BYU joins Notre Dame in the ranks of the Independents this season, at least for the time being. And while none of the four Independents have access to automatic bowl bids, all four played in a bowl last year and will be shooting to do the same this year. Here's a look at the four Independent teams and some 2011 Sportsbook futures odds:
Editors Note: For 2013 conference preview, click here
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Odds to Win BCS Championship at Sportsbook 22/1)
In its second season under Brian Kelly Notre Dame appears ready to return to national championship contention. The Irish went 8-5 last year and beat Miami in a bowl and return 17 starters this season, nine on offense, including four on the o-line, and eight on defense. Notre Dame is ranked 16th and 18th in the two preseason polls. The Irish have a bit of a situation at quarterback, with Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees battling for the starting spot, but those two combined for a 27/15 TD/INT ratio last year, so the position seems to be in good hands.
BYU Cougars (Odds to Win BCS Championship at Sportsbook 200/1)
After almost 90 years of conference affiliation, most recently 12 years in the Mountain West Conference, Brigham Young is now an Independent program. This year the Cougars will be looking to rebound after going 7-6 last year, breaking a streak of four straight double-digit win seasons. BYU returns 15 starters, 10 on offense, including their starting QB, two leading rushers, their top three receivers, and four on the o-line. And after Sportsbook at Mississippi and at Texas the Cougars play only three more road games the rest of the way.
Navy is on a streak of eight straight winning seasons and eight straight bowl appearances, and has won 19 games over the last two years. The Middies only get 10 starters back this year, just three on defense, but that's nothing new for them. The big problem, though, will be replacing QB Ricky Dobbs, who accounted for 69 TDs in his three years at Annapolis.
Army Black Knights
Last year, in its second season under Rich Ellerson, Army made it to a bowl for the first time since 1996. So now the trick is to prove that was no fluke. The Knights return 11 starters this year, six on offense, including QB Trent Steelman and 1,000-yard rusher Jared Hassin, but only five on defense. And the schedule is a bit unkind, with six road games, two neutral field games, and just four true home games.