Independents College Football Previewby Charlie Parent August 9, 2021 0 comments
College football kicks off in less than three weeks and the previews continue to keep rolling in. Now, there are seven independents in college football, and each of them will get their own representation in this preview. Obviously, we can’t bring you the standard standings predictions and conference champion, but a the same time, this won’t just be a Notre Dame preview. So, let’s take a look at the independent world.
Make sure to check out all of our other College Football Conference Previews.
One of the biggest and best players on any independent team is Liberty’s Malik Willis. Willis is an electric quarterback with a cannon for an arm. He not only has good distance under the ball but has extreme power. Willis can do it all and reminds you of a young Michael Vick in his college days. Another true star talent from the independents is Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton. Hamilton is the best safety in college football. he has incredible range, and size and will be a first-round draft pick next year Besides Willis, and Hamilton there are a couple of players who made the top 10 in our positional rankings from this group of teams.
Notre Dame’s Kyren Williams ran for 1,125 yards and had 13 touchdowns to go with that. He also had 35 catches out of the backfield, showing the versatile back that he can be. His teammate tight end Michael Mayer also made the top 10 at his position and looks to be a real threat next year. BYU tight end Isaac Rex was just behind Mayer in our rankings after catching 12 touchdowns on 37 receptions and going over 400 yards.
Coaches on the Hot Seat
When it comes to the independents as of late, there are four bright-spot programs and three that are completely in the gutter. These three all have coaches with a tenure of two seasons or more, and all three should, quite frankly, be out of a job by now. Let’s start off with Massachusetts’ Walt Bell. At 37, Bell is one of the younger coaches in college football, so it’s really pretty sad to see that he is 1-15 for his career with the Minutemen. Massachusetts has been a bottom feeder in college football for far too long. Clearly, Bell isn’t going to change the culture, so it is now time to bring in a new guy to try and do something positive.
The two other coaches are Connecticut’s Randy Edsall and New Mexico State’s Doug Martin. Edsall is in his second tenure with Connecticut and he has posted an unfortunate 6-30 record. If this season goes poorly once again, Connecticut will be looking for a new headman next year. Martin, however, is an interesting one. He has a 22-64 record with the Aggies and saw some success with a winning season in 2017, but other than that he has failed to even bring his program close to mediocre. Like the other three coaches on this list, it’s time for Martin to depart so that these schools can just try to mix things up a tad.
Top Three Games to Watch
Cincinnati vs Notre Dame
Notre Dame has a host of really intriguing games on their schedule this year, such as matchups with North Carolina, Wisconsin, USC, and Florida State. However, this one against Cincinnati may be the most interesting of them all. Cincinnati is the best team in the group of five and should be higher ranked (and favored) coming into this matchup, at least if program prestige wasn’t a thing to AP voters. The biggest test for the Bearcats here is playing in South Bend. Traveling to Notre Dame brings clear disadvantages, as that stadium can literally change the tide of an entire game. Because of this, we will be looking at a very close affair, with both teams trying to make statement victories.
Liberty vs Ole Miss
Liberty has a pretty easy schedule, but that doesn’t mean it still has some challenges nonetheless. This one should feature two thrilling offenses, and a great quarterback matchup as well. We’ve already mentioned what the Flames bring to the table in terms of signal-callers but Ole Miss’ Matt Corral is another top 10 quarterback in the country along with Willis. This game could very well be a case of which defense steps up first, and there’s really no telling of who may do that. All in all, prepare for a shootout here that could see both teams ending up in the 40s.
Army vs Navy
You didn’t think we forgot about the most historic football rivalry, did you? This is a series that dates back to 1890 and has the most traditional football feel of any game out there today. We’ll see each team’s version of the triple-option on display, which means a heavy dose of running the football. It really does not matter what either team’s record is coming into this game, heck they could both be winless, but it would still draw a huge crowd to watch, and is always must-see football on that classic cold December day.
Historically the best team in the pack here, Notre Dame has lost a lot from last year. They replace starting quarterback Ian Book with transfer Jack Coan who hasn’t played since 2019. The highlight of this group is their running backs with Williams and Chris Tyree. They’ve got to replace four starters on the offensive line but also have an exceptional tight end group and solid wide receivers. The defense, led by Hamilton, shouldn’t be anything great, but they will get the job done. With their loss of talent and really difficult schedule, this could be a down year for the Irish, with things looking very good in 2022.
