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CFT predicts: Independents

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As we look ahead to the 2011 college football season, we take with us the lessons we learned from seasons past. We calculate, scrutinize, dissect and digest schedules, returning starters, coaching changes, injuries, and yes, even hunches, and spew it back in the form of how we think each of the 11 Division 1 FBS conferences — and the independents — will pan out by year’s end.

Of course, these are merely our opinions. Feel free, as we know you will, to disagree. We know that’s why you really come here anyway.

Here are our predictions for the Division 1-A (FBS) independents in order of how we think they’ll do based on regular-season records:

Ben’s take
— Notre Dame returns some great offensive firepower in Brian Kelly‘s second year as head coach, including recently reinstated wide receiver Michael Floyd. Who will be tossing the ball to Floyd, though, is still being battled over between quarterbacks Tommy Rees and Dayne Crist. If the Irish can weather a relatively tough schedule, they might find their way back to the BCS after a three-year absence. (For more on the Fighting Irish, check out Notre Dame Central)

— These are uncharted waters for BYU, who will now be exploring life outside a conference. The Cougars had to experience some growing pains last season with true freshman quarterback Jake Heaps, but Bronco Mendenhall’s squad finished strong, winning five of their last seven regular-season games. Look for the Cougars to get back to 10 wins this year.

— Navy has been the model of consistency lately, but with the departure of quarterback Ricky Dobbs, and road games at South Carolina, Notre Dame and SMU, Ken Niumatalolo‘s squad could be fighting to be bowl eligible by the end of the season.

— Army football has been terrible for years, but things seem to finally, slowly, be turning around under Rich Ellerson. The Black Knights got back to the postseason with a victory over SMU in the Armed Forces Bowl, and the schedule is manageable enough this season that Ellerson could get his team to (gasp!) a second bowl game in consecutive years.

John Taylor’s take
Anything you’d ever want to know about what I think about Notre Dame’s chances in 2011 can be viewed by clicking HERE.  Here’s a hint, though: I ain’t swallowing the green preseason Kool-Aid just yet.

— BYU’s biggest change as an independent will be the schedule.  Instead of annual conference matchups against such Mountain West stalwarts as Utah and Air Force, the Cougars will face the likes of Ole Miss (in Oxford), Texas (in Austin) and home games against UCF and what will now be a non-conference game against the Utes.  A trip to play TCU in Dallas is also in order. Outside of the SEC and their annual evisceration of their own, that might be one of the toughest schedules in the country.  On the plus side, BYU returns 16 starters from a year ago, including all but one on the offensive side of the ball.  Such experience, especially at the quarterback position if Jake Heaps can be who the Cougars think he is, will go a long way toward a successful running of that semi-hellacious scheduling gauntlet.

— Here’s one thing I can predict with relative certainty when it comes to Navy in 2011: they will run the football and run it very well.  How do I know this?  In each of the past nine seasons, the Midshipmen have finished sixth or better in the country in rushing offense, including 2003 and 2005-2008 when they led the nation.  While they return a plethora of talent on that side of the ball once again, they also face a schedule that includes eight games against teams that played in bowl games after last season.  Among those?  Road trips to South Carolina and SMU, as well as their trip to South Bend against rival Notre Dame, their annual military academy date with Air Force at home, and, of course, the season-ending game against Army that’s one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports.  I will say this when it comes to Navy: count your lucky stars that Maryland screwed the pooch and didn’t hire Niumatalolo this offseason when it had the chance.

— Army’s season in a nutshell?  Beat Navy for the first time since 2001.  That’s your objective, young officers.  And, while we’re here, God bless every single man in uniform for what they do for this country every single day.  Screw football; that’s the real deal.


More predictions: ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, C-USA, MAC, MWC, Pac-12, SEC, WAC

CFT’s preseason Top 25

Greg Ward Jr., to Heisman voters: ‘Psssttt, I’m still here, don’t forget’

Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (1) runs past Connecticut defensive lineman Folorunso Fatukasi, left, en route to a 30-yard touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
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Deservedly so, most of the Heisman focus these first four-plus weeks of the 2016 season has been squarely on Lamar Jackson and the stunningly phenomenal season the Louisville quarterback is putting together. There are others, though, who merit mention.

Case in point? Greg Ward Jr.

In No. 6 Houston’s Thursday night 42-14 romp over UConn, the quarterback completed just over 84 percent of his passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for 65 yards and two scores for good measure. The win was the Cougars’ eighth in a row, with the last loss coming Nov. 21 of last year to… these very same Huskies.

On at least one occasion in avenging the loss, though, Ward Jr.’s sterling completion percentage got a little help from one of his receiving friends.

