s starting ends return as well.  Isaac Rochell and Romeo Okwara provided an excellent outside pass rush last year.  Look for Notre Dame to surrender 30 to 40 fewer rushing yards per game this year as well as giving up less than four yards per attempt.  Also, look for the sack total to go up by more than 50% from 26 to more than 40.

Seldom can a team go three-deep at a defensive unit, but the Irish have 10 linebackers good enough to play in the top level of college football.  The key player is middle linebacker Joe Schmidt.  When Schmidt was in the lineup, the Irish looked like a typical defense in their storied history.  With Schmidt injured, Notre Dame played defense more like a matador.  Jaulon Smith is a tackling machine, but without Schmidt, those tackles occur too far downfield.  Who the third starter will be is still to be determined, but Kelly can choose from four or five experienced players and sleep peacefully at night.  Nyles Morgan and James Onwualu are the leading contenders.

There was a vulnerability in the secondary last year, but injuries and suspensions were the cause.  Look for things to get a lot better this year.  KeiVarae Russell returns to the club after missing all of last year due to the academic scandal of 2013.  Russell is a game changer at cornerback, and he will team with Cole Luke to make it rather hard for opponents to succeed on the outer perimeter.  Safeties Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield are not as talented as the cornerback duo, but they are competent and intelligent and should show improved play this year.

The Irish Achilles’ Heel this year is their special teams.  Gone is supertoe Kyle Brindza, who hit 51-52 PATs and 14-24 field goals last year, while punting for an average of 41.5 yards per attempt.  Two freshmen will replace him.  True freshman Justin Yoon had thoughts of becoming an NHL hockey star.  Years of playing hockey strengthened his kicking leg, and Yoon may turn out to be a better scorer than Brindza was.  However, as a freshman, Yoon may not replicate what Brindza produced last year.

The schedule begins with a visit from the Texas Longhorns.  Notre Dame should win this game by a touchdown or more.  A week two trip to Virginia could be a trap game, but the Cavaliers don’t have the talent to upset the Irish this year.  Week three brings an interesting match against Georgia Tech, and you should mark this one down on your calendar to tune into NBC for this one.  The Irish should be favored by about 4 or 5 points in this game, a if they come out of this one at 3-0, they should move into the top 5 in the polls.

After a breather home game against an improving UMass, the Irish have a tough assignment at Clemson on October 3.  The Tigers will have a bye week to prepare for this game, and CU is 26-2 at home in the last four years.  Navy comes to South Bend on October 10, and because the Irish will have already played Georgia Tech, they should fare rather well against the spread option.

The following week is the big game against rival USC.  It is possible that these teams will both still be undefeated and ranked in the top five for the first time since 1988.  Notre Dame will be out for revenge against the Trojans after losing by 35 points in the regular season finale last year.

After a welcome week off, the Irish play Temple in Philadelphia, and while the Owls will be flying with a possible 5-2 record by then, this game should not be much of a contest.  The Irish stay in the Keystone State the following week against Pittsburgh, and the Panthers don’t have the horses to pull off the upset this year.  After a home visit from Wake Forest that should not be much trouble for Kelly’s troops, Notre Dame plays Boston College in what should be a very memorable game.  The contest will be played at Fenway Park, and this is one game you won’t want to miss if you are a real football fan.

The regular season concludes on the Left Coast with a visit to The Farm against Stanford.  If Notre Dame comes out of this game with at least 11 wins, they very well could be in the FBS Playoffs.  10 wins will still guarnatee them a Big Six bowl bid.

BYU
Brigham Young coach Bronco Mendenhall welcomes back enough talent from his 8-5 team last year to guarantee that the Cougars will once again be bowl eligible and earn a bid to the Las Vegas (or Hawaii) Bowl.  Quarterback Taysom Hill was off to a spectacular year last season until an gruesome injury ended his season early in the fifth game (when BYU was 4-0).  Hill returns to take his QB spot back, but there is no way he can be as effective as he was prior to the devastating knee injury that was worse than anything Joe Namath experienced.

The loss of expected running back starter Jamaal Williams is going to hurt, and BYU doesn’t have a back that can replace him.  With Hill not expected to use his legs like he did before the injury, the Cougar offense may become more one dimentional.  There are talented receivers, so BYU may still succeed on this side of the ball.  Mitch Mathews, Terenn Houk, Colby Pearson, and Mitchell Juergens provide Hill with four quality targets.

An offensive line that averages 310 pounds per man should provide Hill with enough pass protection to allow him to top 300 passing yards per game, and if this is so, then BYU should top 35 points per game for the second consecutive season.

The defense is not strong enough to allow BYU to compete for the one allotted Big Six bowl bid, as there are a lot of holes to plug.  The secondary will be vulnerable with the loss of three starters including star defender Robertson Daniel.

BYU is also thin at linebacker where three of four 2014 starters are missing.  Only up front, where all three 2014 starters return is above average for a FBS team.  End Bronson Kaufusi could play in the NFL next year.
The schedule is tricky this year, and the Cougars could have to play catchup in the second half of the schedule to gain bowl eligibility.  Among the first six games, BYU plays at Nebraska, UCLA, and Michigan, and they host Boise St.  A 2-4 start is not out of the question.  In the second half of the season, BYU plays Missouri in Kansas City and closes the season out against Utah State in Logan, so there is very little wiggle room for the Cougars this year.

Army West Point
To those fans of the Black Knights on the Hudson, it has been a long time since their team has been good enough to compete against teams from big conferences.  To all other football fans, it is somewhat of a blessing that this school has not fielded exceptional teams.  Why?  Because throughout its history, The Academy becomes a juggenaut when the world, or a large segment of the world, is at war.  A record of 30-4-1 during World War I included two undefeated seasons.  During World War II, Army 31-5-1 with what many believe was the best team ever.  During the Korean Conflict, the team had 8-1 and 7-1-1 seasons.  Even during the Vietnam years, Army enjoyed its last dominant years against big time opposition, going 8-2, 8-2, and 7-3 over a three-year period that included wins over Penn State, Pittsburgh, California, and Stanford.

