By Marc Lawrence…… College Football Independents Preview
With UMass’ departure from the Mid American Conference, roll call among FBS Independent college football teams has inched up to four this year as the Minuteman join the ranks of Independents.
With Navy now firmly entrenched in the American Athletic Conference, and former unattached Independents Idaho and New Mexico State currently basking in the sun (for the time being at least), the look and feel of this autonomous affiliation seems to be changing its appearance more than Bruce Jenner these days.
Each year one or two Independent teams find themselves Independent teams earn bowl bids. And when they do they become attractive plays when taking more than 7 points during the post season.
That’s confirmed by the fact that Independent bowl dogs of 7.5 or more points are 13-5 ATS in these games since 1980, including 12-2 ATS when facing a foe that allows more than 12.5 PPG on the season.
Note: Team write-ups are excerpts from the 2016 PLAYBOOK College and Pro Football Preview Guide magazine, currently on sale at newsstands nationwide. Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.
2016 INDEPENDENT PREVIEW
ARMY Off – *7/3 Def – 9/3 45 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: AN ARMY OF ONE
Since winning 10 games in 1996, the Cadets have been to one bowl game and finished with a winning record just once (2010). The 13 years before then: 35-115. The 5 years since then: 14-46. Those are some mighty lean years, to say the least. A quick glance at the Statistical Review above tells volumes as the Black Knights have seen both their offensive and defensive rushing YPG production dip each year under 3rd year head coach Jeff Monken (a triple option specialist). Hence, it was no surprise the team lost 7 games by one possession (7 points) or less last season – tops in the nation. Sixteen returning starters should help elevate their chances in 2016.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Black Knights are 1-24 SU and 4-20 ATS in their last 25 true road games since 2011.
PLAY ON: vs. Navy (12/10)
BYU Off – *7/3 Def – 8/3 65 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: A MAJOR MISSION
New head coach Kalani Sitake not only has monstrous shoes to fill with the departure of Bronco Mendenhall, but must also take on a schedule from hell, with foes 97-57 SU combined last year (sorry to all the Mormons reading this). It starts with having to face 9 straight bowl teams from last season. A highly anticipated renewal of the Holy War is circled in red by BYU from a bitter 35-28 loss to Utah in the Las Vegas bowl last year, a game in which the Utes led 35-0 in the first quarter. Decorated returning QBs Taysom Hill and Tanner Mangum lead a deeply experienced squad bolstered by 65 returning lettermen, including 5 OL with starting experience. With former Heisman Trophy winning QB Ty Detmer the new OC, the Cougars anxiously await a devilish schedule in 2016.
Stat You Will Like: The Cougars are 8-0 ATS as road dogs versus greater-than .750 opponents.
PLAY ON: at Utah (9/10) – *KEY
NOTRE DAME Off – *5/2 Def – 5/2 43 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: U GOT THE LOOK
Like the final two losses to conclude the season last year, the Irish were hit hard by the NFL draft this year, losing 7 players – all in the first 4 rounds. That was the same as Alabama… and 6 more than were drafted last year. The good news is starting QBs Deshone Kizer and Malik Zaire each return, as do 4 other Irishmen that were projected to be starters last year before season-ending injuries curtailed their participation. Thus, the 5 returning starters showing on both sides of the ball will be deeper than the numbers suggest. Meanwhile, head coach Brian Kelly’s 149 wins since 2001 makes him the 3rd winningest active FBS coach since 2001, trailing only Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer. Our recommendation: Don’t mess with Touchdown Jesus.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Kelly is 21-5-2 ATS as a dog of 12 or fewer points versus sub .900 opponents.
PLAY ON: vs. Stanford (10/15)
UMASS Off – 4/3 Def – 6/2 36 Lettermen
TEAM THEME: SO LONG MAC
According to SB Nation, the Minutemen return less of last year’s production than any team in the country. So it’s a good thing head coach Mark Whipple has made the largest improvement recruiting the last five years combined, as reported by Rivals/247. One of those recruits, SO RB Marquis Young, was one of only 5 backs in the nation last year with at least 150 carries and a 6.0 YPR average. JUCO QB Andrew Ford, former 3-star recruit with Virginia Tech, who is expected to replace Blake Frohnapfel, will join Ford in the backfield. Three senior OL who started every game last season are also back. It all makes this transition out of the MAC an interesting year.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Minutemen are 1-9 SU in one-possession games under Mark Whipple.
Be sure to check back here next week for Marc’s 2016 MAC Football Preview!