2021 Independents College Football Preview and Predictions

August 28, 2021 by Staff

The one-year 'membership' in the ACC worked out very well for Notre Dame in 2020 as the Irish went 10-0 in the regular season (9-0 in the conference) and advanced to to the postseason. But the postseason saw everything come to a screeching halt.  First, Clemson avenged its 47-40 regular season loss in South Bend with a 34-10 throttling of Notre Dame in Charlotte in the ACC Championship game. The Irish then faced Alabama in the semifinals of the CFP playoff and were whipped again, 31-14, by Alabama.

The Congrove Computer Rankings at CollegeFootballPoll.com see the Irish taking a bit of a plunge to 8-4.

Like the other Final Four teams - 'Bama, Clemson, and Ohio State - Notre Dame loses its star QB and ranks near the bottom of all 130 teams for returning production. In fact, the Irish are 128th in that category as Brian Kelley gets back just 3 starters on offense and 6 on defense.

Outside of the Final Four programs, the other 126 FBS schools return an averaqe of 74.8% of last year's starters, 53 teams have welcomed back at least 80% of their starters, and 17 of those are returning upwards of 90%.

For Notre Dame, those four losses are expected to occur in Chicago against Wisconsin on 9/25, at home to USC and North Carolina on 10/23 and 10/30, and at Stanford on 11/23.

Liberty gets the nod for best predicted record among independents at 9-3. Of Course, the Flames face the nation's 13th-weakest schedule whereas the Irish face the 8th-toughtest. Liberty's opponents include FCS Campbell in the opener, 128th-ranked Old Dominion in week 3, 127th-anked ULM in week 7, and 105th-ranked UMass in 9.

Army West Point, like Air Force and Navy, is always difficult to predict. The academies seem to have an upper hand in getting cohesiveness from their troops and rely largely on a patient ground game to keep the opposition from advancing. (Sounds like Football War School).  But because Jeff Monken only gets back 14 starters, the computer pegs the Black Knights at 6-6.

BYU is a vastly different story than Army. The Cougars lose two of their top four tacklers, and seven of their top ten. More importantly, Zach Wilson has taken his QB skills to the New York Jets as the NFL's No. 2 over-all draft pick. Wilson's skills, and a No. 89 schedule with no Power 5 conference schools, helped the Cougars go 10-1 a year ago. This year, BYU opens against Arizona for an expected win in Las Vegas, and then hosts Utah and Arizona State for a likely 1-2 start.

UMass and UConn each play two FCS opponents and, hence, their projections of 4-8 and 2-10, respectively.

It's tough to imagine it's possible, but New Mexico State could even be worse than the 3-9 and 2-10 marks of the past two seasons. The computer has the Aggies going winless, including a home defeat at the hands of FCS member South Carolina State on 9/18.

31 Liberty 9 3 73.84 118
32 Notre Dame 8 4 82.63 8
71 Army 6 6 67.74 89
86 Brigham Young 5 7 68.68 56
105 Massachusetts 4 8 48.84 105
123 Connecticut 2 10 51.11 92
130 New Mexico State 0 12 36.84 95