Last Updated Nov 30, 2022, 9:41 AM

2020 Independents Preview, Picks, Strategies

2020 Independents Preview

Sitake’s Ups And Downs

During its first six years as an independent team, BYU won 52 games, with never fewer than 8 victories in any one season. In 2017, however, the Cougars’ fortunes suffered a major plummet, winning just 4 games behind an offense that ranked No. 118 in the nation – worse than Kansas, Rice and Ball State. It was BYU’s first losing season since 2004, making them a true “mission team” - in more ways than one – in 2018.

The Mormons rebounded, as expected, in its mission season in 2018 and then again last year when they posted a pair of 7-6 records.

So which direction is their compass pointed in 2020?

Stay tuned.

Status Quo

The ranks of football independents have increased and decreased with each passing season since 2011 when BYU left the Mountain West Conference.

It increased by two teams in 2013 when the Western Athletic Conference dropped football, paving the way for the inclusion of New Mexico and Idaho. Then in 2014, it lost two teams when Idaho and New Mexico State became football only members of the Sun Belt Conference. In 2015 Navy bolted for the American Athletic Conference as a football-only entrant. 2016 saw the addition of UMass, with New Mexico State returning in 2017. Liberty joined the Independents in 2018 as the revolving door continued to swing like a turnstile. 2019 marked the first time in seven years that the same 6 teams returned in tact form the previous season. It didn’t last long, though, as UConn has opted out of action for the 2020 season due to the pandemic.



  • 2020 Recruit Rank: 111
  • Ret Starters: Offense - 6 / Defense - 6
  • RPR - Total: 102 (74 Offense / 118 Defense)

After winning 29 games and three bowl games the previous three seasons, the Black Knights fell on hard times last season as their offense and defense each declined, falling from 11 wins in 2018 to 5 in 2019. As a result, Army officially becomes a “Mission Team” in 2020, and simply put there is no better example of such than military teams.

FYI: “Mission Teams” are those that had a three-year or longer bowl streak snapped by a losing effort the previous season. In fact, since 1980 there were only six different military teams that failed to go bowling after having been a bowler each of the previous three seasons. Keep that in mind when following the Cadets in 2020.


Military “Mission Teams” have gone 51-25 combined the following season, including 28-7 versus .400 or fewer opponents.



  • 2020 Recruit Rank: 78
  • Ret Starters: Offense - *8 / Defense - 7
  • RPR - Total: 43 (26 Offense / 72 Defense)

Kalani Sitake’s fifth season at the helm of the BYU football program will be unlike any of his previous four. It includes six matchups against Power-5 opponents plus Boise State, San Diego State and in-state rival Utah State; and a home tilt with top American Athletic Conference foe Houston – or in a word, brutal. Meanwhile, a three-horse race will be in place for the starting quarterback role.

Zach Wilson leads the QB derby, with Baylor Romney and Jaren Hall applying added pressure. Note: Last season the Cougars scored 24 or more points in eight games, going 7-1 in those contests, which improved BYU’s record to 24-5 SU and 19-8 ATS in games under Sitake when they tally 24 points.


One third of BYU football games in 2020 will be on weeknights. They are 0-5 ATS home in weekday games under Sitake.



  • 2020 Recruit Rank: 95
  • Ret Starters: Offense - 5 / Defense - 5
  • RPR - Total: 105 (110 Offense / 81 Defense)

The Flames were anxious to get back on the field following their fifth spring practice on March 13 when a full-fledged pandemic came calling. Anxious would be an understatement, coming off their first ever college bowl game (and win) last season in head coach Hugh Freeze’s first season with Liberty. With it, Freeze improved his FBS career record to 57-32 SU and 50-30-1 ATS.

A favorable schedule finds the Flames tackling 8 foes that owned losing records in their nine overall games. It won’t be a walk in the park, though, given a Returning Production unit that ranks No. 105 in the nation. But the big question is how will this team react to the Jerry Falwell Jr. sex-scandal?


Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze is 18-2 SU and 14-3 ATS versus sub .333 opponents.



  • 2020 Recruit Rank: 17
  • Ret Starters: Offense - *7 / Defense - 5
  • RPR - Total: 83 (64 Offense / 102 Defense)

Go ahead. You can pencil QB Ian Book on the Heisman Trophy watch list for 2020. With 33 wins over the past three seasons, the always-popular Dame will look to run up a heavy dose of style points for its emerging, popular quarterback.

However, before anointing Book, the Irish will first need to overcome a few ugly hurdles that they have been unable to clear, including not winning a national championship since 1988, nor a major bowl game since the conclusion of the 1993 season.

To better prepare, Notre Dame refreshed its staff of assistants after the 2016 season and has reclaimed a place in the title conversation. But talk is cheap, unless Book can carry the Irish to the Promised Land.


Over the last two seasons, the Irish are 20-0 SU and 12-7-1 ATS in games in which they’ve outgained their opponent.

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