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2015 College Football Preview: FBS Independents

Malik Zaire is the future for Notre Dame at quarterback. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)
Malik Zaire is the future for Notre Dame at quarterback. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: FBS Independents

We have reached the ninth and final single digit in this 2015 College Football Preview with the FBS Independents. Also part of this release is the Sun Belt Preview, which can be found here. Below is a schedule of all the previews from those already published to those in the future.

MAC East Division – July 1

MAC West Division – July 3

Mountain West, Mountain Division – July 7

Mountain West, West Division – July 10

C-USA East Division – July 14

C-USA West Division – July 17

The American East Division – July 21

The American West Division – July 24

Sun Belt – July 28

FBS Independents – July 28

Big 12 – July 31

ACC Coastal Division – August 4

ACC Atlantic Division – August 7

Big 10 West Division – August 11

Big 10 East Division – August 14

Pac-12 North Division – August 18

Pac-12 South Division – August 21

SEC East Division – August 25

SEC West Division – August 28

Let’s take a look at the three teams that comprise the FBS Independents.

1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Brian Kelly led Notre Dame to through their fantastic 2012 season, which culminated in a crushing 42-14 loss in the National Championship. Outside of that 12-1 season, Kelly has not won more than nine games, nor lost less than four. The pressure may be on Kelly to get the Irish back into the national spotlight.

The offense returns seven starters, but one of them is not quarterback Everett Golson. Malik Zaire will be at the helm after a very nice starting performance in the Music City Bowl against LSU, finishing the season with 266 yards and a touchdown in only seven appearances. He will have both Tarean Folston (889 yards and 6 touchdowns) and Greg Bryant (289 yards and 3 touchdowns) in the backfield again this season. More importantly for Zaire is that he will have the top four receivers from 2014 back led by Will Fuller. Fuller had 76 catches for 1,094 yards and 15 touchdowns while easily becoming the most productive receiver last season. The Irish put up 32.8 points and 445 yards of offense per game in 2014 and if Zaire protects the ball better than Golson, they will do even better this year.

The defense had its worst season in 2014 under Kelly. With four starters back, the gave up 29.2 points and 404 yards per game. The defense in 2015 will have 10 starters back and the one replacement is KeiVarae Russell, who was a starter in 2012 and 2013. The defensive line starters all had at least 39 tackles and a sack in 2014. The linebackers are led by Jaylon Smith. Smith had 112 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss on his way to 2nd Team All-American accolades. The secondary has three starters back as well as the aforementioned Russell. The defense will be much better in 2015 and makes the Irish a serious threat to reach the College Football Playoffs.

Notre Dame has several tough games in 2015. They open with a home game against Texas, but also face Georgia Tech (home) and Clemson (road) in the first five weeks. USC will travel to South Bend on October 17 as well, but the final five games of the Irish schedule look manageable. It looks very possible that Notre Dame will be back near the top of the national rankings again this year.

2. BYU Cougars

BYU went from the Mountain West in 2010 to independent status in 2011. It looked like the right move as they went 10-3 in 2011, but have subsequently had three straight 8-5 seasons. 2014 started off great for BYU until the injury to star quarterback Taysom Hill. What will 2015 have in store for the Cougars?

The offense has eight starters back including quarterback Taysom Hill. Hill was have an excellent year in 2014, but his injury forced Christian Stewart into action. Stewart did well in place of Hill by throwing for 2,621 yards with 25 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. The running game was not as strong with Jamaal Williams leading the team with 518 yards and 4 touchdowns while also having injury issues throughout the seasons. Mitch Mathews is also back after grabbing 73 passes for 922 yards and 9 touchdowns. Despite the injuries, BYU still managed to put up 37.1 points and 460 yards of offense in 2014. Now that Hill is back for 2015, the BYU offense could go even higher.

The defense has only five returning starters and three of those reside on the defensive line. The line allowed only 122 rushing yards per game and only 3.3 yards per carry. The lone returning linebacker is Manoa Pikula and he finished 2014 with 49 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and an interception. In the secondary, only Michael Davis is back after having 43 tackles and 6 pass breakups last season. The back eight have a lot of inexperience so the Cougars may be playing in quite a few shootouts this year.