2015 does not find the country involved in a World War, and the Black Knights do not figure to contend for a bowl bid.  Just beating Navy after losing 13 in a row in the rivalry would be considered a major success.
Second year coach Jeff Monken uses the very familiar spread option offense that the other service academies rely on, as well as Georgia Tech.  A. J. Schurr has the potential to run this offense with some success, but injuries have kept him off the field.  The senior has the experience to make the offense go, but he did not participare in Spring drills.  He is a question as the season begins, and there is little experience behind him.

The entire running back corps is raw and inexperienced.  Fullbacks Aaron Kemper and Matt Giachinta combined for just 71 rushing attempts and 310 yards, while no other back on the roster ran the ball at least 20 times.  While there is more returning experience in the receiver unit, this team seldom passes the ball with a run-pass ratio of close to 9 to 1.

The offensive line is the stong point of the offense, but in the spread option, the linemen are not the key.  Reading and reacting with quickness is what makes this offense go, and it is questionable whether this edition of Cadets can do that consistently.

The defense has some promise with the return of the top five tacklers, including linebacker Jeremy Timpf, who made close to 10 tackles per game last year and registered 14 1/2 stops behind the line of scrimmage.  A weak pass defense made it hard for Army to get its defense off the field last year.  Three starters return, which may or may not be a plus.
The Schedule offers a few weak opponents, a few opponents that are beatable but better than this team, and the rest of the slate comes against teams that will easily defeat the Black Knights.

PiRate, Mean, Bias, and Average Ratings For The Independents

FBS Independents
Team PiRate Mean Bias Average
Notre Dame 121.7 117.7 121.6 120.3
BYU 103.8 102.4 105.1 103.8
Army (West Point) 77.0 88.1 78.4 81.2

Here are our predicted Won-Loss records and bowl projections for the trio.

PiRate Ratings Predicted Records
Pos Team Conf. Overall Bowl
1 Notre Dame 6-0 * 11-1 Big Six
2 BYU 0-0 7-5 Las Vegas
3 Army (West Point) 0-0 3-9 None
* 6-0 Represents Notre Dame’s slate against the ACC

Coming Next: We begin our coverage of the five major conferences with our preview of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

August 18, 2013

2013 FBS Independents Preview

2013 FBS Independents Preview

 

The number of independents in Division 1 FBS has expanded to six teams this year, the most this century.  With the Western Athletic Conference closing for football business, not all former members found homes in conference subdivisions.

 

Of course, it wasn’t so bad for this group last year.  Brigham Young and Navy enjoyed eight-win seasons, while Notre Dame made it to the National Championship Game with a 12-0 regular season mark before experiencing the drowning in the sea of Crimson Tide.

 

Into Spring, it looked like Notre Dame had a decent chance to repeat their regular season success of last year, but that chance disappeared when starting quarterback Everett Golson became academically ineligible.  The Fighting Irish schedule has some easy victories wrapped around several tough games, and this team cannot win all the tough games in 2013.

 

BYU must incorporate a new quarterback into an offense that otherwise returns a lot of talent, but the Cougars’ defense will be a work in progress, as just three starters return to one of the top stop units in the country last year.  Still, they should return to a bowl this year.

 

Navy returns enough talent to continue to cause headaches for opposing defensive coordinators.  With experience at quarterback and fullback, and with more than usual experience returning in the blocking corps, the Middies should continue to move the ball on the ground and possibly top 300 rushing yards per game this year.  Once again, the defense will be the unknown factor.  Last year, Navy surrendered more than 400 yards per game on average with the ration about equal between rushing and passing yards allowed.  Add to this that the top four tacklers from last year are now Lieutenants in the Navy, and it could be a problem.

 

Army has been forced to retreat the last two years, winning just three and two games with a couple of very tough losses to their arch-rival.  Who can forget the look on former QB Trent Steelman’s face when he fumbled the ball at the end of last year’s Army-Navy game.

 

The Cadets led the nation with 370 rushing yards per game last year, but they finished last in passing with just 66 yards per game.  Expect the rushing yards to take a considerable hit this year, but we expect Army’s passing numbers to improve, maybe even approaching the triple digit mark for the first time since they went back to the triple option philosophy.

 

 

New Mexico St. starts over yet again with its fourth head coach in the last 10 years.  Doug Martin was the offensive coordinator here two years ago, and the Aggies had their most successful output since Hal Mumme’s Air Raid offense of 2006.  It won’t take much to improve upon last season’s disastrous 1-11 record (lone win over Sacramento St.), but the schedule is a bit tougher this year.

 

Idaho fans are excited with Paul Petrino coming to the Kibbie Dome.  Vandal fans should be treated to several exciting ball games in year one, but their team is going to be on the losing end of almost every contest.  Still, it should be fun to play in one of the most interesting stadiums in America.

 

New Independents: Idaho and New Mexico St.

Departed Teams: None

 

2014 Additions: None

 

2014 Departures: Idaho and New Mexico St. will join the Sunbelt.  Navy is scheduled to join the American Athletic Conference in 2015.  Notre Dame’s working agreement with the Atlantic Coast Conference begins in 2014, but the Fighting Irish will remain football independents.

 

Pre-season PiRate Ratings

Independents

Team

 

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Notre Dame

 

0-0

121.6

115.0

120.5

B Y U

 

0-0

108.2

107.8

108.9

Navy

 

0-0

91.7

94.5

91.4

Army

 

0-0

85.7

91.8

86.4

New Mexico St.

 

0-0

75.4

86.4

75.3

Idaho

 

0-0

71.3

80.6

69.9

 

 

 

 

 

 

Independent Avg’s.

 

 

92.3

96.0

92.1

 

 

There are no official media polls or preseason all-Independent teams.  Instead, here is a consensus ranking of the five independents according to the current conglomerate of Mathematics Professor Ken Massey’s College Football Ranking Composite (of which the PiRate Ratings are a contributor).  You can find his site at: http://masseyratings.com/cf/compare.htm

 

Massey College Football Ranking Composite

(as of Sunday, August 18, 2013)

 

Pos

Team

Ranking

1

Notre Dame

6

2

B Y U

33

3

Navy

76

4

Army

111

5

Idaho

122

6

New Mexico St.

