2022 NCAA Football Preview - Independents
So with the Power Five conferences cannibalizing themselves into, I don’t know, the Power three? I suppose we may see the Big 10 and SEC scramble to add a few more teams, certainly, you would think that teams like Clemson, Miami, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington would have a certain amount of cachet that would make them desirable.
We should see soon, I’m writing this in early August and just last week the Big Ten completed negotiations for its new media rights package and while they didn't add any additional teams at the last minute, rumors are still out there.
I can’t see the SEC sitting still and not taking action and one would think that some combination of the above teams along with Virginia, Florida State, Louisville, or even Cincinnati (just to stick a thumb in the Big Ten’s collective eye) could be in play to bring them to either 18 or 20 teams.
I believe in the end you’ll see the Big Ten absorb a couple of the more desirable Pac 12 teams like Oregon and Washington as well as Notre Dame (eventually) and make a play for North Carolina (who the SEC will also want) and Duke (who they won’t). The Big XII pick off a few more such as Utah and Colorado in addition to the widely speculated Arizona and Arizona State moves, and the SEC will take who they want from the remainder of the ACC carcass.
In any case let’s talk about the now, the 2022 NCAA football season, and how the independent teams will fare.
Army Black Knights (9-4)
Head Coach – Jeff Monken (58-43 in 8 seasons, 5 bowl games)
Top recruit – Kanye Udoh – RB – 2 stars
Biggest question for 2022 – How much will the NCAA’s new rule regarding cut blocks affect Army (and Navy, and Air Force)? The rule states that cut blocks (any below-the-waist block) will be illegal outside of the tackle box and any player who is not an offensive lineman or “a stationary back inside the tackle box” would be prohibited from making such a block. If you’ve ever watched ANY triple-option offense you know how prevalent this type of block is.
If things go right. . . They can steal a win in the opener @Coastal Carolina and the next week against Texas-San Antonio. They’ll be 4-0 going into the game @Wake Forest, which should be a loss, but they played Wake tough in 2021, you just won’t win many games giving up 76 points. After Wake Forest, the only games that could be potential losses are the rivalry games Vs. Air Force and Navy. If they manage the rule change well early, the Black knights could finish as high as 10-2.
If things go wrong. . . They stumble early in their first two games, recover against Villanova and Georgia State, and drop the game @Wake Forest as well as the Air Force and Navy games leaving them at 7-5.
Most likely outcome for the season – I think the Coastal Carolina game is a loss (rule change, on the road), Wake is just a better team and they likely split the service academy games (they went to OT Vs. Air Force and lost by 4 to Navy) giving them a 9-3 record for 2022.
Brigham Young Cougars (10-3)
Head Coach – Kalani Sitake (48-29 in 6 seasons, 5 bowl games)
Top recruit – Aisea Moa – DL – 4 stars
Biggest question for 2022 – Can the Cougars' defense manage to be equal to their explosive offense in 2022? If so BYU could be looking at an even better record than last year.
If things go right. . . they take two of their four toughest games (Vs. Baylor, @Oregon, @ Las Vegas against Notre Dame, and Vs. Arkansas) and cruise to a 10-2 record.
If things go wrong. . . Those four games are all losses (and the Baylor and Arkansas games get ugly). The Cougs also drop their rivalry game @Boise State to finish 7-5.
Most likely outcome for the season – This BYU team looks good enough to go 8-4 without breaking a sweat, but in reality, they will go as far as Jaren Hall’s left arm takes them. He’s super talented and is capable of leading the Cougars to an upset any given week all by his lonesome.
Connecticut Huskies (1-11)
Head Coach – Jim Mora Jr. (First Season)
Top recruit – Zion Turner – QB – 3 stars
Biggest question for 2022 – (and it may not be answered this year) – Is Jim Mora Jr. the right coach for this job? Certainly, there’s no pressure to win a conference or national title, and I’m not even sure how much pressure there is to even be good (UConn has won 10 games in the last 5 seasons they’ve played, no games in 2020; twenty-nine teams won 10 games in the FBS in 2021) but if the athletic department is patient, I think Mora can have them back in a bowl game in a few years.
If things go right. . . it’s still going to be a long, ugly season. Looking hard at the schedule, I’m not sure I can make a reasonable case for more than a 3-8 season. I’ll predict wins over Central Connecticut, Florida International, and UMass. I think the Huskies will be better prepared and coached in 2022, but the talent level is simply lagging behind all but the worst FBS teams.
