The Independent group of college football has the biggest population that it has had in a while. Seven teams will come into the college football season with no conference affiliation. The teams are Army, BYU, Idaho, Old Dominion, Navy, New Mexico State, and Notre Dame. Of course the average college football fan would pick Notre Dame, because they made an appearance in the national championship game last year but lets not forget the Irish were irrelevant since 1993 before this past season. Lets take a peak at each Independent team for the 2013 season.
The Army Black Knights had a disappointing 2012 season going 2-10, losing to in-state little brother Stony-Brook, and losing to rival Navy for the 11th time in a row! For the 2013 season seven Black Knights were named to the Phil Steele Pre-season Independent team. Raymond Maples the senior running back for the Knights is probably the brightest spot. He is one of the few Knights in their storied history to have multiple seasons with over 1,000 yards rushing. While on the defensive ball the Knights return safety Brandon Fulsilier-Jeffires who made a Freshman All-American team last year. It seemed as if in 2012 the Knights only brought their A+ game to academy rivals Air Force and Navy (which were pretty good teams). Of course these young men have a lot more important things to do besides football, but if they played every game like it was against Navy this team could compete with any mid tier program.
The BYU Cougars were leading the Notre Dame fighting Irish 14-10 heading into the final quarter last year, but could not seal the deal losing 17-14. There were some bright spots last year such as winning the Poinsettia Bowl over rivals San Diego State. Bronco Mendenhall (AWESOME NAME), one of the most consistent coaches in the country looks to take his team to the next step in 2013. Games against the likes of Texas, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Boise State, and Utah will not make that next step easy. The Cougars are personally my pick to be the best Independent team in 2013 and will make a strong push for a BCS bowl.
The Idaho Vandals are at the bottom of he barrel when you talk about ranking the Independents. The Vandals will not have a long stay as an Independent since after this year they will move to the Sun Belt Conference. The schedule will be a tough one with games against Florida State, Northern Illinois, and Arkansas State who were all conference champions last year. The two goals for the Vandals this year is to make it to their third bowl ever and to BEAT WASHINGTON STATE. The Vandals are only 18-70-3 against their rivals eight miles west.
The off-season has hit a hurdle for the Midshipmen as three of their players disgracefully committed a crime of rape (our prayers are with the victim). Focusing on the ones in the program in good standing the Midshipmen once again should win the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy which is between Army, Navy, and Air Force. The key is once again to keep the ball on the ground, which the Naval academy had the sixth best rushing offense in 2012 and control the clock.
Along with their buddies Idaho, NMSU will not being staying Independent long but going to the Sun Belt as well in 2014. The Aggies who haven’t been to a bowl game since 1960, and have not fielded a winning team since 2002, do not look to have much expectations for 2013. Big named coach Bob Davie at rival New Mexico to compete with for recruits does not help. The Aggies HAVE to win as there are supporters who are tired of funding a losing team. Earlier this month new president Garrey Carruthers floated around the idea of moving the program down to the Big Sky. So its win or drop down for the Aggies.
It is to be said that the Fighting Irish were one year ahead of expectations last year. No one and I meant no one expected the Irish to finish the regular season undefeated and make the national championship game. The front seven for the Irish will be scary again this year as Louis Nix, and Stephon Tuitt return. Tommy Ree’s was named the starting quarterback and believe it or not he has a pretty good record as a starter at 14-4 and won games last year coming in as relief, including last years BYU game. The Irish are going to be pretty good again this year, just not as good, including not squeezing by the BYU Cougars again this year.
The Old Dominion Monarchs are in a transitional year from FCS to FBS football, in which they are classified as a FCS Independent but will play by FBS Rules. The Virginia region is pretty excited for what could be a historic season. The Massey system Rankings predict the Monarchs to go 8-4 in 2013 which sounds reasonable. The games to mark are games against the Big Boys like Pitt, ECU, Maryland, UNC, and Idaho.