2016 NCAA Football Preview: Independents

September 1, 2016

This is not an exaggeration: I have spent the last 14 hours at my place writing college football previews.

They’re fun, but not necessarily like this. I need to plan better in 2017.

To wrap things up, we’ll take a look at the four teams without a conference affiliation.


The ranks of the Independents are four strong again, as Massachusetts decided to leave the Mid-American Conference in favor of going it alone. While the Minutemen aren’t going to bring a whole lot of extra quality to the coalition, four teams just feels more natural than three when speaking about this group of teams.

There isn’t much to rant about with the Independents, quite honestly. There are only two games featuring two Independent schools, and quite frankly they’re not the most intriguing matchups (Army vs. Notre Dame and BYU vs. Massachusetts).

One team, Notre Dame, will likely dominate the headlines compared with the other three. But if the Fighting Irish were ever to leave for an actual conference, it wouldn’t be long before the others would do the same. BYU has already expressed interest in joining the Big 12 for football only, and Massachusetts was in a conference just last year, so the right deal would surely lure them back.

College Football Playoff Contenders


Sorry, Fighting Irish fans. The prospect of a rebuilt defense and holes on the offensive line that need to be filled is too much to convince Around The Corn that Notre Dame will be able to hang around in the Top 10 for the entire season. Games at Texas and Southern Cal loom, as to home dates with Michigan State, Stanford, Miami, Navy and Virginia Tech. If the Fighting Irish were to run through that gauntlet with even one loss, they would absolutely deserve to be in the College Football Playoff conversation.

But alas, fans of the Fighting Irish may not know their true struggle yet. It has been awhile since a Brian Kelly coached squad has been without a bona fide NFL talent on the defense, but that is the case for Notre Dame this season. Unless DeShone Kizer or Malik Zaire take a massive step forward and make this offense one of the best in the country, there will be several times this season where the Fighting Irish rely too much on the defense. That’s code word for “at least a couple of losses.”

Watch Out! (Team That Could Surprise)

Brigham Young

There is a lot of uncertainty in Provo following the departure of longtime and highly successful head coach Bronco Mendenhall, but for those outside of the state of Utah unfamiliar with Kalani Sitake, understand that the Cougars are still in good hands. Sitake, a former fullback at BYU, is a hard-nosed coach and will instill toughness and discipline in his team just as Mendenhall was known to do. Under Sitake, you must beat the Cougars, because they will not beat themselves.

Additionally, Sitake was not left with a bare cupboard, something that plagues many first year coaches. Taysom Hill was granted a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA, and if he can stay healthy he can still be one of the most electric athletes in the country. The defense brings back enough starters to maintain its solid numbers from 2015. While it remains to be seen whether Sitake is as savvy as Mendenhall in games where BYU is the underdog, Cougar fans can rest assured that Sitake won’t drive this program in the wrong direction.

Hi, My Name Is… (Players to Watch)

Jamaal Williams, Brigham Young senior running back

Without insight as to who will line up at quarterback for the Cougars, Jamaal Williams must step up as the anchor and leader of BYU’s offense this season. The senior missed the entirety of the 2015 season after withdrawing from school shortly before the season began, but was a big part of BYU’s success offensively in 2013.

If Williams can return to the form that saw him rush for over 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns three seasons ago, the Cougars could have one of the most potent rushing attacks in the country if Taysom Hill ends up being the quarterback.

DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame junior quarterback

It’s not a given that Kizer will be the starting quarterback for the Fighting Irish, but it’s difficult to ignore his results once Malik Zaire was lost for the season in Notre Dame’s second game last year. Kizer played above his head in games against Clemson and Stanford, and by the bowl game against Ohio State he was regarded as one of the most dangerous players on the field.

Kizer needs to cut down on the number of turnovers (10 interceptions in 2015), but he is a big body that is capable of making all the throws and has enough athleticism to make up for the fact that Notre Dame will be replacing some of its offensive line. Notre Dame may take a slight step back in 2016, but expect Kizer to take a step forward and become a star by the end of the season if he gets the opportunity.

Games to Watch

UCLA at Brigham Young

The Cougars have a difficult schedule this season, but this is one of the tough games that they will get at home. This one will be a true test of how good BYU’s pass defense is under new defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaka, because Josh Rosen and the Bruins will go to the air early and often to establish a rhythm early.

UCLA is one of the favorites to win the Pac-12 South Division and potentially be a dark horse Playoff candidate, but BYU’s toughness could play a factor. As talented as the Bruins are, they have had a tendency to play uninspired football and lose games that they are capable of winning. This is definitely a winnable game for UCLA, but as mentioned earlier, BYU will not beat itself. UCLA has done it several times the past few seasons.

Notre Dame at Southern Cal (November 26)

The annual battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh should be a good one with plenty of chances for scoring. Southern Cal will be dealing with a defensive coordinator change and wasn’t very good against the pass last season, while Notre Dame simply doesn’t have the talent to match up with the speed of the Trojan wideouts.

The Fighting Irish will have a starting quarterback at this point in the year, and regardless of who it is they should be able to throw on Southern Cal’s defense. The question will be whether Notre Dame can hang if this game extends into the 40s, which it very well may since there won’t be a stifling defense on either team.


1. Notre Dame (9-3)

2. Brigham Young (7-5)

3. Army (4-8)

4. Massachusetts (1-11)

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