If things go wrong. . . We could see a winless slate or just a single win. The Huskies’ only win of 2022 came in Week 8 against Yale, and for the season, they dropped games against Holy Cross, @Vanderbilt, and @UMass, not exactly the SEC West there. Central Connecticut and UMass seem the most likely places to see a win, but nothing should be taken for granted in Storrs this season.
Most likely outcome for the season – UConn fans are likely looking down the barrel of a 2-10 season, though, that’s actually an improvement over 2021. They could squeeze out a third win against Florida International whose program seems to be in a serious state of disarray and they return only four starters on their two-deep thanks to the exodus through the transfer portal. Rebuilding a program when it’s been dead and buried for as long as UConn’s has isn’t easy and it’s not quick; Jim Mora has a huge job ahead of him.
Liberty Flames (8-5)
Head Coach – Hugh Freeze (26-11 in 3 seasons, 3 bowl games)
Top recruit – Markel Fortenberry – WR – 3 stars
Biggest question for 2022 – how much will 2022 NFL selection Malik Willis be missed in this offense? Willis was a generational player, the type that unless you are a fan of Alabama or Ohio State you see once every 15 or 20 years and he’ll be missed. Unfortunately, he also had too many instances where it felt like the play call was “Do what you want” and that bit the Flames hard in a three-game losing streak to close out the season. With Charlie Brewer (QB-SR-Baylor transfer) taking snaps behind an improved O-line we could see a less dynamic, but more consistent Liberty offense in 2022.
If things go right. . . the Flames will take all three of their toss-up games (@Southern Miss, Vs. UAB, and @Old Dominion) along with their “should win” games (home against Akron, Gardner-Webb, and New Mexico State and on the road at UMass and UConn). There’s not much they can do in these four - @Wake Forest, Vs. BYU, @Arkansas, and Vs. Virginia Tech other than keep it respectable, though, depending on how Virginia Tech's season goes, maybe they could be had.
If things go wrong. . . two of the toss-up games are losses and at least two of the “for sure” losses get WAY out of hand leading to a hangover loss to UConn (BYU and @Arkansas in consecutive weeks prior to UConn). 5-7 looks like the floor, but if things snowball it's hard to say how bad things can get.
Most likely outcome for the season is – The flames get back to a bowl for the fourth time under Hugh Freeze, but whether that’s at 6-6 or 7-5 I have no idea. There are enough winnable games on the schedule that they could be bowl-eligible before November.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (11-2)
Head Coach – Marcus Freeman (First season)
Top recruit – Jaylen Sneed – LB – 5 stars
Biggest question for 2022 – Will having the third starting QB in three years drag the offense down to a point where the defense has to be significantly better than 2021 when they were already a Top 20 defense (15th nationally – 19.7 PAPG)?
If things go right. . . The Freeman era kicks off with a win in Ohio Stadium, the same stadium that HC Freeman played in while a linebacker at Ohio State. A win there propels them through September to an October matchup against BYU in Las Vegas and if they win that they should be undefeated when November arrives. Games against Vs. Clemson and @Southern Cal are sandwiched around a neutral site game against Navy and a home game Vs. Boston College. It’s very unlikely, but best case scenario for the Irish is an undefeated or 1-loss season.
If things go wrong. . . the season starts and ends with a loss with at least two more sprinkled somewhere in the middle. @North Carolina could be tricky, Mack Brown has a talented roster that just hasn’t played up to its potential yet, and the triple-option offense of Navy is always a little worrisome. 7-5 sounds like a good floor for the season, but, to me, sounds as unlikely as an undefeated season.
Most likely outcome for the season – Losses to @Ohio State, Vs. Clemson, and @USC while taking the rest of the schedule sounds about right. HC Freeman was a great choice in my eyes and he’ll bring in a ton of talent which will be coached up by a staff including former (Temple and Miami, FL) head coach Al Golden as defensive coordinator, Deland McCullough (running backs coach), Chansi Stuckey (wide receivers coach), and defensive graduate assistant James Laurinaitis, all of who have a ton of high-level college and NFL game experience
That’s it, go home, there is no more. The 2022 college football previews are done and the season starts this weekend. Go, enjoy a few adult beverages, and binge on the bounty of football goodness.