2014 Scout Independents Football Preview

A snapshot preview of the Independents, where turnover has been the theme...

The current quartet of college football independents will become a trio in 2015 when Navy finds safe haven in the American Athletic Conference. But for the season to come, the foursome’s standing in various preseason polls varies little: Notre Dame, Brigham Young, Navy, and Army, from top to bottom. Each has aspirations for a “successful” season, though the definition of that adjective varies greatly.

For Notre Dame, a berth in one of the six major bowls -- football’s “Final Four” included -- is the unlikely, but standard goal, while both BYU and Navy reasonably aspire for nine- or 10-win seasons if the breaks of the game go their way. For Army, a .500 or better record and a resultant Armed Forces Bowl Bid stands as an attainable goal for the Black Knights of the Hudson under first-year head coach Jeff Monken.

Like Army, both Brigham Young (Miami Beach Bowl) and Navy (Poinsettia Bowl) have automatic bowl ties should they qualify.

OFFENSIVE MVP
QB Taysom Hill, BYU – Among the top returning dual-threat triggermen in the nation, Hill is the straw that stirs the drink for an explosive Cougars offense. The 24-year-old junior will need to cut down on his interception total (14 last fall) to validate this selection ahead of Navy’s Keenan Reynolds and Notre Dame’s Everett Golson.

DEFENSIVE MVP
LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame – A year from today, Smith could e featured here in a national column, not just among current independents. A true sophomore, the home-state (Bishop Luers HS, Fort Wayne) product ranks alongside former Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te’o as Notre Dame’s best defensive prospect since the turn of the century -- and Smith was light years better as a true freshman last fall than was Te’o at the same stage in South Bend.

BREAKOUT PLAYER
RB Greg Bryant, Notre Dame – The squad’s most talked about player -- via media, fans, teammates, and coaches -- last spring, Bryant brings a power approach to what should be a three-headed monster in the Irish backfield this fall.

COACH ON THE HOT SEAT
None of the head coaches, but first-year Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder will have Irish eyes burning if his attacking defense is gashed by the myriad capable opposing offenses the Irish face this fall.

SLEEPER TEAM
BYU – A victory at Texas in early September could propel the Cougars to their first 10-win season since 2011.

MUST-SEE CONFERENCE GAME
Navy at Army, Dec. 13 – The nation’s greatest historical rivalry offers its 115th edition in mid-December. Navy has won 12 straight dating back to 2002.

MUST-SEE NON-CONFERENCE GAME
Michigan at Notre Dame, Sept. 6 - The Irish play a handful of better teams, but this final installment of college football’s best September rivalry features a little of everything, including a (Brady Hoke), a revenge scenario for the home team, and ample trash talk -- both inside and outside the lines. Each of the last five between these two traditional foils has been in doubt heading into the game’s final five minutes.

IMPACT RECRUIT
LB Nyles Morgan, Notre Dame - Look for the five-star inside ‘backer prospect to earn a crucial role by the time the Irish board a plane for Newark Airport in late September. Three games (and a rare opening-month bye) will allow Morgan to carve a niche in new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s multiple schemes.

BEST TAILGATING
Joyce South (Notre Dame) – Old-school tailgates abound in the lots surrounding the House that Rockne Built, but when the nation’s best come to town, the south end of the Joyce lot is the place to be.

BOLD PREDICTION
Navy will win more games than Notre Dame in 2014 -- but the Irish will earn a spot in college football’s final four for the 2015 season.

HEISMAN CANDIDATES
1. QB Everett Golson, Notre Dame
2. QB Taysom Hill, BYU
3. QB Keenan Reynolds, Navy
4. RB Jamaal Williams, BYU
5. LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame

TOP QUARTERBACKS
1. Taysom Hill, BYU
2. Keenan Reynolds, Navy
3. Everett Golson, Notre Dame
4. Malik Zaire, Notre Dame
5. Angel Santiago, Army

TOP SKILL-POSITION PLAYERS
1. RB Jamaal Williams, BYU
2. WR DaVaris Daniels, Notre Dame
3. RB Terry Baggett, Army
4. RB Tarean Folston, Notre Dame
5. FB Larry Dixon, Army

TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYERS
1. LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame
2. DT Sheldon Day, Notre Dame
3. CB KeiVarae Russell, Notre Dame
4. LB Alani Fua, BYU
5. S Parrish Gaines, Navy

BIGGEST SHOES TO FILL
1. OLB Bronson Kaufusi, BYU
(Kyle Van Noy)
2. NT Jarron Jones, Notre Dame
(Louis Nix)
3. LT Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame
(Zack Martin)
4. LB Jordan Drake, Navy
(Cody Peterson)
5. DE Romeo Okwara, Notre Dame
(Prince Shembo)

BREAKOUT PLAYER
1. RB Greg Bryant, Notre Dame
2. LT Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame
3. WR Devon Blackmon, BYU
4. Slot-back DeBrandon Sanders, Navy
5. S Max Redfield, Notre Dame

BEST HEAD COACH
1. Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
2. Bronco Mendenhall, BYU
3. Ken Niumatalolo, Navy
4. Jeff Monken, Army

TOP GAMES
1. Notre Dame at Florida State
2. Notre Dame at USC
3. Notre Dame vs. Michigan
4. Notre Dame vs. Stanford
5. BYU at Texas
6. Notre Dame at Arizona State
7. Navy vs. Army (Baltimore)
8. Navy at Ohio State
9. Notre Dame vs. Navy (Landover, Md.)
10. Notre Dame vs. Louisville

2014 RECRUITING CLASS RANKINGS
1. Notre Dame
2. Brigham Young
3. Navy
4. Army

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