Navy joins the American Athletic Conference, leaving just three major independent programs - Army, BYU and Notre Dame.
Notre Dame will clearly be the class of this group in 2015, following a 2014 season in which the Irish, BYU and Navy were all 8-5 after the bowl season. The Congrove Computer Rankings had forecasted all 3 of those programs to go 10-2, but each failed to deliver on expectations.
This year, the computer says the Golden Domers could run the table, with only a narrow 2.04-point home loss to Georgia Tech on September 19 standing in the way.
The computer sees the Irish schedule as somewhat light, compared to past seasons. But the No. 28 overall SOS ranking is primarily due to the fact that teams such as Texas, Clemson, and Stanford aren't expected to be as strong as one might automatically assume. The computer only likes Texas for 4 wins, Clemson for 6 and Stanford for 7. As a result, Notre Dame is a 19.20-point computer favorite in the home opener vs. the Longhorns, a 6.48-point choice at Clemson, and a 5.5 point selection at Stanford.
However, the Irish are also just a narrow 0.12-point pick at home over USC, and only a 7.7-point favorite on the road at what should be a decent Temple team.
The military academies are always a bit of an anomaly for the computer to analyze as their structure is so radically different from your typical football-playing college. But somehow, the computer has nailed Army's exact record the past two seasons.
For 2015, the computer has Army repeating last year's 4-8 record while facing the second-easiest schedule in the FBS. The Black Knights play 2 games against FCS schools and don't play a FBS program in September that won more than 3 games last season. In fact, their opener against FCS member Fordham (11-3 a year ago) could be the toughest opponent Army will face until it gets to the October 3rd date with Penn State.
Needless to say, the computer likes Navy to continue its dominance over its chief rival with a 11.57-point win over Army on December 12th in Philadelphia. The Black Knights have lost 13 straight to the Midshipmen.
The forecast for BYU calls for a 6-6 campaign against the nation's 33rd-ranked schedule. However, the Cougars shared the wealth in gaining experience for some younger players last year as injuries took their toll - none more dramatic or crippling than QB Taysom Hill who was in the Heisman discussion before he broke his leg against Utah State and was lost for the season after a 4-0 start. Hill returns, but RB Jamaal Williams will not be in the mix after withdrawing from school on August 6th. Williams amassed 2,526 rushing yards and 23 rushing touchdowns in roughly 2-1/2 healthy seasons.
It won't take long to learn if the computer's assessment of BYU is wrong. The Cougars visit Nebraska to open the season, then host Boise State before traveling to UCLA and Michigan. BYU isn't favored in any of those contests, but is only a 0.01-point underdog at Michigan.