The Pi-Rate Ratings

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.


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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