123

 

Here is a list of key players for each of the six independents values in parentheses represent 2012 statistics:

 

Army

Raymond Maples—RB (1,215 rush yds/5.4 avg)

Larry Dixon—RB (839 rush yds/6.0 avg/6TD)

Ryan Powis, Stephen Shumaker, and Michael Kime—OL

Robert Kough—DL (9.5 TFL)

Alex Meier—LB (71 tackles)

Geoffrey Bacon—DB (136 tackles)

 

B Y U

Taysom Hill—QB (59.2%/6.0 ypa/4TD-2Int) [was 3rd string QB in 2012]

Jamaal Williams—RB (775 rush/4.7 avg/12 TD & 27 receptions/11.1 avg)

Cody Hoffman—WR (100-1,248/11 TD)

Kaneakua Friel—TE (30-308/5 TD & good blocker)

Manaaki Vaitai, Solomone Kafu, and Ryker Mathews—OL

Bronson Kaufusi—DL (4.5 sacks)

Kyle Van Noy—LB (13 sacks/22 TFL/8 QB hurries/7 Passes Defended)[1st rd. potential]

Daniel Sorensen—DB (3 Int./8 Passes Defended)

 

Idaho

Najee Lovett—WR (50-543/6 TD)

Jahrie Level—WR (46-538)

Mike Marboe—OL

Maxx Forde—DL (4 sacks/4 QB hurries/4 Passes Defended)

Solomon Dixon—DB (3 Int./6 Passes Defended)

 

Navy

Keenan Reynolds—QB (749 rush/5.1 avg [sacks removed]/56.5% comp/8.3 ypa)

Noah Copeland—FB (738 rush/4.6 avg/5 TD)

Shawn Lynch—WR (14-281 20.1 ypc)

Tanner Fleming, Jake Zuzek, Graham Vickers—OL

Barry Dabney & Evan Palelei—DL

Cody Peterson—LB (67 tackles)

Parrish Gaines—DB (69 tackles/4 Passed Defended)

Pablo Beltran—P (43.6 avg/37.8 net/41% inside 20 yard line)

 

New Mexico St.

Germi Morrison—RB (767 rush/4.8 avg)

Austin Franklin—WR (74-1,245/9 TD)

Andy Cunningham & Davonte Wallace—OL

Matt Ramondo—DL (transfer from Michigan St.)

Trashaun Nixon—LB (96 tackles/3 sacks/9.5 TFL/5 QB hurries/5 Passed Defended)

Davis Cazares—DB (116 tackles)

George Callender—DB (86 tackles)

Cayle Chapman-Brown—P (44.3 avg/37.3 net)

 

Notre Dame

George Atkinson—RB (7.1 yards per rush as backup)

T. J. Jones—WR (50-649/4 TD)

DaVaris Daniels—WR (31-490)

Chris Watt, Christian Lombard, & Zack Martin—OL (All NFL prospects)

Louis Nix—DL (50 tackles/7.5 TFL/5 Passes Defended)

Stephon Tuitt—DL (47 tackles/12 sacks/9 QB hurries)

Prince Shembo—LB (7.5 sacks/10.5 TFL/12 QB hurries)

Dan Fox—LB (63 tackles)

Danny Spond—LB (39 tackles)

Bennett Jackson—DB (65 tackles/4 Int./8 Passed Defended)

KeiVarae Russell—DB (58 tackles)

Matthias Farley—DB (49 tackles)

 

 

     

PiRate Ratings Summary

 

About Grades

93-100    A+

86-92      A

79-85      A-

72-78      B+

65-71      B

58-64      B-

51-57      C+

44-50      C

37-43      C-

30-36      D

0-29        F

 

About Predictions

Predictions are based on the PiRate Ratings with home field advantage factored in.  The PiRate Ratings use different home field advantages for every game, since the opponent factors into the equation.

 

Team

Army Black Knights

               
Head Coach

Rich Ellerson

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

West Point, NY

               
2012 Record              
Conference

 

Overall

2-10

               
Grades              
Run Offense

90

Pass Offense

22

Run Defense

40

Pass Defense

58

               
Ratings              
PiRate

85.7

Mean

91.8

Bias

86.4

               
Rankings              
PiRate

105

Mean

97

Bias

102

               
Prediction              
Conference

 

Overall

3-9

 

 

Team

B Y U Cougars

               
Head Coach

Bronco Mendenhall

               
Colors

Dark Blue and White

               
City

Provo, UT

               
2012 Record              
Conference

 

Overall

8-5

               
Grades              
Run Offense

61

Pass Offense

79

Run Defense

74

Pass Defense

76

               
Ratings              
PiRate

108.2

Mean

107.8

Bias

108.9

               
Rankings              
PiRate

39

Mean

36

Bias

39

               
Prediction              
Conference

 

Overall

9-3

 

 

Team

Idaho Vandals

               
Head Coach

Paul Petrino

               
Colors

Black, Silver, and Gold

               
City

Moscow, ID

               
2012 Record              
Conference

1-5 (in WAC)

Overall

1-11

               
Grades              
Run Offense

30

Pass Offense

54

Run Defense

42

Pass Defense

19

               
Ratings              
PiRate

71.3

Mean

80.6

Bias

69.9

               
Rankings              
PiRate

123

Mean

123

Bias

124

               
Prediction              
Conference

 

Overall

0-12

 

 

Team

Navy Midshipmen

               
Head Coach

Ken Niumatalolo

               
Colors

Navy, Gold, and White

               
City

Annapolis, MD

               
2012 Record              
Conference

 

Overall

8-5

               
Grades              
Run Offense

77

Pass Offense

45

Run Defense

49

Pass Defense

59

               
Ratings              
PiRate

91.7

Mean

94.5

Bias

91.4

               
Rankings              
PiRate

89

Mean

84

Bias

89

               
Prediction              
Conference

 

Overall

5-7

 

 

Team

New Mexico St. Aggies

               
Head Coach

Doug Martin

               
Colors

Crimson and White

               
City

Las Cruces, NM

               
2012 Record              
Conference

0-6 (in WAC)

Overall

1-11

               
Grades              
Run Offense

22

Pass Offense

60

Run Defense

32

Pass Defense

41

               
Ratings              
PiRate

75.4

Mean

86.4

Bias

75.3

               
Rankings              
PiRate

121

Mean

111

Bias

121

               
Prediction              
Conference

 

