It’s hard to believe that there were 26 Independent football programs in 1989. With Navy joining the AAC (American Athletic) in 2015, Notre Dame is the only program that has never been affiliated with a conference.
Army has been on their own since 2005. The Black Knights spent 7 years (1998 to 2004) as a member of C-USA.
BYU joined the Independent ranks in 2011. Prior to that the Cougars were members of the Mountain West from 1999 to 2010.
UMass became an Independent in 2016 after playing in the MAC from 2012 to 2015.
Last year New Mexico State returned as an independent. The Aggies were an Independent for the 2013 campaign before joining the Sun Belt for 4 years.
Liberty was another new addition in 2018. The Flames spent the previous 30 years at the FCS level.
Independent College Football Preview & Predictions
The biggest thing to look for when handicapping the Independent teams is the schedule. While these teams don’t play in a conference, their schedule can sometimes be harder than what a team would typically go up against. For example, most teams play 8 or 9 conference games during the season. Notre Dame has 10 games against a Power-5 opponent this year and the other two are far from cupcakes.
That’s not to say every Independent’s schedule is that overwhelming. In fact, the only other Independent with more than 2 games against Power 5 teams is BYU with just 5.
In terms of making the playoffs, the only team with an even remote shot of crashing the party is Notre Dame.
I’ve taken a close look at each of these six teams and put together my projected standings for 2018. Find out if I’m high or low on them by looking at the Vegas win totals. You can also get a jump start on the new season with the Week 1 betting odds.
Want to see how I have each conference playing out this year? Check out my 2019 predictions page for a complete breakdown of the NCAA football landscape.
2019 Independent Projected Standings & Rankings
|4th||New Mexico St||3-9|
The Fighting Irish were finally able to crash the 4-team playoff. Notre Dame posted a perfect 12-0 record in the regular season with wins over 4 ranked teams. The most impressive being their season-opening win against Michigan.
Unfortunately for the Irish they ran into a loaded Clemson team and were trounced 30-3 in their Semifinal matchup. Heading into the 10th season under head coach Brian Kelly, Notre Dame will have a shot at making the playoff again.
The Irish return 13 starters, including junior quarterback Ian Book, who took the starting gig away from incumbent starter Brandon Wimbush last year. They do have to replace both their leading rusher and receiver, but will have a top notch offensive line and are always sound defensively.
The problem for Notre Dame is the schedule. The Irish have 9 games on the slate against Power 5 opponents. They have to travel to Georgia, Michigan, Duke and Stanford, while also hosting USC, Virginia Tech and Virginia. Hard to see them winning at Georgia or Michigan and with 2 losses and the playoffs out of reach, I think they slip up somewhere else.
It’s becoming quite a story at Army. The Black Knights won just 6 games in the first two seasons under head coach Jeff Monken. Since then they have gone 29-10 and are off back-to-back 10-win seasons. This also includes a 3-game win streak over rival Navy.
Last year was the best yet, as Army went 11-2 with their two losses coming on the road at Duke and at playoff bound Oklahoma (lost in OT). Not to mention they capped things off with a 70-14 win over Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl. They ended the year ranked No. 19 in the AP Poll, which is the first time since 1996 that they ended the year ranked.
Army should be just as strong in 2019, as they get back 11 starters, including 7 on an offense that put up nearly 33 ppg and 400 ypg. The schedule is definitely manageable, as their only game against a Power 5 opponent is at Michigan in early September.
I still think this team will struggle to match last year’s success. There are a number of tricky road games on the slate this year and I got concerns with the defense taking a big step back with just 4 starters returning and the loss of defensive coordinator Jay Bateman.
While Army re-writing the record books was something special, BYU is coming off a big bounce back season. The Cougars were coming of a dismal 4-9 campaign in 2017 and expectations were lowered considerably. BYU responded with a 7-6 season, which was capped off with a 49-18 blowout win over Western Michigan in the Idaho Potato Bowl.
Some might be expecting another jump in the win column in 2019, as the Cougars return 17 starters and many feel they have found another gem at QB in sophomore Zach Wilson. He started 7 games last year and completed 66% of his passes with a 12-3 TD-INT
Unfortunately for BYU the schedule is a lot tougher in 2019. The Cougars open the year with 3 of 4 at home, but those 3 home games are against Utah, USC and Washington, three of the best the Pac-12 has to offer this year. They also have a road game against what figures to be a very underrated Tennessee team.
I got them starting 0-4 and losing on the road to both USF and San Diego State. Note they also have tough road games at Toledo and Utah State, as well as a home against a top notch Boise State squad.
The Flames have to be pleased with how their first season that FBS level went. Liberty finished a modest 6-6 with an impressive win over a quality Troy team. The Flames haven’t posted a losing record since 2005, but that could come to an end.
While I like the hire of Hugh Freeze to replace the spot of retired head coach Turner Gill and the fact that Liberty returns 15 starters, I the schedule is a little tougher this time around. They have 3 games against a Power 5 program, as well as a road game at BYU. They will need to pull off a few upsets to get to a bowl.
New Mexico State
The optimism surrounding the Aggies surprising 7-6 campaign in 2017 didn’t last long. Despite returning 15 starters from that team, New Mexico State plummeted to 3-9. That’s now 8 times in the last decade that they have won 3 or fewer games.
Last year they started out 0-4 and just couldn’t recover. This year I see more of the same, as I actually have them 0-5 before finally picking up a win at home over Liberty. There’s only 5 home games on the schedule and two of those are almost for sure losses to Fresno State and San Diego State. I see another 3-win season on the horizon for the Aggies.
This figures to be a rebuilding year for UMass, which is never a good thing for a team that only went 4-8 the previous year. Not to mention the four wins were against the likes of Duquesne, Charlotte, UConn and Liberty (3OT).
After head coach Mark Whipple stepped down, UMass went out and hired Walt Bell, who has spent last year as the OC/QB coach at Florida State. Bell has his work cut out for him, as the Minutemen return just 8 starters. I think the only sure win on the schedule is a home game against FCS foe Southern Illinois.
Future Betting Odds
2019 Independent Win Totals
|New Mexico St||3.5|
|Players (Pos, School)||Odds|
|Ian Book (QB, Notre Dame)||+3000|
Find out where these two players rank overall in our Heisman odds section.
Playoff Odds (Win National Championship)
Find out where they rank against the other top programs by visiting our championship odds page.