Philadelphia, PA – Only two of the four independents went bowling last year as both Army and Navy finished below .500 during the same season for the first time since 2002. BYU and Notre Dame held their end of the bargain with appearances in the Armed Forces and Champs Sports Bowls, respectively.
Can Army and Navy catch up to BYU and Notre Dame so all four teams can make the postseason?
It's time now to take a team-by-team look at the independents with predicted straight-up records for those wagering on over/unders for total victories:
4) NAVY - The Midshipmen are 21-7 as road underdogs the last nine years.
Offense - Navy finished fourth nationally in rushing last year, but that was with a veteran offensive line. This year's unit is less experienced. Furthermore, the Midshipmen lose their leading rusher among running backs as well as their starting quarterback. The new signal-caller, Trey Miller, has a very good arm, so look for Navy to throw the ball more so than in the past.
Defense - The Midshipmen bring back just seven of their top 16 tacklers for a second straight season. The defense allowed 29 ppg last year - its second- highest total since 2003. Expect the opposition to run on Navy just as it did a season ago when the Midshipmen gave up close to five yards per carry.
Prediction - Navy is an even 17-17 ATS in its last 34 games. Nonetheless, the Midshipmen failed to cover six of their last nine. A much-easier schedule will get them back into a bowl game, but that doesn't mean they will improve on their ATS record (7-5).
3) NOTRE DAME - The Fighting Irish are 2-5 as road favorites the last three years.
Offense - The offense will have a much different look this season. Not only is Michael Floyd (100 catches) gone from South Bend, but the Fighting Irish have a new season-opening quarterback in Everett Golson (Tommy Rees, last year's starter, is suspended for Saturday's season-opening game). Don't expect the offense to be as proficient as it was a season ago, especially if running back Cierre Wood's suspension lasts more than one game.
Defense - The Irish gave up 5.1 yards per play each of the last two seasons. That number will rise with an inexperienced secondary. In fact, the defense returns just one of its top five tacklers and loses its sacks leader in Aaron Lynch.
Prediction - This year's squad is not as strong as last season's team, so bet under 8.5 wins at -175 (7-5).
2) ARMY - The Black Knights are 1-10 as road favorites the last 15 years.
Offense - Army averaged 397 yards per game last season - its highest total since 1996 when the Black Knights went 10-2 season. Unfortunately, Army won just three games last year. Ironically, the team averaged two more points per game in 2010 when the offense picked up 330 yards per game. This year's group is the most talented and experienced offense West Point has seen in years, so look for improved numbers across the board.
Defense - Army's defense has steadily declined over the last couple of seasons, going from 22 ppg in 2009 to 24 ppg in 2010 and 28 ppg in 2011. For as good as the rushing attack has been, the run defense has been the polar opposite. The Black Knights finished 100th nationally against the run last year, allowing 195 yards per game on 4.9 yards per carry. Improvement is expected with a much more experienced defense, one that returns 13 of the top 16 tacklers.
Prediction - Army will have the biggest turnaround of any team in the country. Bet the Black Knights at -150 to win more than 5.5 games (9-3).
1) BYU - The Cougars are 12-3 ATS in their last 15 games off a SU victory.
Offense - The Cougars have averaged 30 ppg or higher six of the last seven seasons, including last year when they hit for 30.1 ppg. Look for them to slip a bit due to the more demanding schedule that has them at Utah, Boise State, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech.
Defense - BYU has had one of the most underrated defenses in the country the last few years. Take away the 54 points allowed against Utah and the unit allowed an average of 17.6 ppg in 2011, and that was with the loss of seven of the top 10 tacklers. This defense brings back last year's top five tacklers.
Prediction - This is the most talented BYU squad in years, and despite the difficult schedule, a 10-win regular season is in the cards (10-2).
Georgia (16-1 odds to win the title) and Oregon (12-1) will meet in the BCS Championship Game with the Bulldogs coming through with the victory. Aaron Murray will win the Heisman Trophy at 15-1. The upset special to win it all is Utah at 400-1 (all odds courtesy of 5Dimes).
The three teams with the biggest turnarounds will be Army (3-9 to 9-3), UCF (5-7 to 10-2) and South Florida (5-7 to 10-2). The three teams going in the opposite direction will be Temple (8-4 to 3-8), Penn State (9-3 to 5-7) and Kansas State (10-2 to 6-6).
FIVE REGULAR-SEASON GAMES TO KEEP IN MIND
Kentucky hosts Kent State in Week 2 just six days after playing in-state rival Louisville. The Golden Flashes begin their season on Thursday against Towson, so many of their players will be well rested for the battle with the Wildcats. Kentucky should be favored by at least 10 points, so go with Kent State.
Week 2 also features Purdue at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish have to travel back to home from Ireland after their contest with Navy, while the Boilermakers have an easy home opener versus Eastern Kentucky. Notre Dame is 15-28-2 ATS in its last 45 games as a home favorite and the Irish will be favored by more than they should be. Take Purdue plus the points.
South Florida hosts Rutgers on a Thursday night in Week 3. Five days earlier, the Bulls are in Nevada taking on the Wolf Pack. Not only will it be extremely difficult to bounce back on a short week, but the task will be even harder because the Scarlet Knights host Howard the week before. They also have owned South Florida of late with five wins in the last six meetings (the lone defeat came by one point on the road two years ago). Look for Rutgers to pull the upset.
Speaking of the Bulls, they host Florida State in Week 5. The Seminoles might not be as focused as they should be because they host Clemson in Week 4 and take on North Carolina State in Week 6. The Bulls upset Florida State on the road three years ago (in quarterback B.J. Daniels' first-ever start) and they will do so again while getting about seven points.
Finally. a Week 9 matchup pits Arizona against USC. The Trojans might be caught looking ahead because Oregon awaits them the following Saturday. Furthermore, USC has had its share of problems with Arizona in recent years, failing to cover the last six meetings as the favorite. The Trojans will be the betting choice in Tucson, so go with the Wildcats plus the points.