The ranks of the Division IA Independents has always been headlined by Notre Dame, but last season BYU decided forego aligning itself with a new conference after leaving the Mountain West in an effort to gain more national exposure.
The following is a brief preview of all four football programs that make-up the D-IA (Football Bowl Subdivision) Independents
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have yet to seriously entertain any offers to join a major conference although they have been linked to the Big Ten and have a long standing tradition of playing both Michigan and Michigan State.
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The Irish come into this season with high expectations and have been opened by 5Dimes at +1600 to play in the BCS national title game and at +5000 to actually win it. The reason for such optimism revolves around the return of 15 starters from last season’s squad that went 8-5. Tommy Rees is back at quarterback but will have to sit out the season opener against Navy while serving a team-imposed one-game suspension.
Also returning is running back Cierre Wood, who led the team in rushing last season with 1,102 yards on 217 carries. Notre Dame’s defense returns seven starters and should remain solid as well after finishing 2011 ranked 24th in the nation in points allowed.
While there is no ranking system in place for Independents, the BYU Cougars actually finished with the best record last season at 10-3. They too should be able to pick-up where they left off with nine starters returning on an offense that was ranked in the top 50 in the country in both passing and running the ball.
Riley Nelson returns as the Cougars’ starting quarterback, but they also have Jake Heaps waiting in the wings. The defense returns seven starters from a unit that held its opponents to an average of 20.4 points a game. The line is anchored by nose tackle Romney Fuga and Preston Hadley remains a player to watch in the secondary.
BYU has been opened as a +10000 longshot to make it to the title game and a prohibitive longshot at +50000 to win a national title at 5Dimes.
The Midshipman of Navy finished the 2011 season 5-7 with an all-important 27-21 victory over Army thus making it a successful campaign. Their main claim to fame last season was a bruising running game that averaged 312.3 yards a game, which was fourth most in the country.
Quarterback Keith Procter and running back Alexander Teich are gone, so look to QB Trey Miller and RB Gee Gee Greene to try and fill the void. There are no published odds for Navy’s chances to play in or win a national title this year.
The fourth and final IA independent is the Army Black Nights. Their 3-9 record was made all that much worse by the loss to Navy, but the Black Nights remain confident that they have what it takes to turn things around in 2012.
This team may have had trouble winning games last year but there was little doubt it could run the ball with the No.1-ranked rushing offense in the country. The problem was all this production did not translate to points on the board as Army finished 2011 ranked 76th in scoring.
Running back Raymond Maples returns after leading the team in rushing with 1,078 yards and so does quarterback Trent Steelman, who only threw for 424 yards but added another 645 yards on the ground. There are no published odds for Army’s chances to play in or win a national title this year.