Overall

2-10

 

 

Team

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

               
Head Coach

Brian Kelly

               
Colors

Navy and Gold

               
City

South Bend, IN

               
2012 Record              
Conference

 

Overall

12-1

               
Grades              
Run Offense

 

Pass Offense

 

Run Defense

 

Pass Defense

 

               
Ratings              
PiRate

121.6

Mean

115.0

Bias

120.5

               
Rankings              
PiRate

8

Mean

11

Bias

10

               
Prediction              
Conference

 

Overall

11-1

 

 

********************************************************

Teams Transitioning From FCS to FBS

 

Four teams are in the process of becoming FBS schools.  Old Dominion is in its transition season before becoming a member of Conference USA.  Appalachian St. and Georgia Southern are in transition to the Sunbelt Conference.  Charlotte will entertain its first season of football this year, and the 49ers will play two seasons as a FCS Independent before joining Conference USA in 2015.

 

We do not have detailed information on these four schools, but we have rated them.  We used as much of our PiRate formulas as we can for these schools.  However, for Charlotte, since the 49ers have never played a game, we are interpolating data from other first-year programs to arrive at a very basic opening rating.

 

We will follow these four teams all season, so as to better judge them when they move to FBS.

 

Transitioning Teams

Team

 

Overall

PiRate

Mean

Bias

Georgia Southern

 

0-0

85.0

86.1

92.1

Old Dominion

 

0-0

81.5

82.6

88.6

Appalachian St.

 

0-0

81.4

82.5

88.5

Charlotte

 

0-0

55.0

56.1

62.1

           
Not figured in regular averages to 100      

 

This submission concludes the previews of the non-automatic qualifying conferences.  Beginning tomorrow, we preview the six big conferences, starting with the new American Athletic Conference (former Big East).  Many argue that this league does not deserve an automatic bid to the FBS bowls, and it figures that the league champion will be the last team selected, but at least this lasts for just one more season.

 

Here is the schedule for the remaining previews:

 

Date Conference
Tuesday, August 20 American Athletic Conference
Wednesday, August 21 Atlantic Coast Conference
Thursday, August 22 Big Ten Conference
Friday, August 23 Big 12 Conference
Saturday, August 24 Pac-12 Conference
Sunday, August 25 Southeastern Conference
Monday, August 26 AFC West
Tuesday, August 27 AFC South
Tuesday, August 27 Week 1 College Football Report
Wednesday, August 28 AFC North
Thursday, August 29 AFC East
Friday, August 30 NFC East
Saturday, August 31 NFC North
Sunday, September 1 NFC South
Monday, September 2 NFC West
Tuesday, September 3 NFL Week 1 Report
Wednesday, September 4 Week 2 College Football Report

 

And, remember:  The PiRate Ratings are part of Ken Massey’s College Football Ranking Composite at: http://masseyratings.com/cf/compare.htm

 

&

 

Todd Beck’s College and Pro Football Prediction Tracker at:

http://www.thepredictiontracker.com/

 

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?

August 19, 2011

2011 FBS Independents Preview

2011 FBS Independents Preview

 

While not a conference, there has been expansion in the ranks of the FBS Independents.  In fact, it has expanded by 33.3%.  Okay, that just means that one new team has been added to the ranks this year.  Brigham Young has left the Mountain West Conference to go out on their own.

 

All four independents have bowl guarantees if they become bowl eligible, so it is not such a bad deal to be unaligned with a conference—for now.  If for some reason, this group were to grow by one next year, and that team hails from Austin, Texas, then the Independents will have major relevance again.  At one time, the best teams in the nation were independent.  Remember Florida State, Miami, Syracuse, Penn State, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame were all independents in the 1980’s, when they dominated nationally.

 

Notre Dame

Coach Brian Kelly has the Irish faithful “drinking the Kool-Aid.”  After a 4-5 start last year, the Irish won their last four games against three bowl teams and a Southern Cal team that would have been eligible for a bowl by an average score of 27-10.

 

Now those fans are expecting a return to a BCS Bowl Game and a possible run to the big game.  It isn’t impossible; Notre Dame is loaded and has only three tough games.  They should be favored to beat two of them.

 

Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees are back to battle for the starting quarterback job.  Crist has the stronger arm, but Rees has a more accurate arm.  The two combined for 3,100+ yards and 27 touchdowns and should top those numbers this season.  Rees started the final four games when the Irish went 4-0.

 

Most of the top receivers return from last year.  Michael Floyd is one of the best in the nation.  He caught 79 passes for 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, and with the rest of this unit having quickness and great hands, defenses will not be able to double up on him all that often.  Theo Riddick is one of the best out of the slot; he finished second on the team last year with 40 receptions.  Tight end Tyler Eifert should compete for the Mackey Award.  He should top 30 receptions this season.  T.J. Jones and John Goodman give the Irish more weapons at this position.

 

Notre Dame has not been a scary running team since Lou Holtz was the coach, but they started to show signs of returning to a more daunting ground team.  In that four game winning streak to end the season, the Irish averaged 4.3 yards per rush and 156 yards per game.  Cierre Wood may not be the next Allen Pinkett, but he could approach the 1,000 yard mark this season.

 

Making the offensive efficient and consistent is a strong and somewhat quick offensive line with four experienced starters returning as well as several quality backups. Center Braxton Cave, guard Trevor Robinson and tackle Zack Martin could all contend for some form of national honors.

 

Notre Dame scored just 26 points per game in 2010, and we can see that number jumping by as much as 10 points this year.  Expect more than 400 total yards per game out of this offense.

 

Kelly’s biggest footprint on this team last year was the defensive improvement, as the Irish allowed just 20 points and 360 yards per game after giving up 26 points and 400 yards the year before.  With most of the key players from last year returning this season, expect more improvement in those numbers.  All three units are top notch.

 

The strongest of these strong units is the quartet of linebackers.  Inside, the tandem of Manti Te’o and Carlo Calabrese have no equals from among the 3-4 defenses in college football.  Te’o will be a high draft pick if he decides to come out after his junior season.