The latest virtuoso performance, which included his third 300-yard passing game of the season, pushed Ward Jr. to 1,503 yards of offense (1,325 passing, 178 rushing) and 13 total touchdowns (eight passing, five rushing) in four games while also battling a lingering shoulder issue. For comparison’s sake, and you know we’re not alone in doing so, Jackson will enter Week 5 with a statistical ledger that’s straight from a teenager’s video game: 1,856 yards of total offense and a ridiculous 25 total touchdowns in his four games.

While it’s still quite a ways down the road, Ward’s Cougars and Jackson’s Cardinals will square off in what’s shaping up to be a monumental mid-November Thursday night game that could go a long way in determining not only the Heisman race, but helping to shape the playoff picture as well.  In between, voters, don’t forget about the kid from Houston.

Report: Wisconsin linebacker Vince Biegel undergoes surgery, out as long as a month

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 30:  Sojourn Shelton #8 of the Wisconsin Badgers, Vince Biegel #47 of the Wisconsin Badgers, T.J. Edwards #53 of the Wisconsin Badgers react to a interception during the second half of a game against the USC Trojans in the National University Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium on December 30, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Just in time for their toughest stretch of the season, No. 8 Wisconsin may be without one of the team’s most important defensive players.

Badgers linebacker Vince Biegel is set to miss the next several weeks after undergoing surgery to insert a screw in his cracked foot.

“He’s been playing on it for the last couple weeks, and it was bothering him a little bit,” Biegel’s father Rocky told ESPN. “He had X-rays last night and confirmed it was cracked. He either plays on it, and then if he breaks it, then he’s going to be out for eight weeks. Either way, he’s got to have surgery on it. So he can keep playing until it breaks or try to go through the season with it and try to fix it. At any time, he could break it all the way through. It was just a crack and they’re just putting a screw in it. It’s a very, very minor crack.”

No matter how minor it is, losing Biegel for as long as a month is a huge blow to a defense that has been among the best in the country this season. Wisconsin does have a bye week after traveling to No. 4 Michigan on Saturday but also have to play No. 2 Ohio State and division rivals Iowa and Nebraska to close out October.

Biegel has nine tackles on the year and a sack but is among the most experienced players on the team having played in 46 games at Wisconsin, including 32 starts. Redshirt freshman Zack Baun is expected to take his place.

If there is one bright spot for head coach Paul Chryst and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox however, it’s that the Badgers’ linebacking corp is one of the best in the country. Still, as good as Jack Cichy, T.J. Edwards and T.J. Watt have been this year, they’ll have to step up their games with an imposing schedule coming up.

Houston missing four starters for AAC matchup against UConn

SAN MARCOS, TX - SEPTEMBER 24: Duke Catalon #2 of the Houston Cougars runs against Brandon McDowell #6 of the Texas State Bobcats at Bobcat Stadium on September 24, 2016 in San Marcos, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
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Houston is looking to avenge their only loss of the 2015 season on Thursday night against Connecticut but the Cougars will have to do so a little short-handed.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the team is down a whopping four starters and a key backup against the Huskies: starting linebackers Tyus Bowser (head injury) and Matthew Adams (coaches’ decision), running back Duke Catalon (head injury), cornerback Brandon Wilson (lower leg) plus backup tight end Alex Leslie (ankle injury).

Catalon has already missed a game this season and is arguably the biggest loss for the team as that will force them to rely on quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (who missed last year’s game) even more against UConn. The transfer from Texas is averaging 4.7 yards a carry on the year and had a big game against Oklahoma in the opener.

Coach Tom Herman and the sixth-ranked Cougars still should be able handle their business at home against a conference foe but the mounting injuries this early in the season are starting to get a little concerning if you’re a Houston fan.

Alabama quarterback Blake Barnett officially withdraws from school

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 05:  Blake Barnett #6 of the Alabama Crimson Tide throws before the Advocare Classic against the Wisconsin Badgers at AT&T Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Despite the wishes of Alabama head coach Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide depth chart officially became a little thinner on Thursday.

After nearly a day of speculation, Alabama announced that quarterback Blake Barnett is no longer a part of the Crimson Tide football team.

“We received word this afternoon that Blake Barnett has officially withdrawn from school and is no longer with our program,” Saban said in a statement. “The quarterback position is a very unique position where only one player can play. We are very disappointed any time a player leaves the program who feels he can compete for a starting position elsewhere, rather than here at Alabama. We wish Blake the very best of luck in the future.”

Barnett started the opener against USC and has thrown for 219 yards and two touchdowns on the year. However the redshirt freshman lost the starting job to true freshman Jalen Hurts and has only played sparingly in the first month of the season.

Saban recently said he wanted Barnett to remain with the program but it seems pretty obvious that playing time would be limited as the team’s backup signal-caller and a transfer would be forthcoming. Now it appears the only question is where to for the former five-star recruit, who is a Southern California native and was recruited by nearly everybody coming out of high school.