Complete preview of the Independent Teams for 2018.
The Liberty Flames will be making their debut in the FBS this year along the 5 other independents squads, Army, UMass, New Mexico State, Notre Dame and BYU. Check out how each teams will fair this year.
While there is a trip to Norman in September, the Sooners are the only FBS team on Army’s schedule that won more than seven games last season. The slate also includes two FCS programs and one transitioning to the FBS. It should all add up to the academy playing in a bowl game for a third consecutive season — something that has never happened. “I think it’s easy for guys that haven’t experienced anything but winning seasons to maybe think it’s a lot easier than it is,” coach Jeff Monken says. “We have to keep our team from being complacent.”
Notre Dame is aiming for its first back-to-back double-digit-winning seasons since Lou Holtz was head coach in 1992-93. Winners of 10 games in two of the last three years, the Fighting Irish remain a difficult read, due largely to the ugly 4–8 season in 2016. It begs the question: Was last year’s September-October run for a Playoff berth a more accurate depiction of Notre Dame moving forward, or does the collapse in November at Miami and Stanford say more about the up-and-down Brian Kelly regime?
With an experienced roster and winnable games on the schedule, bowl eligibility is a more reachable goal than it’s been since UMass became an FBS program in 2012. But to get in a bowl without a conference, they’ll have to hope that a conference fails to fill its slots.
BYU’s sudden drop to 4-9 has created quite a challenge for coach Kalani Sitake in his third season on the job. “There’s a huge urgency to get better,” Sitake says. That can happen if the Cougars start putting points on the scoreboard. BYU scored 17 or fewer points in eight defeats in 2017, continually frustrating Sitake. An improved offensive line and receiving corps, along with more continuity at quarterback, should help in this pivotal year for the independent program.
New Mexico State
The schedule is not daunting, with two games against fellow independent Liberty and matchups with familiar Sun Belt teams Louisiana, Texas State and Georgia Southern. If NMSU receives quality play at quarterback and the defense takes another step forward, the Aggies have a realistic opportunity to enjoy a second straight winning season — something that hasn’t happened since the late 1960s.
Sustaining success throughout an entire season has been Liberty’s struggle under coach Turner Gill, and if the offense is unable to score enough points to negate the defense’s inability to stop the run, Liberty’s streak of 12 consecutive winning seasons will end.