 

Up front, nose guard might be the only question mark in the defense.  The 3-4 needs a big, beefy guy who can control two gaps, and this may be the only weakness in this defense.  Teams with big beefy backs that can hit between the tackles may be able to find occasional success.  Ends Kapron Lewis-Moore and Ethan Johnson both have the potential to become NFL draft choices.

 

The secondary is sound thanks to the return of three starters.  Harrison Smith has few peers at the free safety position.  He intercepted seven passes and knocked away seven others last year.  Cornerback Gary Gray is a multi-talented defender.  He covers well and provides an excellent force against the run.

 

The schedule should give the Irish their first route to a BCS bowl game in five years.  Notre Dame plays no cupcakes this year, but most of the opponents are beatable.  A road game with Michigan in week two should be interesting, and a road game in the season finale against Stanford could be another “Game of the Year.”  Of course, there are the additional rivalry games with Michigan State, Purdue, and Southern Cal.  We tend to believe Kelly’s heroes will prevail in most if not all of these games.  In fact, we would not be surprised if the Irish were 11-0 when they head to Palo Alto.

 

Brigham Young

To many teams, winning seven games including a 52-24 bowl victory would be considered a successful season.  In Provo, it is considered an off year.  Relax Cougar fans; your team will improve this season as an independent.  Your schedule is tough, but your offense will be explosive once again.

 

Every skill position player that contributed for more than a play or two will be back.  Start at quarterback, where BYU has been known to produce a few good ones over the last 45 years.  The current future NFL player is Jake Heaps.  As a freshman, Heaps completed 57.2% of his passes for 2,300+ yards and 15 touchdowns.  We believe his numbers will top 3,300 yards and maybe 3,500 yards with 25+ touchdowns in 2011.

 

On the other end of Heaps’ missiles, the Cougars have two specialists in getting open nine yards deep when it is 3rd and 8.  Cody Hoffman and McKay Jacobson will not average 15 yards per reception, but they will convert a lot of third downs with receptions against pressure.  Tight end Devin Mahina provides a mighty big target at 6-06, and he should top his totals of last year (11-118).

 

In the past, BYU’s backs were noted for exceptional pass blocking and route running out of the backfield.  Unlike most teams, the Cougars have kept a split back alignment to run the original West Coast Offense.  The running game does not get the credit it deserves, but this team is capable of running the ball 50-60 times and gaining 300 yards.  J.J. DiLuigi and Bryan Kariya combined for more than 1,450 yards and 14 touchdowns last year, while Joshua Quezada added more than 500 yards and five touchdowns.  All three return.  DiLuigi caught 45 passes, and Kariya added 21, so the tradition continues in that respect.

 

Four starters return to a very capable offensive line that allowed just four sacks in the final six games.  Tackle Matt Reynolds may be the best player on the team, and he could be starting in the NFL next year.  Tackle Braden Brown and guard Braden Hansen were 2nd Team All-MWC choices last year.

 

Look for BYU to average more than 35 points and 425 yards per game this season.  Don’t be surprised if there are games in which the Cougars top 200 yards on the ground and 300 through the air, or 250 both ways.  It will be difficult if not impossible to stop them.

 

It is another story on the defensive side of the ball, where there is rebuilding to do.  The top three tacklers will not be around, and six starters are missing.  Coach Bronco Mendenhall took over the defensive coordinator duties last year, and he will remain in that position this year.

 

Mendenhall will need to work magic to come up with a championship-caliber secondary.  The Cougars lost three starters including the number one and three tacklers, who accounted for 22 passes defended.  After limiting opposing passers to a low 53% pass percentage and just 192 yards in a league where quarterbacks routinely pass for 250, BYU will give up more than 200 yards and allow as much as 60% completion percentages this season.

 

BYU is in better shape at linebacker.  The return of a healthy Jordan Pendleton  along with Brandon Ogletree gives the Cougars two quality players at this position.  Uona Kaveinga began his career at USC, and he is eligible this year and could start from day one.

 

Another former Trojan, nose guard Hebron Fangupo is perfect for a 3-4 defense.  He should control the A-gaps and give the linebackers the freedom to pursue aggressively.  Ends Eathhyn Manumaleuna and Matt Putnam need to improve and provide more pass rushing to their repertoire, as the Cougars did not disrupt enemy quarterbacks enough last year.

 

BYU gave up 21 points per game last year, but it was a “Tale of Two Cities.”  In the first seven games, they allowed 28 points and 400+ yards per game.  In the final six games, they gave up 14 points and less than 250 yards per game.  We have confidence in Mendenhall; he is a terrific defensive coordinator, and hiring himself for that position verifies he is a smart head coach.  However, the Cougars will take a step backwards on this side of the ball in 2011.  Call it 24-26 points allowed per game.

 

BYU’s schedule is tough.  The Cougars keep Utah and TCU from their old conference.  They go on the road to face Ole Miss, Texas, Oregon State and Hawaii.  They should dominate all the other teams on the schedule.  We believe they can win two or three of those tough games, so call it an 8-9 win season with a trip to the Armed Forces Bowl.

 

Navy

For a short time after the end of the 2010 season, it looked like Coach Ken Niumatalolo might be headed to an AQ school in a big conference, but in the end, he stayed in Annapolis.  After winning 27 games in his three years at the Naval Academy, look for the Midshipmen to take a small step backward for Coach N.

 

When an option team loses an experienced quarterback, they almost always regress a little.  Ricky Dobbs led Navy in rushing while passing for more than 1,500 yards as a senior.  His replacement, Kriss Proctor, threw a total of five passes last year, but he will be a better runner than Dobbs.  Proctor started against Central Michigan, a game in which Navy won 38-37.  He rushed for 201 yards in that game.  In 2009, he ran for 89 yards, including the decisive 40-yard touchdown jaunt to beat Wake Forest.  Proctor could rush for more than 1,000 yards this year, but he may find it hard matching his rushing output with his passing output.

 

Two of the three starting backs return this year, led by fullback Alexander Teich.  Teich is hard to bring down with just one defender, and that makes the spread option go.  He averaged almost six yards a try in 2010 and rarely lost yardage.  B-Back Gee Gee Greene rushed for almost 500 yards caught 18 passes at a 16-yard clip.

