Yeah, there’s no official standings for the Division 1 Independents, but what kind of site would we be if we left out the likes of Notre Dame?
Wait, don’t answer that.
The Independents were mostly disappointing in 2011, with BYU being the only one to reach a 10-win record. Looking ahead to the 2012 season, here’s how the Independents should rank in terms of best record:
(Let it be known that I reserve the right to change my mind at any time without notice.)
1. BYU (last season: 10-3; won Armed Forces Bowl)
The Cougars got off to a slow start last year, losing two of their first three games and looking generally bad for the month of September. Then, BYU won six out of their last seven regular season games, losing only to TCU, before an Armed Forces Bowl win over Tulsa. Now that former five-star prospect Jake Heaps is gone, Riley Nelson is the unquestioned starter at quarterback. And, unlike Notre Dame (see below), the Cougars have a generally soft schedule in 2012. Combine that with plenty of returning starters and BYU could be looking at another 10-win season.
2. Notre Dame (last season 8-5; lost Champs Sports Bowl)
If Notre Dame’s schedule wasn’t as difficult as it is with games at Michigan State, at Oklahoma, at USC, and home against Michigan, Stanford and BYU, I’d say the Irish have a good chance of being the best Independent this season. Quarterback Tommy Rees and linebacker Carlo Calabrese will miss the season-opener against Navy in Ireland because of off-the-field issues, and as far as anyone’s really concerned, Rees doesn’t have his job locked down at all. In fact, Brian Kelly‘s been raving about Everett Golson this offseason. Kelly has been successful everywhere he’s been, but it’s been frustrating for him in South Bend.
3. Navy (last season: 5-7)
Navy has been the model of consistency under Ken Niumatalolo. Last year’s 5-7 record initially felt like an exception, but the recipe is there for another tough season. Unforeseen offseason player turnover and only 13 returning starters makes Navy’s 2012 campaign much like 2011.
4. Army (last season: 3-9)
A bowl appearance following the 2010 season was the high point for Army football in recent years, but it was back to a losing record in 2011. At least veteran quarterback Trent Steelman is back and the middle of the schedule is soft enough that the Black Knights could get back to six wins and bowl eligibility.