Can Notre Dame remain a title contender?

Notre Dame surprised a host of experts last season by reaching the BCS Championship Game. Still, the Fighting Irish were destroyed by Alabama, 42-14.

The key question for 2013 is, can the Irish maintain their level of play or will they take a step back? The odds are strong that it will be the latter, especially with quarterback Everett Golson out for the season and the defense likely not be as stout as it was in 2012.

Moreover, the last four BCS Championship losers regressed the following year. Oklahoma went from 11-1 during the 2008 regular season to 7-5 in 2009. Texas dropped to 5-7 in 2010 after going 12-0 in 2009. Oregon and LSU did not fall as much, but the two Big 12 schools lost two games each during the regular season after going unbeaten the prior season.

It's time now to take a deeper look into the seven independents, along with predicted straight-up (SU) records for those wagering on over/unders for total team victories (all odds to win the league title and totals courtesy of 5Dimes).

7) IDAHO - The Vandals covered two of their last three games after going 0-7 against-the-spread (ATS) in their previous seven.

Offense - Trending steady. Only Massachusetts averaged fewer points per game last season than Idaho. New head coach Paul Petrino brings in multiple junior college transfers, which will keep the offense afloat, especially after the loss of its starting quarterback, and leading rusher and receiver.

Defense - Trending steady. The defense wasn't much better than the offense as it ranked 122nd nationally, allowing 42 ppg. Petrino went the JUCO route to pick up a defense that lost its top six tacklers,

Prediction - With Temple, Texas State and Old Dominion all at home, the Vandals should be able to win one of those games. Over/under total - 1.5 (1-11).

6) ARMY - The Black Knights are 1-6 as road underdogs the last two years.

Offense - Trending steady. Army averaged 436 yards per game last year, good for 39th nationally. However, the offense ranked 87th in scoring. The second number might improve in 2013, but don't forget, it took Trent Steelman a year to bring Army's scoring average up, so A.J. Schurr might need a season as well.

Defense - Trending up. Army's scoring average has gone up each of the last three years. Moreover, only three teams in the country allowed more rushing yards per game than the Black Knights did a season ago. Those numbers should improve with seven returning starters, so look for a slight decrease in points allowed.

Prediction - Army's schedule is a bit easier this year. However, the Black Knights have won just five games since 2011, and they have lost eight of their last 10 contests decided by seven points or less. Over/under total - 4.5 (3-9).

5) NEW MEXICO STATE - The Aggies are 6-14 as home underdogs the last five years.

Offense - Trending up. Even with Andrew Manley under center, the Aggies averaged 12 fewer points per game in conference play last year than in 2011. Manley is no longer around but the rest of the offense is much more experienced than a season ago, meaning more points on the scoreboard.

Defense - Trending up. New Mexico State came into last year without its top five tacklers and the defense ranked 120th in scoring, 122nd in sacks and tied for last in turnovers gained. The top four tacklers return this season and the defense picks up a couple of Big Ten transfers to help stabilize a porous front four.

Prediction - This year's club resembles the 2011 version (four wins) much more than last year's squad which won just once. Over/under total - 2.5 (4-8). Take the over at -120.

4) NAVY - The Midshipmen are 24-8 as road underdogs the last 10 years.

Offense - Trending up. The offense exploded when Keenan Reynolds took over at quarterback. The Midshipmen averaged 5.4 yards per carry in their final nine games after going for just 3.4 in the first three contests against Football Bowl Subdivision teams. With a more experienced offensive line, look for a major increase in scoring.

Defense - Trending steady. Navy's red zone defense was superb last season, when it allowed just 24 touchdowns in 50 opportunities. Given that, it is doubtful the Midshipmen will be able to repeat that performance. In addition, they lose their top four tacklers. On the positive side, this year's team has more depth than last year's, so the numbers won't spike up too high.

Prediction - Navy should improve from its 3-9 ATS record, but this is a team that has not covered more than seven games in a season since 2005. Over/under total - 6.5 (7-5).

3) OLD DOMINION - The transitioning Monarchs are 4-0 SU against current FBS schools.

Offense - Trending down. Old Dominion will not average 45 points as it did a season ago, especially with games against North Carolina, East Carolina, Pittsburgh and Maryland on the schedule. Still, with Walter Payton Award- winning quarterback Taylor Heinicke and eight other starters on the roster, the offense will still be potent.

Defense - Trending down. Even though the Monarchs won 11 games last year, the defense allowed 26 points or more in each of their last six and nine of their last 11 games. And that was with the return of seven of their top nine tacklers. This year, just five of the top 10 come back this season.

Prediction - Old Dominion will win eight games and might even cover a couple of its matchups with FBS squads. Over/under total - Not listed (8-4).

2) NOTRE DAME - The Fighting Irish are 6-1 as road underdogs the last four years.

Offense - Trending steady. Last year's offense was actually less proficient than the one in 2011. In fact, the team averaged more points per game with Tommy Rees (2011) at quarterback than Everett Golson (2012). The main problem last year was a 48 percent red zone touchdown efficiency percentage, a number matched by the likes of Washington State, a three-win team. The numbers should rise in 2013 but not by much considering the Irish lose their top two running backs and leading pass catcher.

Defense - Trending down. In 2002, the Notre Dame went 10-1 in the regular season and had a defense that allowed 17 points per game. The following season, with eight returning starters, the defense allowed 26 ppg. This year's team also returns eight starters from a defense that allowed fewer than 13 ppg. Even though it appears the Irish will once again have a tremendous defense, the odds are strong they will gave up about a touchdown more in 2013.

Prediction - Notre Dame has failed to reach the .500 mark (ATS) the last seven times the year following an above-.500 ATS campaign. The Irish went 7-6 ATS last season. Over/under total - 9.5 (8-4).

1) BYU - The Cougars have covered their last seven games as road underdogs.

Offense - Trending up. Since 2000, the Cougars have averaged 30 points or more every year they have returned seven or more starters. Expect much-improved numbers in 2013 with the bulk of the offense coming back, along with the best quarterback (Taysom Hill) they have had in years.

Defense - Trending down. It will be almost impossible for BYU to have as good a defense as it had in 2012. As is the case with Notre Dame, look for the defense to allow anywhere between 20 and 22 points per game.

Prediction - The Cougars are a combined 24-13 ATS over the last three years, so expect another solid season. Over/under total - 8.5 (8-4).