Brian Kelly

CFT predicts: the Independents


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.


Interested in our 11 conference projections? View ‘em all below by clicking the individual links or our projections landing page HERE. And don’t forget to check out CFT’s preseason Top 25.

Big East
Big Ten
Big 12
Conference USA
Mountain West
Sun Belt

Dabo Swinney wins ACC Coach of the Year award

Dabo Swinney
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When you go undefeated, people tend to give you awards.

In the wake of Clemson’s first perfect regular season, its first since 1981, head coach and pizza party patron Dabo Swinney was named the ACC’s top coach on Tuesday.

Swinney received 27 of the 50 available votes, edging North Carolina’s Larry Fedora (21). Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Pittsburgh’s Pat Narduzzi each gobbled up one of the two remaining votes.

Aaron Brenner of the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier notes Swinney is due a $25,000 bonus for winning the award.

Win or lose, Dabo Swinney throwing pizza party for Clemson on Sunday

Dabo Swinney, Jim Brown
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Clemson’s 12-0 regular season will be celebrated Sunday, whether or not the Tigers win Saturday night’s ACC Championship.

“We’re gonna have a pizza party on Sunday. That’s gonna happen,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney pledged Tuesday to the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier, following through on an off-hand comment made a few weeks back. “It’s kind of hard to plan for a pizza party when you don’t know the outcome. We’re not going to know that until midnight — that’s a lot of dough.”

It’s unclear if Swinney’s last statement was meant literally or figuratively or both.

Either way, Clemson said it will provide at least 2,500 Papa John’s pizzas, which will be distributed for free upon admittance to Memorial Stadium. Assuming a Tigers win over North Carolina, gates will open at 11 a.m. in advance of the noon ET College Football Playoff selection show.

But the party will go on regardless of Saturday night’s result.

“Regardless of whether we win or lose the game Saturday night, this team deserves to be celebrated.”

Report: Temple’s Matt Rhule stops talking to Missouri

Matt Rhule

The search for a new coach at Missouri continues, and apparently one candidate has backed away from the pursuit. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports Temple head coach Matt Rhule has turned taken himself out of the mix for the job at Missouri, which likely means Rhule will stay put in South Philly during this coaching carousel cycle.

According to the report, Temple is also in the process of negotiating a new contract for Rhule. Rhule has already signed a contract extension with Temple that runs through 2021. Rhule’s Owls are also preparing to take on Houston in this week’s American Athletic Conference championship game. Rhule does not believe this will serve as a distraction to his team as they prepare for the Cougars.

“I think our team is way too strong to be distracted about anything with me,” Rhule said. “I am honest with our players and tell them everything.”

Ironically, Houston also received some encouraging news this week when head coach Tom Herman said he has an agreement in principle to stay at Houston. Not only is that good news for Houston and Temple, but that is outstanding news for the conference as a whole, although Memphis did lose Justin Fuente to Virginia Tech.

For Temple, this should be encouraging news as a program. The two coaches before Rhule took the job each left to take on power conference opportunities once they came along. Al Golden took an offer to coach Miami (that, uh, didn’t exactly pan out nicely) and Steve Addazio bolted for Boston College. Who knows if Rhule will stick around for the long haul, but it would seem just being able to get him to return in 2016 would be a major step in the right direction for Temple.

Texas Tech fires three defensive assistants

Kliff Kingsbury

Texas Tech may be getting ready for a bowl game, but they will do so without three defensive assistant coaches. Co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Mike Smith, cornerbacks coach Kevin Curtis and outside linebackers coach Trey Haverty have been cut from the coaching staff, head coach Kliff Kingsbury announced today.

“We appreciate all that Mike, Kevin and Trey have done at Texas Tech over the last three seasons,” Kingsbury said in a released statement. “All three are great Red Raiders and we wish them the very best.”

Texas Tech had the Big 12’s ninth-ranked total defense after allowing 540.2 yards per game. That was nearly 100 yards more per game than Iowa State’s eighth-ranked defense. Only Kansas had a worst defense, allowing 560.8 yards per game. Texas Tech’s defense ranked 126th in the nation out of 128 schools. The Red Raiders were torched through the air, allowing 268.3 yards per game through the air, which was ranked 113th in the nation.

Offense appears to be the key to success in the Big 12 and defense has tended to be a hurdle for the Red Raider program. This much appears to be clear though. Kingsbury is making moves with his roster to find a way to improve defensively and become a more well-rounded threat in the Big 12.