The 2019 Independent Preview with the Game of the Year, Players of the Year, top pro prospects, big-time players who deserve a bigger spotlight, and more.
With no conference championships to play for – duh, obviously – can the independent teams at least be unpredictably fun?
The calls appear to be too easy going into the 2019 season.
BYU will be a whole lot better, but it’s a long shot to come within 20 miles of the College Football Playoff. It’s locked into the Hawaii Bowl, which is a lovely reward – it beats a whole lot of other bowl destinations – but unless there’s a miraculous run to the CFP coming up, the destiny is already determined.
Can the Cougars be unpredictable enough to shock Tennessee on the road and/or USC and Washington at home? They managed to pull off wins over Wisconsin and Arizona last year.
Army should keep the fun going after a few amazing seasons under Jeff Monken, and it’ll find its way into some post-season game. Can the Knights possibly run all over Michigan on the road and run the table from there? The second-toughest game on the slate? Either Tulane, or at Hawaii.
UMass and New Mexico State will fight and claw for a few wins, and Liberty should be in for a fun year under new head man Hugh Freeze, but going bowling is too much to ask for – there simply might not be a spot for any of them if they were able to get bowl eligible. However, NMSU shocked college football by going bowling two years ago.
Notre Dame was the ultimate surprise from the independent teams with its trip to the College Football Playoff. Now the program knows what’s possible, and it’ll have a few massive games – especially on the road – to once again prove all of the doubters wrong.
There are six very, very different programs and styles among the independents. But they all have one thing in common – they can all give those teams in conferences a slew of problems, and this year, a few stunners should come from …
Independent Team That Will Surprise
It’s sort of hard to say a team will surprise when it will likely come up with a season roughly as good as the previous one, so let’s put it a different way – Liberty could royally screw someone up.
Hugh Freeze inherits a veteran team with a whole lot of upside coming off a nice 6-6 debut. This time around there probably won’t be any gaffes against New Mexico State – the Flames and Aggies play twice – after splitting last year’s meetings, and the FCS layups against Hampton and Maine won’t be a problem. But the team that shocked Troy last year could pull off a win over Buffalo, and it might just be strong enough to provide a big push against a New Mexico or Louisiana.
– Liberty Team Preview
Independent Team That Will Disappoint
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
It’s all relative. This will still be a very, very good team, but now that the program has seen the top of the mountain by getting into the College Football Playoff, that’s it. That’s the achievable goal. There’s one major problem, though – the schedule is about to get a whole lot nastier.
The Irish were able to beat Michigan, Northwestern and Syracuse, but they also got a very, very down USC squad. Virginia Tech wasn’t all that great, Florida State was a mess, and Stanford was a home game.
This time around, road games at Georgia, Michigan and Stanford should be enough to keep Notre Dame out of the CFP, but 10-2ish and a good bowl won’t be awful. It just won’t be the College Football Playoff.
– Notre Dame Team Preview