We continue our look at the upcoming college football season with a preview of the top independents on the Division I or FBS level.
As usual, the guys wearing the headsets on the sidelines get the initial focus, and the head man at Notre Dame is Brian Kelly who is coming off successive 8-5 campaigns to begin his South Bend career. Don Best analyst Kenny White thinks it has taken Kelly time to implement his systems at Notre Dame, and notes that Kelly eventually exceeded expectations at his two previous stops, Central Michigan and Cincinnati.
The Irish, who sport an 8½-win total for 2012, are 12-12 against the spread under Kelly.
Brigham Young also has an 8½-win mark for college football bettors to consider, and the Cougars are led by Bronco Mendenhall who begins his eighth season at Provo.
"Bronco Mendenhall is one of the top coaches in college football," White believes. "His ATS record speaks for itself. Five of his seven years he's had a plus-ATS, 17-9 ATS the last two years."
Rich Ellerson has three years under his belt at Army, and the Cadets have become an offensive force under his direction. He won three Great West title while coaching at Cal Poly and is a guru when it comes to the triple option.
Ken Niumatalolo enters his sixth season at Navy off the school's first losing record since 2002, a winning string that included a couple of 10-win seasons. The Midshipmen have been especially strong as an underdog under Niumatalolo, 12-6 ATS in that role.
Notre Dame, Navy Meet In Ireland To Begin Season
The Irish and Middies will get their seasons started against one another in Dublin, Ireland on Sept. 1, and quarterback troubles have already surfaced for Notre Dame. Tommy Rees, the starter a year ago, will not make the trip for disciplinary reasons, and Kenny White believes it will be Andrew Hendrix who gets the call under center to begin the season for the Irish.
Redshirt soph Everett Golson is also expected to play in that game, and it will be interesting to see if Rees can reclaim the starting QB job once the squad returns from across the pond for the rest of the schedule.
Trey Miller, a junior from Marietta, GA is No. 1 on the Navy QB depth chart and is replacing Kriss Proctor who combined for over 1,700 yards passing and rushing last season.
BYU, a 13-point favorite at home for its season opener vs. Washington State, will be directed by Riley Nelson who threw for 19 TDs a year ago after beginning 2011 as Jake Heaps' backup.
Trent Steelman will once again be the starting QB for West Point. The senior out of Bowling Green, KY only threw 45 passes last year, but was the second-leading rusher for the Black Knights who had four members of the infantry rush for at least 500 yards.
Cierre Wood Tops RB Corps Among Independents
Notre Dame sits anywhere from 20/1 to 40/1 on BCS Championship futures, and whoever ends up quarterbacking the Irish will be dependent on tailback Cierre Wood to have a big season. Wood rushed for over 1,100 yards last season, and Kenny White feels he could be a 1st-round pick in the NFL.
Army's ground attack in 2011 was paced by Raymond Maples' 1,066 yards on just 146 carries (7.3 YPC). The Philly native returns this year to once again team with QB Steelman.
Gee Gee Greene averaged nearly eight yards per carry for Navy last year (64 att, 501 yds) and should get an opportunity to be the feature back for the Midshipmen in 2012.
BYU doesn't have a top threat at the RB position in 2012, but the Cougs will once again have Cody Hoffman on the receiving end of Riley Nelson's passes. White calls Hoffman an "NFL talent."
Whoever settles in at QB for Notre Dame should also enjoy the luxury of having Tyler Eifert among their targets. Eifert played in the shadows of Michael Floyd last season, and caught 63 passes for 803 yards and five scores.
Kelly Has Experienced Squad at Notre Dame
A key footnote for Notre Dame this season is the number of returning starters Kelly will have to begin the season. The Irish return eight first-teamers on both sides of the ball.
Mendenhall also has a lot of experience coming back at BYU. Seven offensive starters and eight on the defensive side return. Among those on defense is linebacker Kyle Van Noy out of Reno who is coming off an outstanding all-around 2011 season.
Though they usually have a high turnover in the returning starters column at the service academies, that's not the case for either Army or Navy in 2012. The Midshipmen have 13 first-stringers back, the most since 2006, while the Black Knights will have eight players on both sides of the ball back.
Follow Don Best throughout the preseason as we preview each and every football conference: ACC ... Big 12 ... Big East ... Big Ten ... Conference USA ... FBS Independents ... Mid-American Conference ... Mountain West ... Sun Belt ... WAC .