 

The receivers will be called on to block more than ever this season.  Brandon Turner has big play potential, especially when the opposing safeties begin to think Navy will never pass.  He averaged 28.2 yards on his four receptions last year.  He could catch as many as 25 passes this year, and if he can average “just” 20 yards per catch, he could take enough pressure off the running game.

 

The offensive line should be a strength this year.  In this offense, offensive lines do not need much time to gel.  With center Brady DeMell and guard John Dowd, Navy has a couple of blockers that will open some holes for Teich.  That will force an extra defender to cover inside, and that will allow Proctor more room to attack the perimeter.

 

Navy’s offense will be potent this year.  Last year, they averaged 30 points and 405 yards per game.  They may not equal those numbers this year, because the Midshipmen will try to control the clock more to keep a green defense off the field.  We can see this team leading the nation in rushing with about 325-350 yards per game, while throwing for only 60-75 yards per game.  It adds up to about 28 points per game.  If the offense can control the ball for about 68 plays and allow only 60-64, Navy can go bowling yet again.

 

Now, for the defense.  Navy’s best defense will be a ball-controlling offense, because the Midshipmen lost too much on this side of the ball.  Eight key players used up their eligibility, including six of the top eight tacklers.

 

Among the holdovers, end Jabaree Tuani is the one real star.  He registered 15 ½ total tackles for loss last year.  Navy was generous against the run last season, giving up 4.6 yards per attempt, and we cannot see any improvement here this year.

 

The four-man linebacker unit returns one starter and one top reserve.  Max Blue  is a little better against the pass than the run.

 

The secondary was not exactly terrific, as it gave up close to 70% completions.  With only one starter returning, teams may pass Navy dizzy this year.

 

An easy schedule will give the Midshipmen enough sure thing wins to propel them back to a bowl, but this team will not win as many games as last year.  If they should happen to lose to Delaware in the opener, then all bets are off.  Navy’s nine-game winning streak over Army could be in jeopardy.

 

Army

Coach Rich Ellerson guided the Knights to a bowl game in just his second season in West Point.  Army finished with a winning record for the first time in 14 years.  In order for the Black Knights of the Hudson to go back to a bowl in 2011, the offense may have to ignite and look somewhat like it did in the days of Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard.  The defense is going to leak like a sieve this year.

 

Trent Steelman returns for his third year as a starter at quarterback.  He rushed for more than 800 yards when you factor out sacks, and he scored 11 rushing touchdowns.  While he was not called on to pass very often, he held his own as a passer, completing 53.4% of his passes for 995 yards and seven touchdowns against just three picks.

 

Fullback Jared Hassin is the best at his position from among the handful of teams that run the option.  He rushed for 1,013 and nine touchdowns last year.  At 6-3 and 235, he is a downhill runner with the ability to run for an extra yard or two after contact. 

 

Malcolm Brown and Brian Cobbs will be dangerous open-field runners when Steelman is force to pitch.  The two combined for 5.7 yards per rush and nine scores in 2010, and we expect more breakaway runs this season.

 

The two starting wide receivers from last year are back for more.  Austin Barr and Davyd Brooks were the leading receivers, but their combined efforts only produced 29 receptions and 453 yards.  Ellerson would probably like to use Brown and Cobbs more in the passing game.

 

Only one starter returns to the offensive line, but in the spread option, it is much easier to break in new linemen.  While there could be a bump or two in the road early in the season, the line should perform fine by the third or fourth game.

 

Army scored 27 points per game last year, while rushing for more than 250 yards per game.  They finished dead last in passing with just 78 yards per game.  Army games take a lot less time to play, and the total number of scrimmage plays in their games last year was less than 125.  That is how the Black Knights have to play to win—control the clock and use long drives to keep the defense on the sidelines.  It worked for Vince Lombardi, and it works for Ellerson.  Look for Army to take the air out of the ball even more this year.  We could even see their games going for just 120 plays.  Thus, we forecast Army to maybe score a couple points less this year but be just as efficient if not more so.

 

The defense is a major problem.  To start off, only five starters return to the fold.  Army runs the old “Desert Swarm” defense (Double Eagle Flex) used by Dick Tomey at Hawaii and Arizona (Ellerson was an assistant), and this defense requires more thinking than most NFL defenses.  New players sometimes get confused themselves, and it only take one missed assignment to create a huge running lane or wide open receiver.  We see this happening more this year than in Ellerson’s first two seasons.

 

Another major problem is the size of the defensive line.  In this defense, size is not as important as quickness and intelligence, as the linemen almost always stunt and switch positions.  However, this leads to a lot of lateral movement at the time of the snap.  Smaller players moving laterally can be annihilated by larger offensive linemen moving north.  One player who should shine is end Jarrett Mackey.  Mackey recorded four sacks in 2010.  Army will sorely miss Josh McNary, who led the team with 10 sacks.

 

The linebackers do a lot of blitzing in this defense.  Middle linebacker Steven Erzinger finished second on the team with 76 tackles, but leading tackler Stephen Anderson is now a commissioned officer.

 

The secondary returns both starting cornerbacks in Richard King and Josh Jackson.  King successfully defended seven passes with four interceptions.

 

Army gave up 24 points and just 338 yards per game last year.  Although undersized, they were able to pester opposing offenses and cause a lot of confusion.  This year, those opponents may not be quite so confused, and the Knights could have a difficult time stopping good running teams.  We look for a step backward here.  However, the schedule includes a bunch of teams that will not be able to exploit Army’s size liabilities.  This will give the Black Knights a chance to challenge for another bowl game.  It could come down to breaking the nine-game losing streak to that team with the goat.

 

Note: There is no official media poll for the FBS Independents.  What we have included here is an average of seven different print magazines and online sources (ours not included).

 

Average of 7 Online and Magazine Predictions

 

Team

Predicted Won-Loss

Notre Dame

10-2

Brigham Young

8-4

Navy

6-6

Army

6-6

 

2011 Independents PiRate Ratings

 

Team

PiRate #

Prediction

Notre Dame

123.9

11-1

Brigham Young

108.5

8-4

Navy

96.1

7-5

Army

86.3

5-7

 

Next: The Mountain West Conference Preview—Monday, August 22

August 13, 2010

2010 FBS Independents Preview

2010 FBS Independents Preview

 

Note: The PiRate Ratings are not meant to be used to predict the outcome of future games.  They are usable only as a basis for the current week’s games.  We do not use these ratings to make our selections.  They are only a starting point.  The predictions given below, as for every college conference and NFL division, are not taken from the ratings themselves.

