Idaho and New Mexico State are refugees from the WAC which dropped football after the 2012 season due to realignment attrition. It's just a one-year fix as both schools will join the Sun Belt in 2014.
Notre Dame will be the class of the bunch after making it to the BCS title game in 2012. But the Irish will have to shake off the disappointment of a 42-14 beat-down administered by Alabama in last year's BCS Championship game, and overcome the loss of starting QB Everett Golson who was declared academically ineligible in May. Also gone is Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te'o, the linebacker who reaped a plethora of awards and a ton of unwanted attention surrounding his nonexistent girlfriend.
The schedule is as tough as ever (2nd nationally) with visits to Michigan and home games against Michigan State, Oklahoma, USC and BYU. But the only blemish is expected to come in the final regular season game when Brian Kelly's troops travel to Stanford as 4.79-point underdogs, according to the Congrove Computer Rankings. An 11-1 campaign would give the Irish a chance to claim their first win in the final year of BCS bowls. Notre Dame is 0-4 in the 15-year history of the BCS and has been outscored by an average of 25 points (39.5 to 14.25).
Brigham Young's 9-3 forecast contains predictable losses at Texas and Notre Dame, and a surprising setback at Utah State. The Cougars have an automatic bid awaiting them at the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl where they will try to notch their fifth straight postseason win and seventh in their last eight tries.
Navy is picked to go just 5-7, missing the bowl season for the second time in the last three years. But the Middies were projected to go 4-8 a year ago when they reversed those numbers for an 8-4 regular season before getting shellacked 62-24 by Arizona State at the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Should Navy pick up another win, they are automatically off to the Armed Forces Bowl. The Midshipmen have lost five of their last six bowl games.
Army would garner an automatic invitee to the Poinsettia Bowl with a minimum 6-win season, but the Congrove forecast calls for just 3 victories. There is quite a bit of hope in the fact that five of the predicted losses are by less than 4 points - home vs. Wake Forest (3.92), at Boston College (2.83), at Air Force (0.81), home vs. Western Kentucky (2.47) and at Hawaii (1.98). Army is actually favored over Louisiana Tech at Dallas, along with home games against FCS member Morgan State in the opener and perennial AMC doormat Eastern Michigan in mid-October.
New Mexico State and Idaho are easily at the back of the Independents pack with two of the three lowest opening day power ratings. New Mexico State's power ranks 123rd while Idaho checks in dead last out of 125 FBS teams.