2015 NCAA Football Preview: Independents

September 3, 2015

My second-to-last college football preview before the season begins is also a very special one for the blog in general.

This is my 500th published article to Around The Corn.

To anyone that has read any of my work over the past six plus years, thank you so much for your continued support. I find it really encouraging and quite surprising when I talk to someone I haven’t seen in awhile and they ask me if I still write here. Your awareness truly does mean a lot.

Before I have to dry my eyes, let’s take a look at the Independents in FBS.


The coalition of college football programs without a conference has always been a small one, but in 2015 that number dropped by one. With Navy joining the AAC for this season, only Army, BYU and Notre Dame remain among the ranks of the unattached. The number is only going to get smaller. BYU has been eagerly shopping for a Power 5 conference willing to take the Cougars, while Notre Dame already plays a partial ACC schedule. It’s only a matter of time before TV deals are not enough to keep the Fighting Irish from resisting the urge to join the conference as a full-fledged football member.

As it remains, the Independents should be very entertaining in 2015. Notre Dame appears to have the talent to compete for a playoff spot while BYU is a dangerous opponent for just about anyone in the country. Even Army should improve upon its 2014 campaign with a slightly better defense. In 10 years ATC may no longer be publishing a separate section for the Independents, so we may as well enjoy it while it exists and produces good football.

College Football Playoff Contenders

Notre Dame

Brian Kelly knows what he is doing in South Bend, so anyone who believes that the Fighting Irish will fade into obscurity based on last season’s 8-5 record are sorely mistaken. This year’s team is peppered with upperclassmen, many of them returning starters. The defense should be particularly strong, with the entire starting front returning. If Notre Dame can avoid so many injuries on defense, it will return to being one of the nation’s best under Kelly.

Although Everett Golson spurned the Fighting Irish for seemingly greener grass in Tallahassee, this team won’t be totally searching for answers at the quarterback position. Malik Zaire was the future of Notre Dame football ever since he stepped on campus in 2013. Golson’s departure just means that Zaire’s timeline was slightly expedited, though it shouldn’t hurt him much. A relatively untested offensive line appears to be the only weakness on this team. If that turns out to be a non-issue, then the Fighting Irish have the talent to beat everyone on their schedule.

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)


For the most part, Notre Dame and BYU can only surprise people in a negative way this season (unless the Cougars go undefeated and make the playoff, which is highly unlikely). The one Independent that can surprise in a good way is Army, which appeared to make progress last season under first year head coach Jeff Monken.

The Black Knights are not going to wow anyone with supreme individual talent or fancy offensive schemes, but they will play extremely disciplined football and only rarely beat themselves. If Monken’s approach to football has helped Army become tougher on defense, then this team should have a chance to compete for six wins and an automatic bowl berth. More importantly to the team, the Black Knights will give Army a very competitive game on the last weekend of the regular season.

Hi, My Name Is… (Players to Watch)

Taysom Hill, BYU senior quarterback

The Cougars are glad to have Hill back, who missed the second half of 2014 due to a broken leg suffered in the Utah State game. Before Hill went down, the Cougars were undefeated and looked poised to compete for at least a New Year’s Six bowl. After his injury, BYU promptly lost four straight and ended the season with a disappointing overtime loss to Memphis. The story is not just for effect; Taysom Hill truly is that important to his team’s success.

The senior may want to think twice about barreling headfirst into defenders this season for risk of another injury, but chances are that won’t happen. Hill is 235 pounds and difficult to take down in the open field, one of the things that makes him so dangerous. Besides, without his highlight reel running ability, Hill wouldn’t be nearly as exciting to watch.

Kei’Varae Russell. Notre Dame senior cornerback

Most people who do not follow the Fighting Irish do not know of Kei’Varae Russell, or at least forgot about him if they once did. The senior corner was suspended for the entirety of his junior season related to an academic misconduct investigation and was sorely missed. Notre Dame went from being a Top 15 pass defense in 2013 to No. 77 in 2014, and a lot of that had to do with Russell. He is the team’s best cover corner and normally scares opposing quarterbacks away from targeting Russell’s side of the field.

Russell started every game for Notre Dame his freshman and sophomore season and will use 2015 as a chance to re-introduce himself to any pro scouts whose radar he may have fallen off of while suspended. The Fighting Irish hope that his return will be a boost to a defense that already would have been one of the better ones in the country.

Games to Watch

Boise State at BYU (September 12)

This game is one of the bigger ones on the second weekend of the season, but unfortunately half of the country won’t tune in because of the time difference. The Cougars have given the Broncos trouble in prior years but were throttled by the up tempo offense employed by Bryan Harsin in 2015. This time around should be different assuming that Taysom Hill is playing.

Boise State’s defense should be pretty good this season, but Hill is on another level. Expect a big game from the quarterback and the Cougars to give the ambitious Broncos all they can handle.

Notre Dame at Clemson (October 3)

Notre Dame doesn’t have a lot of difficult away games on its schedule this season, but this is without a doubt the stiffest road test for the Fighting Irish. The defense will be put to work early trying to contain Deshaun Watson, while the run game will find out whether Clemson was able to reload on its defensive side.

If the Fighting Irish win this game, momentum should carry through to the Southern Cal game two weeks later. This is Notre Dame’s most important game of the year in ATC’s opinion.


1. Notre Dame (12-0)

2. BYU (8-4)

3. Army (4-8)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *