Don't overlook BYU in 2014
By Jeff Frank
Sports Analyst, Inside the Numbers
Let's Be Frank
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Notre Dame has been the darling of the Independents this decade but that will change this season as both BYU and Navy will post more regular season wins than the Fighting Irish.
The Cougars have the most talent of the four teams, while the Midshipmen have a much easier schedule than Army, BYU and Notre Dame.
BYU has an outside shot of reaching the FBS playoffs if the Cougars run the table and there are more than the average number of upsets within the Power 5 conferences. Winning at Texas and at Boise State might be asking a lot but Bronco Mendenhall's squad should not be taken lightly this year, especially against the spread.
Time now to take a deeper look into the Independents, along with odds to win the National Title and regular season over/under totals courtesy of Bovada.
4) ARMY (over 1,000-1) - The Black Knights are 1-10 as road underdogs the last three years. A new coaching staff comes in to try and get the club back to respectability. Unfortunately, the offensive line loses four starters. All skill position players are back but that occurred in 2011 and the scoring average dropped a couple of points. Defensively, Army loses four of its top five tacklers and switches to a 3-4 scheme. The change could come back to haunt the club with the loss of its top three linebackers. Despite all of the bad news, the coaching change, along with a very easy schedule (two games against FCS schools), could spark the team to a .500 record.
Final thought - The Black Knights have won just one game outside of Michie Stadium the last three years. They play just five home games in 2014. Wager against them early on as their offense has locked shoddy in training camp. Predicted overall record - 6-6.
3) NOTRE DAME (66-1) - The Fighting Irish are 7-2 as road underdogs the last five years. Everett Golson is back but almost all the weapons he had two years ago are gone. And due to recent suspensions, the Irish are without last year's top three pass catchers, who totaled 151 receptions for 2,351 yards and 21 touchdowns. The defense loses six of its top eight tacklers so don't expect a reversal in form back to 2012's tremendous numbers. This season's squad is a much younger one than in years past so the odds of an improvement over 2013's 8-4 regular season record are slim and none.
Final thought - It's a good thing Notre Dame is 14-1 in its last 15 home games since the Irish might not win many games outside their own stadium. Over/under total - 7.5. Predicted overall record - 7-5.
2) NAVY (over 1,000-1) - The Midshipmen are a solid 28-9 as road underdogs the last 11 years. They have had great success under Ken Niumatalolo with three eight-win seasons and two nine-win campaigns. Keenan Reynolds led his team to 24 points or more in all but two games last season. The two he failed came against Duke and Western Kentucky, a game Reynolds was injured. The defense held nine of its 13 opponents below their scoring average, excluding overtime. This is a veteran-laden squad returning 15 starters - the most in Annapolis since 2006. Look for another nine-win season.
Final thought - Don't count the Midshipmen out against Ohio State this Saturday. Predicted overall record - 9-3.
1) BYU (300-1) - The Cougars are 10-1 in their last 11 games as road underdogs. They gained 94 more yards per game than in 2012 but averaged just one more point per game primarily due to a red zone touchdown percentage that dropped from 63 percent to 48 percent. Taysom Hill still needs to improve his passing skills but he did complete 60 percent over his final eight games (43 percent the first five). The offensive line is more experienced than last year and the new receivers will open up the offense much more than in previous seasons. The defense should be solid with the return of cornerback Jordan Johnson (injured in 2013) and a few mission returnees and transfers. Unlike last year, depth won't be an issue both offensively and defensively.
Final thought - BYU is 29-20 (59 percent) against the spread the last four years. Look for an above .500 ATS record in 2014. Over/under total - 9.5. Predicted overall record - 11-1. Take over 9.5 wins at even money.
THE TOP MOVERS AND SHAKERS
Bovada lists Florida State (4-1), Alabama (5-1), Oregon (15-2) and Auburn, as well as Oklahoma (10-1), as the only five teams at 10-1 or lower. Of those five clubs, only two - the Seminoles and Crimson Tide - are decent wagers to win the FBS Championship.
However, a club with double-digit odds is my choice to win it all - Georgia at 16-1. Three longer-priced teams with outside shots to surprise are Michigan State at 25-1, Iowa at 100-1 and BYU at 300-1.
Finally, here is this year's initial Jeff Frank Dirty Dozen for 2014:
1) Florida State, 104; 2) Alabama, 102; 3) Oregon, 100; 4) UCLA, 97; 5) Michigan State, 96.5; 6-T) Auburn, Georgia and Oklahoma, 96; 9-T) Baylor, LSU, USC and Stanford, 94.
(The Dirty Dozen is not a reflection of a given team's won-loss record. It is based on power ratings used to predict spreads for the upcoming week. At the beginning of the season, all FBS teams are assigned a power number, which changes on a week-to-week basis depending on the results of the previous week.)