BYU has a tough schedule in 2015 as they open with three road games in the first four weeks. They face Nebraska (road), Boise State (home), UCLA (road), and Michigan (road). The middle portion of their schedule is a bit easier with games versus Connecticut, East Carolina, Cincinnati, and Wagner with all of those at home. After a bye week, they will face San Jose State (road), Missouri (Kansas City), Fresno State (home), and Utah State (road). It will be tough for BYU to reach double digits in the win column for 2015 even with Taysom Hill back.

3. Army West Point Black Knights

Jeff Monken took over Army in the offseason prior to 2014 and managed a 4-8 record with 14 starters back. This offseason, Army rebranded itself as Army West Point, but we will still refer to them as just Army. Will the second year of Monken and a new name help Army back to a bowl game?

The offense returns only five starters. Quarterback will be a battle between the oft-injured AJ Schurr and Matthew Kaufmann. Schurr is likely to get the job if he is healthy considering he had 320 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns in addition to his 242 yards passing with a touchdown and interception. The running game has been hit hard by the loss of Larry Dixon (1,102 yards and 9 touchdowns) with Aaron Kemper (158 yards and a touchdown) and Matt Giachinta (152 yards and a touchdown) the top returning rushers behind Schurr. Edgar Poe had 10 catches for 199 yards and a touchdown in 2014, but the passing game is not the focal point of this offense. There are three starters back on the line as well as others who have seen time at multiple positions. The offense put up 24.9 points and 359 yards of offense in 2014 and could produce similar numbers this year as well.

The defense also has only five starters returning. The defensive line has been raided by losses with no starters returning after they surrendered 193 rushing yards per game last year. Linebacker is strong with two starters returning led by Jeremy Timpf. He had 117 tackles, 1 sack, 13.5 tackles for loss, and three interceptions. He will be joined by Andrew King (63 tackles, 5 sacks, 3 tackles for loss). The secondary has three starters back including former wide receiver Xavier Moss. Josh Jenkins will be one of the cornerback spots (64 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 8 pass breakups, and 4 interception) with Chris Carnegie at the other corner position (54 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 7 pass breakups, 3 interceptions).

Army will face Fordham (home), Connecticut (road), Wake Forest (home), and Eastern Michigan (road) to start the season. It gets tougher from there with Penn State (road), Duke (home), Bucknell (home), and Rice (road) in the next four games. Games against Air Force (road), Tulane (home), and Rutgers (home) all lead into the Army-Navy game on December 12 in Philadelphia. Army has lost 13 straight to Navy and even if that is the only game they win in 2015, they will a successful season. It does, however, look like it will be a 4 to 5 win season for Army.

Overview

The FBS Independents are easy to sort out for 2015. Notre Dame is clearly the best team while BYU will have another solid season. Army is probably still a year away from being a bowl contender. Below is the predicted order of finish.

1. Notre Dame

2. BYU

3. Army

Be sure to check out the Sun Belt preview and check back on Friday for the Big 12 preview.

Inside The Box Scores: College Football Week 8

Cody Kessler had 7 touchdown passes against Colorado on Saturday (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images North America)
Cody Kessler had 7 touchdown passes against Colorado on Saturday (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images North America)

 

Final scores do not always tell the tale of how a game truly went or how comprehensive a team performed. This article is intended to shed light on some of those discrepancies and highlight some stats put up by teams and individuals alike.

 

Virginia Tech Hokies at Pittsburgh Panthers (Pittsburgh won 21-16 on Thursday (10/16))

The Hokies ran for only 26 yards on 22 carries as a team against Pittsburgh. That comes out to an average of 1.2 yards per carry. Even worse, the offense was 2 of 14 on third down yet the Hokies managed to stay in the game until late in the fourth quarter.

For Pittsburgh, James Conner ran for 85 yards on 16 carries, but he did have two touchdowns. This marked his third straight game where he failed to eclipse the 100-yard mark. His first four games saw him run for at least 153 yards each game and total 699 rushing yards. In the last three games, Conner has produced 260 yards. That total is respectable, but it is quite a drop off from his early season output.