End of Year Projection: Just inside the top 20
We’ve already discussed some of what makes this Liberty team very good but it’s time to get a little more in-depth. On both sides of the ball, almost every starter is returning. C.J. Yarbrough is the only one of Willis’ weapons that won’t be back next year and a defense that was 11th in the country overall returns tons of production in 2021. The defense starts with its linebackers Durrell Johnson and TreShaun Clark, and Javon Scruggs. The rest of the talent is spread out across the board and it looks like they’ll be a great unit once again. With only Ole Miss and Louisiana being legitimate challenging games, Liberty could see a really high ranking by the end of the year, and push for a New Year’s Six Bowl.
End of Year Projection: Top 20, in the mix for NY6
One of 2020’s biggest surprise teams was BYU, led by Wilson. Now, the big question is who can replace Wilson, and can they have the same amount of success? Baylor Romney and Jaren Hall are the two vying for the starting job right now, and both of these guys can more than get the job done. Losing Dax Milne at receiver does hurt a lot, but there’s plenty of depth from that position, not to mention Rex is back at tight end. Defensively, things aren’t looking great. The only bright spot here is the linebackers, who lost minimal production in the offseason, but the line and safeties are looking pretty poor. Ultimately, this program is going to take a step back this year, just how big is what we need to find out.
End of Year Projection: Outside top 25, safely bowl eligible
When we look at the Army football team our only focus is running the football. Not once did this team eclipse 100 yards through the air last season, and with former running back Tyhier Tyler at quarterback, there’s not a chance they can do it this year unless trailing by tons (which is not what happens to Army teams). Army returns a projected seven starters on offense, however, two of them are receivers which are quite expendable in this system. Nonetheless, there are still a lot of returning guys for an Army program that seems to field an entirely different starting lineup every season. They should be able to keep their traditional pace of wracking up the rushing yards, dominating time of possession, and wearing opponents out offensively to win the game.
On the defensive side, this group does lose some key guys, however, they aren’t called upon nearly as much as any other defense in the country. Cornerbacks Amari Moore and Cameron Jones are two players who can lock down the secondary nicely for Army, something that has not been too great for them the past couple of years. It’s not a defense that will be needed much, but they still have to be serviceable, and this lineup is more than that.
End of Year Projection: Outside looking in on top 25
New Mexico State
After not having a 2020 season, the Aggies come back this year with a very interesting look. They had two preseason games in the spring of this year, and well, it didn’t go all too well. They got smoked by FCS program Tarleton State 43-17 and defeated Dixie State 36-29. A close win and a blowout loss to FCS programs are just a tad bit concerning but hey that’s exactly what this New Mexico State team is: concerning. The quarterback will presumably be Jonah Johnson, who is just alright. He’s supported by a new running back in O’Maury Samuels who transferred from Michigan (assuming he can play). On the other side of the ball, the team is just as bad, and things are really not looking good for a coach on the hot seat like Martin.
End of Year Projection: Bottom of the FBS
The Huskies were also a team that did not have a 2020 season, just a year after leaving the AAC conference to become independent. This team is in a pretty dark place. We don’t really know who the quarterback will be. In fact, the only bright spots on the offense are wide receiver Cameron Ross and running back Kevin Mensah. Other than that, there’s not much to it on offense, and defense is quite the same. In their 2019 season, the defense let up a miraculous 41 points per game. They just got shelled left and right every week. Watch out for former Notre Dame transfer, D.J. Morgan to try and lead this unit from his linebacker spot. It’s hard to see how Connecticut will win a game this year, and it would pretty much be a big upset if they did.
End of Year Projection: Bottom five worst teams in the FBS
You thought Connecticut was bad? Wait until we talk about Massachusetts. As we mentioned, the Minutemen are 1-15 under Coach Bell and that includes and 0-4 record last year where they scored 12 points throughout the whole season. The bright side is, Tyler Lytle, a transfer from Colorado, will come in and assert himself as the quarterback that this team has so desperately needed for years. Lytle doesn’t have a ton to work with though, so we’ll see if the offense can generate much. Defensively, this is Connecticut level. They allowed 40 points per game in their four games last year with a total of 482 yards allowed. Massachusetts’ front seven did have a nice campaign with nine sacks, but it won’t nearly be enough, and Bell will most likely be out of a job by the time the coaching carousel rolls around.
End of year Projection: Bottom five worst teams in the FBS
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