John Roberts College Football

Friday, August 12, 2005

Preseason 2005: A Look at the Independents

The wonderful world of being an independent has two members that were not independent last year. Notre Dame, Navy, Army, and Temple are the lone independents now. It is clear that it is a dying breed. However, three of the nation's most tradition rich programs are independents (Notre Dame, Navy and Army). Temple is just stopping over until they join the MAC next year. The Independents are worth paying attention to, and play a lot of fun games.

1. Notre Dame (6-5)- The first year under Charlie Weiss has potential to be a great year for the Irish. Quarterback Brady Quinn looks like he is prepared to have a breakout year. The offensive line returns completely intact. Darius Walker ran for almost 800 yards a year ago as a freshman and this year will be given the starting role. Rhema McKnight, Maurice Stovall and Jeff Samardzija lead a talented group of receivers and Athony Fasano is a top flight tight end. In other words, this offense has potential to be a monster. Derek Landri returns as the team's lone returning defensive lineman. He had an excellent season last year and Victor Abiamiri and Trevor Laws both are expected to have breakout seasons this year. Brandon Hoyte is the lone returning starter at linebacker. He has the makings of a standout linebacker. Corey Mays also is expected to have a big year as a fifth year senior. Tom Zbikowski is the only returning starter in the secondary. Mike Richardson has some solid potential that has been unrecognized to this point. For the Irish, nothing comes easy. There are five road games, and four of them will be done by the end of October 1. The road games are against Pittsburgh, Michigan, Washington, Purdue, and Stanford. All of them are teams that could beat the Irish. The home games are against Michigan State, BYU, Navy, Syracuse, and of course the two killers, USC and Tennessee. Six wins may be pushing it for the Irish. But the pieces are in place for a turnaround. If the Irish get off to a 4-1 start in first five games (a possibility), then the home game with USC on October 15 may be the most anticipated game Notre Dame has played since 2002.

2. Navy (6-5)- Coach Paul Johnson must know that he has built a solid foundation at this point. After winning 18 games the last two years, only six starters return, and people still expect the Midshipmen to make a push for a bowl game. Lamar Owens will be the new starting quarterback. He is the key to the triple option offense. The running game will be lead by Adam Ballard, Matt Hall, or Ron Kimbrough at fullback. The slotbacks are Marco Nelso and Trey Hines. Jason Tomlinson is a capable returning wide receiver when the Midshipmen decide to throw it. The offensive line returns just one starter, and that could spell big trouble for the Middies. The defensive line is lead by Jeremy Chase. Chase is good at getting pressure on the quarterback. The linebackers are all new except David Mahoney, who had five sacks a year ago. The secondary appears to be solid with corners Jeremy McGown and Hunter Reddick returning. The schedule presents some winnable games early with home games with Stanford, Air Force and Kent State, and road trips to Rice and Duke, and a neutral site game against Maryland. Those are their first six games, and there is a chance to be 4-2 or better after those games. If they are, Tulane, Temple, and Army remain on the schedule and the Middies should beat all three of those, meaning a winning season will be well within reach.

3. Army (3-8)- The Black Knights have a chance to be much improved this year. The schedule is softer due to the move from C-USA to independent status, and the team is more experienced. Bobby Ross is rubbing off on them, and four games were lost by ten points or less a year ago. Change those to wins, and Army would have been 6-5 a year ago. Zac Dahman is the returning starting quarterback. He is a presence in the pocket. Jacob Murphy and Jeremy Trimble make receiver a strength of the team as well. Carlton Jones ran for over 1000 yards a year ago and Scott Wesley looks to be a more than adequate back up. The defensive line is also a strength of this team. Tommy Ryan, Seth Lotts and Cameron Craig are all very capable of being dominant forces. Craig had four sacks a year ago and is the leader of the defense. The linebackers will be starting three new faces. Carson Shrode is expected to be the leader of the linebackers. The secondary returns three starters. Caleb Campbell and Dhyan Tarver are the two best. The team has a serious chance to win several games this year. Baylor, Connecticut, Central Michigan, Massachusetts, and Arkansas State all come to West Point as potential wins for the Black Knights. The road trips to Akron and Air Force and the date with Navy in Philadelphia are also potential wins. That's eight very winnable games for Army. Can they do that in the end? Maybe, maybe not. The only thing we know for sure is that Ross has them believing that they can win again.

4. Temple (1-10)- Let's just talk about Temple Owls football before we get into the scheduling issues. Mike McGann has started for the Owls in the past, but lost his job in the middle of 2003. Now, he is a senior and all Temple has at quarterback. Tim Brown is the team's returning starter at running back, and Umar Ferguson was a more than adequate back up a year ago. The offensive line has a chance to be a strength with three starters back on the line. The receivers are unproven, but have shown in practices that they have some big play potential. Mike Mendenhall anchors the defensive line. He is the unquestioned leader of the defense. Adam Fichter, Rodney Wormley, and Antwon Burton (who was injured and missed all of last year) are also back on the line. The linebackers are totally unproven and look to be a real weak spot on the defense. Ray Lamb is the leading playmaker in the secondary, where the team has more depth than at any other position. Even if the Owls are improved, this schedule may be one of the tougher ones ever faced by a mid-major program (which is what the Owls are for all practical purposes at this point). They go on the road to face Arizona State, Wisconsin, Bowling Green, Clemson, Virginia, and Navy. They play host to Toledo, Middle Tennessee, Maryland, Miami (FL), and Miami (OH). On that schedule, only Middle Tennessee even looks like it MIGHT be a win. It is a brutal schedule for the Owls. This may help them in the long run as they get experience this year before jumping into the MAC next year. The big question is, how competitive can the Owls be in the MAC? We get a sneak peak at that with Toledo, Bowling Green and Miami of Ohio appearing on the schedule.


QB Brady Quinn, Notre Dame
RB Darius Walker, Notre Dame
RB Carlton Jones, Army
WR Rhema McKnight, Notre Dame
WR Maurice Stovall, Notre Dame
TE Anthony Fasano, Notre Dame
OL Pete Bier, Army
OL John Gross, Temple
OL Ryan Harris, Notre Dame
OL Bobby Morton, Notre Dame
OL Dan Stevenson, Notre Dame

DL Mike Mendenhall, Temple
DL Cameron Craig, Army
DL Jeremy Chase, Navy
DL Derek Landri, Notre Dame
LB David Mahoney, Navy
LB Brandon Hoyte, Notre Dame
LB Corey Mays, Notre Dame
DB Hunter Reddick, Navy
DB Tom Zbikowski, Notre Dame
DB Mike Richardson, Notre Dame
DB Jeremy McGown, Navy

K D.J. Fitzpatrick, Notre Dame
P D.J. Fitzpatrick, Notre Dame
KR Jeremy McGown, Navy
PR Rhema McKnight, Notre Dame


At 3:27 PM, Blogger Frank said...

I dunno- I am not as sold on the quarterback, beating Pitt at Pitt (for example), or six wins as you are. New offense too- with people who have not been exactly adept at that sort of thing.

Tulane has to go to Navy- bad news for the Midshipmen. Should have mentioned that.

At 8:45 AM, Blogger John Roberts said...

I think the Irish could have a really great season, but I also think they could fall on their face. I really like Quinn in Weis' offense. I'm picking Navy to beat Tulane, which I did mention.

I think Notre Dame at Pittsburgh is one of the more intriguing games of the first week. I'm not sold on Pitt yet. We'll see.

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