Leading up to the kickoff of the 2019 college football season, The Game Haus will be previewing each FBS conference and those independent teams. It is continued today with the independents, as league predictions and top performers will be looked at while also highlighting key games from each conference.
Here are the independents.
Are the Irish capable of making a run to their second straight appearance in the College Football Playoff? Perhaps, but there are questions that need to be answered. Quarterback Ian Book completed 68.2 percent of his passes in 2018, and will be more comfortable this season, but Notre Dame needs a running back to step up. While the Irish return six defensive starters, they must retool at linebacker.
A third straight season with at least 10 victories is the aim for the Black Knights. Quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr is the motor that makes their option-offense go and linebacker Cole Christiansen (77 tackles in 2018) and defensive back Elijah Riley (10 passes defended) pace a defense that did not allow more than 14 points in any of the final five games of 2018.
The Cougars dug deep to win seven games last year and rebound from a four-win 2017 campaign. BYU should again have a solid defense, but the health of quarterback Zach Wilson and finding a dependable running back are imperative to the cause. Tight end Matt Bushman (78 catches, 1,031 yards in two seasons) needs to be consistently involved. Utah, Tennessee, USC and Washington is a brutal opening four-game stretch.
Hugh Freeze is back coaching following a disgraceful exit from Ole Miss. He’s in charge of making sure the Flames build on a 6-6 season in their first at the FBS level. Quarterback Stephen Calvert (3,068 passing yards, 21 TDs, 18 interceptions), running back Frankie Hickson (1,032 rushing yards, 11 TDs) and receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden (career 161 receptions, 2,418 receiving yards and 23 TDs) all return.
New Mexico State
NMSU went from a bowl team in 2017 to one that managed only three wins last season. Sophomore QB Josh Adkins (2,563 passing yards) seemed to get more comfortable as last season went on. Experience and a bevy of transfers have the Aggies thinking they can surpass that three-win total from 2018. However, Washington State, Alabama and San Diego State over the first three games is a daunting opening stretch.
Former Florida State offensive coordinator Walt Bell is now running a UMass program that has never won more than four games in a season since joining the FBS in 2012. There are a lot of questions on both sides of the ball, and a finishing stretch versus Army, Northwestern and BYU will be especially tough.
Players to watch
Kelvin Hopkins Jr., QB, Army: The ringleader of Army’s option offense, Hopkins ran for 1,017 yards with 17 touchdowns and also threw for 1,026 as a junior in 2018. He’s certainly fun to watch. .
Alohi Gilman, S, Notre Dame: Gilman’s solid 2018 campaign (95 tackles, two interceptions, three forced fumbles) has elevated him into the All-American conversation. He could be better in 2019.
Aug. 29: Utah at BYU. What a better way to kick off the season than with a rivalry game. That means BYU won’t have to wait long for the chance to end their eight-game slide versus Utah.
Oct. 26: Notre Dame at Michigan. After this season, who knows when these rivals will play again. So, let’s focus on the time being, as the Irish look for a third straight win in the series.
Dec. 14: Army vs. Navy. It’s still one of the more anticipated games on the regular-season slate. The Cadets have won the last three meetings by a combined 12 points.