2017 Independents Preview
July 9, 2017
By Marc Lawrence
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2017 INDEPENDENTS PREVIEW
Roll call among FBS Independent college football teams has quietly inched up to four teams currently competing among the ranks of Independents.
While the look and feel of this autonomous affiliation might appear small in size, its impact is substantial on the outcome in the chase the College Football Playoffs. Just ask the foes that will be taking on a super focused group of Fighting Irish, or the chancy Cougars from BYU this campaign.
Pushing The Needle
According to our well-oiled machine, since 2000 Independent teams that score 16 or fewer points in a contest are just 15-152 SU and 33-130-4 ATS in lined games – including 5-28 ATS as favorites.
On the flip side, they are 205-52 SU and 172-81-4 ATS in games in which they put more than 28 points in the scoreboard – including 68-21-2 ATS as dogs of 8 or more points.
Big Ugly Bowl Dogs
Each year one or two Independent teams find themselves earning 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 13-6 ATS in these games since 1980, including 12-3 ATS when facing a foe that allows more than 12.5 PPG on the season.
Note: The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.
ARMY (Offense – *8/4, Defense – 8/2, 66 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: TODAY’S ARMY
Something was in the air last year when the Cadets opened the season with three consecutive wins, including a pair on the road. This from a program that was a deplorable 1-24 SU and 4-20 ATS in its previous 25 true road games. The cherry on the cake came when Army ended a 14-year losing drought to Navy, and then went on to win its first bowl game since 2010 (the Cadets' last winning season). While QB Ahmad Bradshaw returns to run the offense, and 11 of the top 14 tacklers return to a unit that ranked No. 2 in first downs defense last season, our concern is that anything less than another bowl will considered a setback. Then again, only once in its history has Amy defeated Navy and won a bowl game the same year. They went 9-3 the following season. Unfortunately, our ‘Stat You Will Like’ below says otherwise...
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: In the three seasons following a victory over Navy, the Black Knights have gone 1-11, 3-8, and 4-7 the next year.
PLAY ON: vs. Buffalo (9/9) - *KEY
BYU (Offense – 6/4, Defense – 6/3, 59 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED
One of only 10 programs to earn a bowl invitation every season since 2005, the Cougars will face 13 foes in 2017, but only four that owned a winning record last season. Three of them, though, finished in the nation’s Top 25. Gone this year are two of the most dynamic offensive players in school history – all-time leading rusher Jamaal Williams and dual-threat QB Taysom Hill, both of whom accounted for over 6,700 career rushing yards. The good news is JR QB Tanner Mangum will step back into his familiar starting role (13 starts last two years). Meanwhile, rookie head coach Kalani Sitake won nine games, including a bowl, last season. He fits like a glove.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cougars were the 2nd best team in turnovers gained (31), and the #3 team in red zone offense in 2016.
PLAY AGAINST: at Mississippi State (10/14)
NOTRE DAME (Offense – 8/4, Defense – 7/2, 39 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: WHAT THE HELL’S GOING ON HERE?
Rest assured, losing seven players to the 2016 NFL Draft – all in the first 4 rounds – took a toll on the Irish last season. Seven of eight losses came by just 8 points or less, and as improbable as it seems, the Fighting Irish are now a sister-kissing 15-15 SU in their last 30 games thanks to their 2nd worst season in 50 years in 2016. It was only the second time since 1963 the Irish finished with fewer than five victories. Brian Kelly even suffered his first loss with a Top 10 team against a non-ranked foe last season (Texas in the season opener). And it doesn’t get any easier as Kelly’s troops will face a murderer’s row schedule, taking on 11 bowl teams from 2016. All of which means Touchdown Jesus will likely need to bless new starting QB Brandon Wimbush… pronto.
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The last six times the Irish failed to deliver a winning season, they went bowling the next year all six times.
PLAY ON: vs. Navy (11/18)
UMASS (Offense – *8/3, Defense – 9/2, 51 Lettermen)
TEAM THEME: HOW LOW CAN YOU GO?
After being tossed about in the turbulent FCS, then discovering significantly calmer FBS waters in 2012 as a member of the Mid-American Conference, the Minutemen were feeling giddy. A 10-40 record and two head coaches later, UMass is suddenly swimming in murky waters, terribly close to being an extinct FBS program. Along the way they managed to lose to Miami Ohio, a team that was on a 21-game losing streak. Gone are three senior offensive linemen, but that may be a good thing considering they allowed 45 sacks and were one of only five FBS teams that rushed for less than 100 YPG last season. Like Chubby Checker wanted to know… how low can you go?
STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Minutemen are 1-12 SU in one-possession games under head coach Mark Whipple.
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