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:
— 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