Predictions

Pos Team Overall
1 Navy 9-3
2 Notre Dame 8-4
3 Army 6-6

 

Champs Sports Bowl: Notre Dame

Poinsettia Bowl: Navy

 

Notre Dame is eligible for all bowls that have a Big East representative, including the BCS.

 

Navy is guaranteed a bid to the Poinsettia Bowl this season if the Midshipmen are bowl eligible.

 

Army is the first backup choice for the Armed Forces Bowl if there is an opening there and the Black Knights have six wins prior to their game against Navy.

 

Team By Team Breakdown

 

Team Army Black Knights (Cadets)
               
Head Coach Rich Ellerson
               
Colors Black and Gold
               
City West Point, NY
               
2009 Record              
Overall 5-7
               
PiRate Rating 84.2
               
National Rating 100
               
2010 Prediction              
Overall 6-6

 

Offense: Call this the gingerbread man offense.  At West Point these days, it is “run, run, as fast as you can.”  Second year head coach Rich Ellerson has the Black Knights poised to join the nation’s elite when it comes to running the football.  Army rushed for 204 yards in 2009, and in year two of Ellerson’s option attack, Army could add more than 50 yards to that average.

Quarterback Trent Steelman earned the starting nod as a true freshman, and he led the Cadets with 706 rushing yards.  Factor out sacks, and that number topped 850.  All three 2009 starters in the option running attack return with Steelman, and the top two reserves are back as well.  However, starting fullback Kingsley Ehie has been moved to linebacker.  Taking his place is Air Force transfer Jared Hassin.  He could provide the stability and durability needed at fullback in an option attack.  If he forces defenses to assign two players to stop, then watch out!  Army will march down the field like General Sherman marched through Georgia. 

Patrick Mealy is a threat to take an option pitch and turn it into a big gain down the sidelines.  He averaged better than six yards per carry last year. 

The running game must click, because the passing game is virtually nonexistent.  Army completed just 45% of its passes last year.  In some option attacks, passing percentages are lower than the norm because the attempts are mostly long tossed off play-action.  Army averaged only 11.8 yards per completion last year, so that was not the case.  To make matters worse, the only two real pass catchers from that team are now officers in the United States Army.  The leading returnee is slotback Jameson Carter, who grabbed just four passes for 46 yards!

The offensive line returns four starters, and they will make the running game go, even against defenses that put eight or even nine in the box.

We have every reason to believe Army will compete with the other service academies and Georgia Tech for the top rushing average this season.  Look for 275-300 yards per game on the ground and about 50-75 through the air.  That should give them about 24 points per game in 2010, a 60% increase over 2009.

Defense: Army played admirably on this side of the ball last year in their first year using the 3-4 defense.  The Cadets gave up just 22 points per game.  Having an offense that can control the ball and eat up clock is a major plus for the defense, as Army games averaged just 124 total scrimmage plays.

Adding to the optimism this year is the fact that eight starters, including the top six tacklers, return to the fold.  Three of those come from the second line of defense, where Andrew Rodriguez, Stephen Anderson, and Steve Erzinger finished one-two-three in tackles.  Anderson and Erzinger both made 6 ½ tackles behind the line and combined for 3 ½ QB sacks.

The back line of defense is solid with the leadership of free safety Donovan Travis.  Travis led the Black Knights with four picks, while finishing fourth overall in tackles.  Army gave up just 153 passing yards last year at a low 55.6% completion rate.  Usually option teams have a hard time against the pass because there isn’t a scout team player that can pass the ball like a pro-style quarterback.  That wasn’t a problem at West Point last year, and it should not be one this season.

Army has a fantastic pass rusher at end.  Josh McNary recorded 12 ½ sacks last year, and he should be close to 100% when the season starts.  He suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery, and he missed spring drills.

With an improved offense holding onto the ball for a minute or two more per game this year, Army has a chance to post its best defensive numbers this century.  Look for the Cadets to give up 20 points and 300 yards this season.

Schedule: We applaud Army and Notre Dame for returning to the Bronx, where they faced off for more than two decades at the old Yankee Stadium.  The 1946 scoreless tie may still be the greatest defensive showcase in the history of the game.  Army won’t win this game, but it should be well worth the three hours to watch it.  With a little luck, it could even snow on November 20.  The Cadets have a relatively easy schedule outside of neutral site games with the Irish, Rutgers, and Navy.  Road games at Eastern Michigan, Duke, Tulane, and Kent State are all winnable.  Home games with Hawaii, North Texas, Temple, and VMI are winnable.  Air Force is a tossup game.  We think Duke may get the best of them, and Temple will be able to stop the ground game.  If Army beats Air Force or Navy, they will post a winning season.  6-6 is about as pessimistic a prediction that we can make (one of us believes 9-3 is possible).

 

Team Navy Midshipmen
               
Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo
               
Colors Navy and Gold
               
City Annapolis, MD
               
2009 Record              
Overall 10-4
               
PiRate Rating 100.0
               
National Rating 58
               
2010 Prediction              
Overall 9-3

 

Offense: Navy averaged 28 points and 356 total yards per game last year.  With the return of most of their key players, those figures will improve in 2010.  It all starts with quarterback Ricky Dobbs.  The perfect man for the option attack, Dobbs rushed for 1,203 yards and an unbelievable 27 touchdowns last year.  He added six more through the air and almost averaged 10 yards per pass attempt.

Joining Dobbs in a running attack that averaged over 280 rushing yards per game is fullback Vince Murray, who narrowly missed rushing for 1,000 yards last year.  He averaged 5.3 yards per pop and required more than one defender to bring him down.  That opened up the outside for Dobbs and his pitch backs.

The best of those pitch backs was Marcus Curry, but he was dismissed from the team after failing a drug test.  His loss won’t be catastrophic, because this part of the option scheme is the easiest to replace.

