Monday, July 13, 2015

College Football Preview 2015: Independents

The ranks of the independents are now down to three with the exit of Navy to the American Athletic Conference beginning this season. In 2016, the number will be back to four for a bit, as UMass will be leaving the MAC to test the waters of independence. In the meantime, the only question is how long BYU will stay on as an independent, after several reports of how badly they may be wanted by the Big 12 along with possibly Boise State.
When it comes to this season, Notre Dame and BYU will battle for supremacy, while Army, once again, will struggle to get out of their own way.

Projected Order of Finish
1. Notre Dame
2. BYU
3. Army

All Independent Team
QB-Taysom Hill, BYU
QB-Malik Zaire, Notre Dame
RB-Terean Folston, Notre Dame
RB-Jamaal Williams, BYU
WR-William Fuller, Notre Dame
WR-Mitch Matthews, BYU
WR-Corey Robinson, Notre Dame

DL-Jarron Jones, Notre Dame
DL-Isaac Rochell-Notre Dame
DL-Sheldon Day, Notre Dame
DL-Travis Tuiloma, BYU
LB-Jeremy Timpf, Army
LB-Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
LB-Andrew King, Army
DB-Cole Luke, Notre Dame
DB-Josh Jenkins, Army
DB-Chris Carnegie, Army
DB-Jordan Preator, BYU

KR-Adam Hine, BYU

Team Previews

Notre Dame Fighting Irish
2014 Record: 8-5
2015 Projected Record: 10-2
Head Coach: Brian Kelly (45-20, 6th season)

The Good News: Everett Golston was an addition by subtraction coming into this season, as the turnover prone left for Florida State. He was more trouble and attitude than he was worth, and now the Irish can move on with a QB more suited to what they want to do on offense, which leads them to Malik Zaire, who should have a breakout performance on the entirety of the season. Zaire will have some weapons to get the ball to in WRs Will Fuller and Chris Brown this fall, with Fuller catching 76 passes for 1054 yards last fall to go with a whopping 15 TDs. Chris Brown returns as well to give the Irish a potent passing attack. CJ Prosies will step in to start with them, and look for Amir Carlisle, Corey Holmes, and Corey Robinson to all push for major playing time. Terean Folston returns in the run game, and I am looking for a bigger year out of him as a junior. Folston ran for 889 yards and six scores. The line returns three starters as well in LT Ronnie Stanley, C Nick Martin, and RG Steve Elmer.
The Irish are as loaded on defense as they have been in years, and that alone makes me believe that they will improve greatly on their ranking of 71st nationally in total defense. This unit is on the verge of being very good. Isaac Rochell, Jarron Jones, Sheldon Day, and Romeo Okwara all return on the line. If there is one thing to task this group on, it's that they have to do a better job of collapsing the pocket and shutting down lanes. With another year together, that shouldn't be an issue. Jaylon Smith, James Onwualu, and Joe Schmidt all return at LB as well, with Smith coming off a season in which he grabbed 112 tackles. Cole Luke, a junior, should have a breakout at CB this season, and is joined by Safeties Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield. Senior KeiVarae Russell should fill in at CB, but Devin Butler and Nick Watkins could have some say in that as well.
The Bad News: The Irish have big expectations this season, but they have to live up to that now. Brian Kelly has done well at Notre Dame, but this could be his very best team overall. THey will need more balance on offense, especially with the run game. Zaire has all the talent in the world, but now must come in and prove that he is Brian Kelly's guy, or else face Kelly's wrath, which is considerable.
Defensively, this unit underperformed while getting used to be being together as a unit. There are no such excuses this fall, as this unit should be loaded and experienced. It's time to play up to potential.
The kicking game is hitting reboot this year, with both the PK and P jobs needing filling. Promising freshman Justin Yoon is lining up early at PK, but he has no experience. Tyler Newsome, another freshman, should handle the Punting job.
The Overview: Notre Dame is full of potential this fall, but now they must, as I have said, play up to that potential. Notre Dame could be a team, that with some right bounces, could push their way into the final four this bowl season. They have that much ability, and this could be a special volume in Notre Dame history.
First Game: 9/5 Texas

BYU Cougars
2014 Record: 8-5
2015 Projected Record: 8-4
Head Coach: Bronco Mendenhall (90-39, 11th season)

