2015 Independent College Football Predictions
Offense: Malik Zaire will be the starting quarterback in South Bend this season after Everett Golson transferred to Florida State. Zaire will pose nightmares for defenses with his ability to run. The line is impressive with several key starters coming back to the unit. Will Fuller had a huge sophomore season with 15 touchdowns and nearly 1,100 receiving yards. Running back will be fine with Tarean Folston returning, his back up Greg Bryant will not see the field this fall, but running back usually has solid depth.
Defense: As the Irish started to play more talented offensive teams the defense struggled. Ten starters return from that team and will look to make a leap from decent to good this year. The strength of the team is at linebacker with Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt. Smith led the team with 111 tackles and Schmidt, who played just eight games, had 65 tackles which was fourth on the team. Sheldon Day is the stud on the line. It will be key for the Irish to sack in the quarterback this season, they seemed to rush the passer well but they didn't bring him down as often as the Irish hoped. The safety spot will be something to watch this year after a shaky 2014. At corner they are stacked with Cole Luke who is turning into a shutdown corner. KeiVarae Russell is back after a year away from football and should make a difference in the Irish secondary.
Special Teams: Justin Yoon should make a big splash in his freshman season as kicker. Tyler Newsome will start at punter and we will take a wait and see approach on him.
Forecast: Notre Dame has a chance to make a run at a national title, but the schedule is difficult. They open with Texas and have USC, Georgia Tech at home as well. Tough road games at Clemson, Stanford and Pittsburgh. Malik Zaire is the man to watch on offense if he plays well the Irish will have a good chance at winning. On defense it starts with the push up front.
Offense: The line and it's depth might be the biggest concern for the Cougars but they return some solid starters. Luckily for them they will be protecting a guy who was on his way to being considered for a Heisman, Taysom Hill. Hill was all the talk in September until he went down with an injury ending his 2014 season. Hill proved he is more than just a runner, he has an arm to go with his legs. His top target will be Mitch Matthews with Mitchell Juergens and Colby Pearson making jumps this season. Jamaal Williams is a difference maker when he is in the backfield. Williams and Hill being healthy makes the BYU rushing attack one of the best.
Defense: The defense will be loaded with depth with six starers returning some of which may not be starters. The secondary looks to be the weak link while the defensive line will be the strength. Bronson Kaufusi has the ability to get in the backfield with 11.5 tackles from loss and seven sacks. He looks to move from OLB to DE this season. The linebacking core has great depth but getting all three guys who missed spring practice will be key.
Special Teams: Two players are in contention for the starting punter spot. Trevor Samson returns at kicker as a senior.
Forecast: There is a lot to like about the Cougars offense, defensively however they have plenty of question especially in the secondary. The schedule won't be easy to navigate either the first four games of the year are at Nebraska, Boise State, at UCLA and at Michigan. If they can get through those games with three wins the Cougars have a chance to make some noise.
Offense: The offense was not good last season, this season, it could be even worse. The quarterback position is a major question mark. Ahmad Bradshaw would be the intriguing guy to get the go at QB but we will see if A.J. Schurr ends up being the guy. For a team that runs the ball at a high rate they do not return a back who had more then 25 carries. The line returns some experience but will be enough with all the talent they lost offensively to make the Knights better? Probably not. Edgar Poe is the teams leading pass catcher with 10 catches.
Defense: The defense was OK at times and managed to hold Navy to just 17 points last season. The defensive line will be a struggle this season with all four starters departed. The secondary is making strides after a decent 2015 season. Linebacker is where the Black Knights have their stars. Jeremy Timpf led the Knights in tackles with 117 and 14.5 tackles for loss. Inside linebacker Andrew King had a good season as well with a team high five sacks and eight tackles for loss.
Special Teams: Overall the special teams play was poor. Place kicking hit at 53.8 rate, punts are only averaging 39.34 yards a punt. The return game was dreadful, if you want the numbers look towards the bottom of the rankings.
Forecast: This season will be one that they are building for the future. Ahmad Bradshaw needs to be the starter if they are looking to for promise. The defensive line will hold the defense back this season. At the end of the day if Army only wins one game and that game is Navy, this season was a success.
*All logos are via CBSsports.com
Independent Offensive POY
Taysom Hill, QB, BYU
Independent Defensive POY
Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame
Independent Coach of the Year
Brian Kelly, Notre Dame