An experienced offensive line that is both quick and intelligent will open holes for the backs to shoot through for big gains.  Tackle Jeff Battipaglia is the perfect option blocker who can seal off the inside.

Navy could top 300 yards rushing this season, but we have a sneaky suspicion that their rushing total could drop a little.  The reason: Dobbs may throw the ball a bit more this year.  It has been five years since Navy averaged more than 100 yards passing per game, but it could happen this year.  Thus, we look for the Midshipmen to score 31-35 points per game and produce 350-375 yards per game.

Defense: Navy fielded its best defense in several years last season, and the Middies lost a bit too much to expect a repeat of that showing.  One area that should not be much of a concern is the secondary where three starters return.  Rover Wyatt Middleton led Navy with four interceptions and seven passed knocked down, while top cornerback Kevin Edwards batted away six balls and picked off another.  Free Safety Emmett Merchant got in for two interceptions and four batted passes.  Look for new cornerback Kwesi Mitchell to make this an excellent quartet.

Linebacker is another story.  The Midshipmen return just one part-time starter to the four-man crew.  Tyler Simmons recorded 68 tackles, so he saw extensive playing time, but the other three projected starters combined for less than 10 tackles last year.

The defensive line is in better shape with the return of nose tackle Chase Burge and end Jabaree Tuani. 

Navy’s defense will be a bit more generous in 2010, but the Midshipmen can equal their 10-win season even if they give up five more points per game.  Look for defensive averages of 24 points and 350-375 yards allowed per game.

Schedule: The slate is an easier one than 2009.  Navy has home games with Georgia Southern, SMU, Duke, Central Michigan, and Arkansas State.  They face Maryland, Notre Dame, and Army on neutral sites, and they play at Louisiana Tech, Air Force, Wake Forest, and East Carolina.  Nine regular season wins look almost like a given, and we believe they will retain the Commander-in-Chief trophy with a sweep of their rivals.

 

 

Team Notre Dame Fighting Irish
               
Head Coach Brian Kelly
               
Colors Navy and Gold
               
City South Bend, IN
               
2009 Record              
Overall 6-6
               
PiRate Rating 111.1
               
National Rating 33
               
2010 Prediction              
Overall 8-4

 

Offense: Brian Kelly arrives from Cincinnati to resurrect a program that has fallen on hard times.  The Irish lost 21 games in the last three years, the worst in its storied history.  Kelly is the best fit in South Bend since Frank Leahy.  Now if he can just recruit the next Angelo Bertelli, Johnny Lujack, and Leon Hart.

The Irish will change from a pro-style attack to the spread.  Kelly will have to break in a new quarterback, and the projected starter is coming off ACL Surgery.  Dayne Crist saw limited action in 2009, and he may have some mobility problems running the new offense.

When Crist sets up to pass, he won’t have Notre Dame’s all-time leading pass receiver running down the field.  Golden Tate graduated and took his 93 receptions for almost 1,500 yards to the Seattle Seahawks.  Fret not:  the Irish still have Michael Floyd, who is a threat to go all the way every time he catches a pass.  If he can stay on the field for 12 games, Floyd could top 80 receptions and 1,300 yards.   Tight end Kyle Rudolph made 1st Team Freshman All-American in 2008 and followed that up with a stellar 2009 season.  At 6-6 and 265, he supplies Crist with an excellent target in the short passing game.

Kelly will retain the running back platoon from last year, and the Irish can go four deep with quality results.  Armando Allen and Robert Hughes combined for more than 1,110 yards last year, but watch out for redshirt freshman Cierre Wood.  Wood was the star of the Spring Game.  Punishing bruiser Jonas Gray will contribute in short yardage situations.

The offensive line is a possible liability.  Three starters are missing, and the radical change of blocking schemes could make this a tough go in year one of the Kelly era.  One player Kelly will not have to worry about is guard Chris Stewart.  Stewart is a monster at 6-5 and about 350 pounds. 

It is hard to gauge just how Notre Dame will perform.  On paper, it looks like a significant drop in points and yards could occur.  However, Kelly’s Cincinnati team improved by 15 points and 100 yards in his first season, while his Central Michigan team improved by 25 yards.  Due to a softer schedule, we feel that the Irish can score 25-28 points and produce over 400 yards per game.

Defense: Here is where immediate progress will be seen.  Notre Dame’s defense had become downright mediocre in recent years.  Last year, they gave up close to 400 yards per game.  They surrenders close to 500 yards to Stanford in the season finale.

Kelly has a lot of experience and a good deal of talent to work with on this side of the ball, and we expect the new 3-4 alignment to pay off in year one.

Start in the trenches where three experienced players will take up a lot of space and free the linebackers to become heroes.  Nose tackle Ian Williams tops 300 pounds, and he will be a force in the trenches.  He will command double teams, and that will allow the teammates behind him to pursue with reckless abandon.

Look for sophomore linebacker Manti T’eo to begin to live up to his press accolades.  T’eo was the top linebacker recruit in the nation in 2008, and he should lead the Irish in tackles in this new scheme.  Brian Smith and Darius Fleming could finish number two and number three.

The secondary is a cause for concern.  After giving up almost 230 passing yards per game in 2009, they lose their top pass defender and top overall tackler in Kyle McCarthy.  There is some talent here, but depth could be a concern following the unexpected departure of two players and the possible departure of a third player.

We believe Notre Dame will improve to 20-22 points allowed and 350-375 yards allowed this year, but will that be enough to put the Irish back in a bowl?

Schedule: The answer to that previous question is “Yes!”  Notre Dame has seven home games plus two neutral site games that will be home games.  The three road games, at Michigan State, Boston College, and Southern Cal, are winnable because none of these three teams will be world-beaters this year.  The neutral games come against Navy at the new Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and against Army at Yankee Stadium.  The Irish should win both of those games, but Navy could upset them for the third time in four years.  The home schedule includes games with Purdue, Michigan, Stanford, Pittsburgh, Western Michigan, Tulsa, and Utah.  All of these teams could sneak up and surprise the Irish, and we think at least two of them will.  Call it an 8-4 season and return to a bowl.

Coming Tomorrow: The Conference USA Preview–the conference that most closely resembles the old American Football League of the 1960’s, where teams can score 50 points and still have to hold on for victory.

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