 

Temple Owls at Houston Cougars (Houston won 31-10 on Friday (10/17))

The story of this game was the four turnovers by Temple quarterback P.J. Walker. He had three interceptions and a fumble lost. One interception was returned for pick-six and another led to a Houston touchdown. The lost fumble came on the doorstep of Houston’s end zone at the one yard line. Those three turnovers combined were a 17 to 21 point swing, which undoubtedly cost the Owls a chance to win.

 

South Florida Bulls at Tulsa Golden Hurricane (South Florida won 38-30 on Saturday (10/18))

South Florida trailed 27-7 at halftime, but outscored Tulsa 31-3 in the final minutes to win the game. Outside of their first drive of the third quarter, Tulsa ran only 7 plays in South Florida territory and failed to score a point.

 

Baylor Bears at West Virginia Mountaineers (West Virginia won 41-27 on Saturday)

This game had several noticeable stats. First, Baylor committed 18 penalties for 215 yards!! West Virginia committed 14 penalties for 138 yards. Combined, the two teams had 32 penalties for 353 yards. Those 353 penalties yards are more than Baylor put up on offense (318 yards)!

As impressive (or pathetic) as those penalty yards are, the Mountaineers did everything they could early on to let Baylor put up points. Clint Trickett had a lost fumble and an interception that led to 10 Baylor points in the first quarter. Daryl Worley lost a fumble on a punt return, but Baylor could not take advantage of that turnover.

 

 Kansas State Wildcats at Oklahoma Sooners (Kansas State won 31-30 on Saturday)

We will not dwell on this game too much because this is obvious why the Sooners lost. Oklahoma kicker Michael Hunnicutt missed two field goals (including a horrendous shank late in the game) and an extra point. One could also point to Danzel McDaniel’s 5 yard pick-six as another reason.

 

Texas A&M Aggies at Alabama Crimson Tide (Alabama won 59-0 on Saturday)

This one has to be included for the way Alabama utterly dominated the Aggies. The Tide were up 45-0 at the break and held the high-flying Aggies offense to 172 yards for the entire game!! The Tide scored 35 second quarter points, the most ever in a single quarter for an Alabama team.

The shutout is even more impressive because it marks the first time Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin has been shut out as a coach in 86 games at the FBS level.

We all know Nick Saban is looking for something to critique in this performance and there are few he can sheepishly use. The first is that the Aggies managed to convert two third downs… out of 13 attempts. In addition, the Tide only forced one turnover. There are your areas for improvement, coach Saban.

 

Michigan State Spartans at Indiana Hoosiers (Michigan State won 56-17 on Saturday)

Indiana actually led 17-14 with 5:25 left in the second quarter, but Michigan State quickly put an end to that. They scored 14 points in the final 4 minutes to take a 28-17 lead and then poured on 28 more points in the second half.

The most striking stat was that Indiana had 11 yards passing. Zander Diamont went 5 of 15 for all 11 yards in his first start as a true freshman. He has drawn comparisons to Johnny Manziel, but that is all hyperbole for a kid who had a total of one negative yard on the game (Diamont also ran 10 times for -12 yards).

The Hoosiers had 224 yards of offense, even without a passing game from Diamont, who was replacing the injured Nate Sudfeld. Tevin Coleman had 132 yards on 15 carries, which is excellent for a one-dimensional offense against the Spartans.

 

Colorado Buffaloes at USC Trojans (USC won 56-28 on Saturday)

USC quarterback Cody Kessler went 19 of 26 for 391 yards and 7 touchdowns. Yes, 7 touchdowns for Cody Kessler. It is a pretty good day when 27% of your attempts go for a touchdown and 37% of your completions end up as a score. Unsurprisingly, Kessler is now the USC single game record holder for touchdown passes in a game. He also tied the Pac-12 record with 7 touchdown passes in a game with Mike Pagel of Arizona State in the 1981 season.

 

Tennessee Volunteers at Ole Miss Rebels (Ole Miss won 34-3 on Saturday)

Ole Miss gave up a total 191 yards of offense to Tennessee on Saturday night. All 191 yards came through the air, as the Volunteers did not gain a single yard via the ground game. Jalen Hurd had 40 yards rushing, but that was cancelled out by Justin Worley’s 8 rushes for -41 yards performance. One caveat, however, is that sack yardage goes against the rushing stats in college football.

