The independents grew one more this year, as Massachusetts left the MAC and become an independent. This brings the total to four. Two of them are very exciting, and two of them still have a ways to go until they are able to act as some type of a threat.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame will enter the year with two of the best quarterbacks in the country in Malik Zaire and presumed starter DeShone Kizer. It will be interesting to see how long they are both there, as either could leave and start elsewhere and be one of the best in the country. The team loses C.J. Prosise who was one of my top players coming into the year in 2015 when Tarean Folston went down. He didn’t disappoint. This year, it looks like Josh Adams and Folston will be the top backs, but after his production when Prosise went down, I imagine Adams will emerge as the starting back. The top two receivers in first round draft pick Will Fuller and Chris Brown are gone, as well as Amir Carlisle, so the receiving core is down a bit with Torii Hunter and Corey Robinson as the top returning players. Equanimeous St. Brown not only has an amazing name, but should be in line for much of the lost production. This offense is going to be great again in 2016.

Notre Dame was crippled with injuries on the defensive side of the ball in 2015, and that really kept them from being a true National Championship threat. This year, they lost a bunch of starters, so it is going to be tough to replicate their production. I think those that return will do well with the incoming freshman, and this team could potentially threaten for a top seed and potentially get into the top four.

Their schedule lines up fairly well for them on the year. Their toughest tests will be book-ended: an opening weekend game against a much-improved Texas Longhorns team and the final week against a talented USC team.

BYU Cougars

Well, this should certainly be interesting. Taysom Hill is the Derrick Rose of college football. He is always hurt. He was granted an additional year of eligibility, and will come back to compete with Tanner Mangum. I think the job is probably Hill’s to lose, but it could really go either way. It depends on how well Hill is reacting to his surgery and if he is able to move at full capacity. The team loses three of their top four receivers, with Mitch Mathews, Devon Blackmon and Terenn Houk departing, leaving Mitchell Jeurgens and Nick Kurtz to pick up the slack. The team should do fine with two experienced quarterbacks. Additionally, Algernon Brown and Jamaal Williams will return to man the backfield. This is a strong duo with tons of experience that will make BYU exciting to watch.

BYU had dominant defenses under Bronco Mendenhall. Will it be able to stay the same under new head coach Kalani Sitake? That remains to be seen. Early reports from beat reports tell us that there could be a change in formation this year. I am a firm believer in it being a difficult task switching coaches and formations, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this defense slipped up just a bit this year. They have some experience, but they also lose one of their best defensive players in Bronson Kaufusi.

Army Black Knights

Army is always a fun team to watch, as they run a triple option offense that utilizes about a dozen different backs. These offenses are always fun to watch, but often times do not really produce one big star. That is absolutely the case with Army. They have a ton of pieces, with quarterbacks Chris Carter and Ahmad Bradshaw in the mix. Aaron Kemper is one of their top backs, and should remain a main contributor in 2016. They have one top of the line receiver in Edgar Poe, but this team doesn’t pass enough for him to be a massive fantasy factor.

The Army defense has been very bad over the past several years, but with this being Jeff Monken’s third year in, we should finally be seeing his recruits bearing fruit. I do not believe they will see a massive jump, but with a lot of returning talent and a big jump in experience, this should be a defense on the rise. Next year, they should finally have a stabilized defense.

Massachusetts Minutemen

This is probably going to be a very bad year for Massachusetts’ fans. First, the team is moving on from the MAC and becoming an independent. This means they will be facing a bit of a tougher test. They will be playing Florida, Boston College, Mississippi State, Louisiana Tech, South Carolina and BYU. These are better than most teams they played last year. Second, the team loses it’s QB, former Marshall transfer Blake Fronhapfel and their receiving unit of Tajae Sharpe, Rodney Mills and Marken Michel. They will need to replace literally 80% of their offense, bare minimum. Andrew Ford is likely to start, and will have only Shakur Nesmith returning to catch passes. The team does return a pretty good running back in Marquis Young, who rushed for almost 1000 yards while averaging 6.3 yards per carry.

Massachusetts was a bottom 25 defense in 2015, and with the move away from the MAC and increased competition, will likely be even worse in 2016. There isn’t much more to say than that. It is going to take a few years for this team to adjust to their surroundings before I think they will be able to compete.