The Good News: Taysom Hill was on the way to a special season before blowing his knee in a loss to Utah State that started the Cougars into a tailspin that took them a month to pull out of. Hill is back, and if he is healthy, he could be one of the finest QBs in the nation. Jamaal Williams was also headed in a great direction when he became injured as well. With a healthy Hill and Williams back in the fold, BYU could really chase some serious team records on offense. Mitch Matthews was a constant on offense where there were few, and he returns after catching 73 passes for 922 yards and nine scores. Three starters are back on the line in Kyle Johnson, Tejan Koroma, and Ului Lapuaho.
There could be some changes on defense this season, but that could be good for a better amount of depth. DEs Bronson Kaufusi and Remington Peck are both back. Travis Tuiloma and Graham Rowley are both back at DT as well, but again, expect Kesni Tausinga could push for time as well. Manoa Pikula is back at LB after picking up 69 tackles last fall, and should lead a rather green unit in the middle. Michael Davis is back at CB as well, but faces some pressure there.
Trevor Samson is back as a senior after hitting 12/14 FGs last fall for the Cougars, and Adam Hine returns as KR for another go after averaging 24.5 yards per return.
The Bad News: Despite what BYU has the potential for on offense, the Cougras must replace a bunch of talent at WR this fall. Devon Blackmon and Colby Pearson are both lined up to start, but Kurt Henderson, Nick Kurtz, and Terenn Houk will all be pushing for time in fall camp.
On defense, the Cougars have several questions at LB, where they muct replace three of four starters. Sae Taufu, Austin Heder, and Jherremya Leuta-Douyere are all coming into camp with an edge to start, but Fred Warner, Harvey Langi, and Troy Hinds are all expected to compete. The secondary has the same issue, with only one starter returning. Micah Hanneman and Michael Shelton are both competing for one spot, while Jordan Preator should step in and win a spot after a promising performance last fall. Kai Nacua, Chris Badger, Eric Takenaka, and Grant Jones are all competing for starting jobs at Safety.
BYU is starting over at Punter, with freshman Taylor Parker having the edge heading into camp.
The Overview: BYU could be very good in some areas, however they have more questions than answers on defense, which leaves them short as being the best independent in a battle with Notre Dame. The Cougar are going bowling, but really need to answer some deficiencies before turning a bigger, better corner.
First Game: 9/5 at Nebraska

Army Cadets
2014 Record: 4-8
2015 Projected Record: 4-8
Head Coach: Jeff Monken (4-8, 2nd season)

The Good News: I'm not going to lie to you, there is not much to go on for this football team that returns a grand total of six starters combined on offense and defense. There is some strength at ILB, as Jeremy Timpf (117 tackles) and Andrew King (5 sacks). Monken, otherwise is basically building agains from scratch, but should get a couple of good wins against FCS opponents Fordham and Bucknell, despite having lost to Yale last fall.
The Bad News: Where do we start? The entire backfield on offense must be rebuilt, starting at QB. AJ Schurr and Ahmad Bradshaw will likely compete, and could both play early. Joe Walker, Joey Giovanelli, Elijah St. Hilaire, and Egbezien Obiomon are all battling for time at SB, while Matt Giarchinta, Aaron Kemper will battle at FB. Edgar Poe will be the lone starting WR returning, but caught just ten passes last fall. Jeff Ejekam, DeAndre Bell, and Jermaine Adams will all fight it out for the open job at WR. Matt Hugenberg (C) is the lone returnee on the line.
On defense, the problems continue, as Army must replace the entire D line. John Voit, Evan Finnane, Jordan Smith, and Shawn Lemuto will all battle at DE, while TJ Atimalala and Andrew McLean will battle at NT. Both OLB jobs are open, but CB should be all set as both Josh Jenkins and Chris Carnegie return.
The Overview: Jeff Monken is building his recruiting base, and is doing a solid job there, but this is going to be a mess in 2014. It could be worse, as the schedule cooperates mostly, but Army has more holes than many can count, and I cannot see a way that they can overcome all of these issues. Looks like a 14th consecutive loss to Navy is in the cards for certain.
First Game: 9/4 Fordham

Next: The Power Five Conferences, starting with the ACC

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