 

Missouri Tigers at Florida Gators (Missouri won 42-13 on Saturday)

Most people probably heard this on Saturday night or Sunday morning, but it is worth repeating. Missouri had 119 yards of total offense (20 passing and 99 rushing), yet the won by 29 points over Florida. How? Turnovers and touchdown returns.

Missouri had a kickoff return for a touchdown, a punt return for a touchdown, a fumble return for a touchdown, and an interception return for a touchdown. Marcus Murphy had both the kickoff and punt returns for a touchdown from 96 and 86 yards respectively. Markus Golden had a 21 yard fumble return and Darvin Ruise had a 46 yard interception return.

The Gators committed 6 turnovers, three fumbles and three interceptions, which led to 24 points for Missouri.

Will Muschamp should start packing his bags now because he is well on his way out of Gainesville.

 

Utah State Aggies at Colorado State Rams (Colorado State won 16-13 on Saturday)

The highlight of this game was Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins. He caught 10 passes for 187 yards during the game while the Rams threw for 243 yards. That equates to Higgins accounting for 77% of the receiving yardage. Higgins managed to account for only 59% of the total offense for Colorado State.

 

Iowa State Cyclones at Texas Longhorns (Texas won 48-45 on Saturday)

This needs a bit of context to explain why it makes it here. According to Las Vegas Insider, the over/under of this game closed at 45.5 points, which makes them believe it would be a defensive game. Texas closed as an 11-point favorite so it was expected that Texas would not give up many points.

Boy, those expectations were way off.

The two teams combined for 1,036 yards of total offense with the yardage nearly split 50/50. Iowa State had 524 yards and Texas amassed 512 yards. By halftime, the score was 28-28, well over the 45.5 points expected for the ENTIRE GAME.

Both quarterbacks had over 300 yards passing with Sam B. Richardson (ISU) having 345 yards and Tyrone Swoopes (UT) throwing for 321 yards. Iowa State ran for 179 yards while the Longhorns had 191 yards on the ground.

This just goes to show that even Vegas can be way off once in a while.

 

Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Florida State Seminoles (Florida State won 31-27 on Saturday)

Controversial ending aside, this game did feature one incredible strength. That was the run defense of Notre Dame. They allowed only 50 yards rushing on 26 carries for the Seminoles.

There may be recipe in there to beat Florida State. By stopping the run, they put the pressure on Jameis Winston to lead the Seminoles offense with his arm. If a team can force Winston into mistakes and turnovers, they can pull the upset. However, it is far more difficult to force Jameis into mistakes on the football field as opposed to off of the field.

 

Nevada Wolf Pack at BYU Cougars (Nevada won 42-35 on Saturday)

This was a late night game, but it had plenty of fireworks and not a lot of defense. The two teams combined for 58 first downs, 1,012 yards of total offense, and 20 third down conversion out of 38 attempts.

BYU led 28-13 at the break, but saw their lead evaporate with four scoring drives by Nevada in the second half. All four of those scoring drives resulted in touchdowns and a 42-28 lead with less than 6 minutes remaining. The Wolf Pack held on for a 42-35 win to send BYU to their third straight loss without Taysom Hill.

Filling in for Hill has been Christian Stewart who looked excellent in this game until the fourth quarter. For the game, he went 39 of 63 for 408 yards with 4 passing touchdowns. He did not have a single interception, but he lost two fumbles in the final seven and a half minutes to dent BYU’s chances of winning. The first led to a touchdown by Nevada to take a 42-28 lead and the second occurred at the Nevada 34 yard line when the Cougars were driving for the game-tying score.

It was an unfitting end to a game in which Stewart played so well.

Central Florida Beats BYU In Overtime

This article originally appeared on VAVEL USA.

Justin Holman

 (Photo credit to John Raoux / AP Photo)

 

Central Florida went from being up 10-3 at halftime to to trailing 24-10 in the first six minutes of the third quarter. However, the Knights would rally in overtime to defeat BYU 31-24 on Thursday evening.

Justin Holman‘s four yard touchdown pass to William Stanback was enough as the defense held firm on BYU’s possession to seal the win.

