The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 23, 2012

2012 FBS Independents Preview

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

 

1943

Notre Dame

1944

Army

1945

Army

1946

Notre Dame

1947

Notre Dame

1949

Notre Dame

1952

Michigan St. (not yet in Big Ten)

1959

Syracuse

1966

Notre Dame

1973

Notre Dame

1976

Pittsburgh

1977

Notre Dame

1982

PennState

1983

Miami (Fl)

1986

PennState

1987

Miami (Fl)

1988

Notre Dame

1989

Miami (Fl)

1991

Miami (Fl)

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Independents

 

 

Rank

Team

Over/Under Wins

1

Notre Dame

8.5

2

B Y U

8.5

3

Navy

6.5

4

Army

5.5

 

 

PiRate Ratings

Rank

Big East

PiRate

1

Notre Dame

118.4

2

B Y U

108.2

3

Army

92.1

4

Navy

91.1

 

 

Vintage Ratings

Rank

Big East

Vintage

1

Notre Dame

113

2

B Y U

110

3

Army

97

4

Navy

94

 

 

Team

Army Black Knights (Cadets)

               
Head Coach

Rich Ellerson

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

West Point, NY

               
2011 Record              
Overall

3-9

               
PiRate Rating

92.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

86

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

97

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

77

               
2012 Prediction              
Overall

6-6

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Team

Brigham Young Cougars

               
Head Coach

Bronco Mendenhall

               
Colors

Blue and White

               
City

Provo, UT

               
2011 Record              
Overall

10-3

               
PiRate Rating

108.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

37

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

110

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

21

               
2012 Prediction              
Overall

9-3

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Team

Navy Midshipmen

               
Head Coach

Ken Niumatalolo

               
Colors

Navy and Gold

               
City

Annapolis, MD

               
2011 Record              
Overall

5-7

               
PiRate Rating

91.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

93

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

94

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

86

               
2012 Prediction              
Overall

6-6

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Team

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

               
Head Coach

Brian Kelly

               
Colors

Navy and Gold

               
City

South Bend, IN

               
2011 Record              
Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

118.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

113

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rating

13

               
2012 Prediction              
Overall

8-4

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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 28, 2009

2009 FBS Independents Preview

2009 FBS Independents Preview

A PiRate Look

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   

Independents Preseason PiRatings

 
     

 

Prediction *

 
    Team

PiRate

Overall

 
    Notre Dame

108

9-3

 
    Navy

95

5-8

 
    Army

79

2-10

 
     

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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