2023 NCAAF: Independents Preview

August 25, 2023


As the days of conference realignment roll on, those left in the coalition of Independents continue to fight on in the premier subdivision of college football.

Gone is BYU, which after 12 seasons as an Independent accepted an invitation to join the Big 12 and its current collection of schools, which now geographically spans three fourths of the country. The question seemingly on everyone’s mind: who’s next?

The University of Connecticut is no stranger to a conference affiliation in football, though its proximity to major television markets (once a sell for programs without historical prominence in the sport to lean on) is more or less countered by the fact that the rest of its athletic teams already compete in a conference. The same can be said for Massachusetts and Army.

Which leaves Notre Dame, which is buoyed by its own unique television deal that was more lucrative than the entire Pac-12 Conference was able to put together under the leadership of former commissioner Larry Scott. Already loosely associated with the ACC, it doesn’t seem likely that Notre Dame will be pressured by the possibility of national ‘super-conferences’ taking over the game in lockstep with the expansion of the College Football Playoff. As long as Notre Dame wins, it will have a seat at the table. And Around The Corn will continue to have a preview dedicated to just a handful of programs.

Which leads us to the meat of this preview…

Teams I Like

Notre Dame

Year One of Marcus Freeman’s campaign as head coach of Notre Dame was seemingly proof that the 36-year-old has the chops to handle the pressure that comes with the role in South Bend. While the casual fans were away, Freeman went to work in the offseason and pulled one of the best quarterbacks in the country, Sam Hartman, from the portal to lead the Fighting Irish this season. Sure, Alabama is typically a greener pasture for coaches, but former offensive coordinator Tommy Rees may be regretting the decision to leave come later this fall.

A very difficult schedule is in store for the Fighting Irish, with games on the road against ACC foes North Carolina State, Duke and Clemson, and home tests against Ohio State and Southern Cal. With Hartman leading the offense, Notre Dame has at least a shot of winning them all if a few pieces on defense emerge throughout the season.


The Huskies surprised nearly everyone in 2022 by qualifying for the postseason in Jim Mora’s first year as head coach, but college football critics are a difficult bunch to impress, because it feels like UConn is undervalued yet again heading into this season.

Not much has changed for the Huskies, except for an arguably more manageable schedule compared to the one that they took six wins from the previous season. The defense is experienced and was the bright spot from last year, and even a slight improvement in the passing game would be welcomed by an offensive group that ranked near the bottom nationally in that category. Going bowling seems like a plausible end to this campaign, despite the naysayers.

Not High On


Rest in peace: the triple option offense at West Point. First year offensive coordinator Drew Thatcher is taking a big risk, implementing a shotgun attack at a program that has historically preferred to stay on the ground as much as the military branch that it represents.

Even if Army does have the athletes capable of operating a more modern scheme, it is going to take time to implement. By time, think ‘season long adjustment’. Maybe Thatcher’s leap of faith will pay off, but it will likely result in a step backward first. After all, this was a .500 team in 2022.

Players to Watch

Sam Hartman, Notre Dame quarterback

Despite being overlooked by some because of his time spent playing at Wake Forest, Hartman truly is one of the best quarterbacks in the game currently and may go down as one of the best ever according to the record books. Entering his sixth year of eligibility, Hartman already ranks No. 18 in career passing touchdowns; 30 more this season would put him third all-time.

At times last season, Notre Dame could have really used Hartman’s combination of leadership and poise in the pocket. Hartman’s general threat as a passer should also help the Fighting Irish rushing attack as well. Don’t be surprised if Hartman’s name is thrown around in the Heisman conversation, especially if Notre Dame knocks off a couple of the stronger foes on the schedule.

Jalen Mitchell, Connecticut running back

Mitchell transferred into Storrs from Louisville, and his healthy presence brings yet another option to what should be a two-headed monster carrying the ball for Connecticut along with Victor Rosa. Although his season was cut short early in 2022, he rushed for over 1,000 yards the previous two seasons for the Cardinals, including a high of 722 yards in 2021.

The Connecticut backfield will almost certainly be by committee, but not because of lack of ability. Mitchell could be the feature back on any number of teams across the country – the Huskies simply get to take advantage of his services in their run heavy attack.

Games to Watch

Ohio State at Notre Dame (September 23, 7:30 PM ET)

Fans shouldn’t have to be so lucky to get a better game than what Round 1 brought in 2022 – both teams will have had a few tune ups and the offenses should be humming by the time they kick off in South Bend. Get the popcorn ready.

Southern Cal at Notre Dame (October 14, 7:30 PM ET)

If the Fighting Irish can get past the Buckeyes about a month prior, there is a decent probability that this game features two unbeatens in prime time. That’s exactly the type of scenario that would see Sam Hartman’s name thrown into the hat along with Caleb Williams’s when talking Heisman Trophy.

Notre Dame at Clemson (November 4, TBA time)

The loss to Notre Dame last year started a slow but definite slide that saw the Tigers limp to a 3-3 finish on the season. Death Valley will be rocking at whatever time this one is played (likely prime time) and revenge will be on the mind of the Clemson players that remember the pain of 2022.

Army vs. Air Force [game in Denver, CO] (November 4, 2:30 PM ET)

Leg two of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy will be played at Mile High, where the Black Knights will try to outgun an Air Force team that has elected to stay grounded and should boast one of the nation’s top rushing attacks.


  1. Notre Dame (10-2)
  2. Connecticut (7-5)
  3. Army (4-8)
  4. Massachusetts (2-10)

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

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