The final score was not indicative of how the first half went. Central Florida started off with a touchdown from Justin Holman, who made a diving run on fourth and one from the BYU 5 yard line to get the score. Shawn Moffitt hit a 42 yard field goal to extend the lead to 10-0, but that was all they mustered in terms of the scoreboard in the first 30 minutes.

BYU struggled immensely in the first quarter with three straight three and outs to start the game. The BYU offense showed signs of life in the second quarter, but were quickly derailed by a turnover.

That turnover came when BYU started on the Central Florida 39 yard line. After Christian Stewart hit Paul Lasike for a 19 yard gain, Stewart then threw into the end zone, but it was over his receiver’s head and intercepted by Jacoby Glenn for a touchback.

BYU would get their first points of the game with a 10 play drive that ended in Trevor Samson hitting a 32 yard field goal. That made it 10-3 and the BYU kept that score intact as the Knights threatened to put more points on the board. Holman was sacked by Sione Takitaki on second and 7 at the BYU 28 and the ball was recovered by Takitaki.

BYU opened the second half on fire. Their first drive tied the game at 10 when Stewart connected with Colby Pearson for a 4 yard touchdown and then got a great bounce on a punt on the next drive. BYU’s punt hit a UCF player blocking and was immediately recovered by Algernon Brown. Two plays later, Stewart hit Devin Mahina for a 15 yard touchdown and BYU led 17-10.

It got even better for BYU. Holman was picked off by Skye PoVey and a penalty set the Cougars up at the 14 yard line. The next play saw Stewart hit Mahina again, this time for 14 yards out make it 24-10.

Needing a response, Central Florida quickly answered. Rannell Hall returned the kickoff 58 yards to the BYU 37 yard line to spark the offense. 8 plays later, William Stanback ran in from 2 yards out to make it 24-17.

BYU had an excellent chance at extending their lead to double digits, but Algernon Brown fumbled at the UCF 13 yard line to take points off the board.

Central Florida would finally get the tying score two drives later. On second and 10 from the BYU 37, Holman threw up a bomb to Josh Reese knowing that BYU was offside. Reese caught the ball for the score and the game was tied at 24.

Both teams still had plenty of opportunities to take the lead. Central Florida missed a 46 yard field goal wide left and then Holman was intercepted by Kai Nacua inside the BYU 20 yard line to end another potential scoring chance. BYU marched to the Central Florida 37 yard line, but the drive stalled out and punted.

Central Florida had two last chances to end the game. With 12 seconds left, UCF tried to kick a field goal from 43 yards out but the snap was poor and ended up losing 7 yards. The next play was a 50 yard attempt that was partially blocked by Mitch Mathews that sent the game into overtime.

In that overtime, Central Florida got to the 8 yard line after a run by Holman and a facemask by BYU. Three plays later, Holman hit Stanback for the eventual game-winning touchdown. BYU managed to reach the 6 yard line, but the fourth down pass to Jordan Leslie was incomplete and the game was over.

Christian Stewart played well in his first start since Taysom Hill‘s injury. Stewart went 22 of 37 for 153 yards with 3 touchdowns and an interception. He also ran 13 times for 52 yards.

Algernon Brown ran 16 times for 80 yards while Paul Lasike added 51 yards on 12 carries. Devin Mahina led the Cougars in receiving with 4 catches for 46 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Justin Holman went 30 of 51 for 326 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He ran 10 times for 26 yards and a touchdown, but he also lost a fumble. Overall, it was an up and down game for him, but he showed a lot of resiliency in leading UCF back for the win. Holman also showed an incredibly strong arm throughout the game. William Stanback had 22 carries for 44 yards and a touchdown. Stanback also had the game-winning touchdown catch, one of his two catches on the evening.

Josh Reese led the Knights in receiving with 5 catches for 87 yards and a touchdown. Breshad Perriman caught 6 passes for 83 yards while Rannell Hall had 8 catches for 71 yards.

BYU (4-2) has now lost back-to-back games and will look to right the ship next week. They face Nevada next Saturday at home.

Central Florida (3-2, 1-0) is trending in the opposite direction with their third straight victory. They face Tulane next Saturday at home as they return to conference play.