Preseason Power Rankings: FBS Independents

Please note that power rankings are meant to rank teams based on current team strength on a neutral field. It is not necessarily a projection of where I think teams will finish or who has a better resume. It is forward thinking but does not factor in strength of schedule, schedule breakdown, etc.

ICYMI Other Conference Preseason Power Rankings:

Mountain West
MAC
Sun Belt
Conference USA
American

2022 FBS Independents Preseason Power Rankings

  1. Notre Dame: The Irish are coming off a strong season. Despite returning just 9 starters in 2021 they went 11-1 in the regular season with their only loss being to playoff-bound Cincinnati. Brian Kelly left them before their bowl game and DC Marcus Freeman got the internal promotion to HC. They got out to a 28-7 lead in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State but ended up losing that game. There is a lot of enthusiasm about Marcus Freeman taking over at head coach. Freeman (35) is the 3rd youngest coach in the FBS. The early recruiting momentum is really positive and the current roster & incoming commits we’re not shy about voicing their support of Freeman. While Kelly was an elite talent developer his recruiting at ND never reached elite levels. Only 1 of his 12 recruiting classes at ND reached the top 8 nationally. Freeman has 11 Top 200 commits in his 2022 class while Kelly averaged just 7 per class in his 11 classes. Notre Dame also currently has the #1 recruiting class in 2023 & 2024 according to 247 Sports. OC Tommy Rees chose to stay at ND rather than follow Brian Kelly to LSU. We will get a better idea about him as a play caller now that he is out from under Kelly’s shadow. This year’s team returns 15 starters but does lose QB Coan & RB Williams. The offense averaged 35.2 ppg & 426 ypg last year. Can they take a step forward without Kelly? This will be the 3rd starting QB for Tommy Rees to work with in as many years. It will be either Sophomore Tyler Buchner or Sophomore Drew Pyne, both of whom saw some snaps last year. It sounds like Buchner may have the inside track and he is more athletic than Coan was last year which would allow Rees to open up the playbook a little more and do some zone reads & rollouts. The offensive line looks like they will be really strong this year. They bring back all 5 starters and bring back the position coach from 2012-2017 who coached the likes of Quenton Nelson & Zack Maritn. TE Michael Mayer is one of the best in the country at that position. I think the question on offense is if a QB steps up and if they have any difference makers at Wide Receiver. The defense was strong last year, allowing only 19.7 ppg & 344 ypg. They went 14 consecutive quarters in November without allowing a TD. They return 6 of their 7 tacklers and new head coach Marcus Freeman is a defensive guy. He brought in Al Golden as his new DC. They brought in 2020 All American safety Brandon Joseph from Northwestern to replace Kyle Hamilton. You would expect this defense to continue to improve, but the numbers might take a step back because of the brutal schedule. They have games @ OSU, vs BYU (Vegas), vs Clemson, & @ USC this year. That could be 4 Top 15 teams. They will have their work cut out for them in Freeman’s first year.
  2. BYU: BYU over performed expectations in 2021. Despite losing a ton of talent, including QB Zach Wilson, and playing a much tougher schedule than in 2020 they put together a 10-2 regular season which included going 5-0 against the Pac 12 and beating Rose Bowl participant Utah convincingly. There is a ton of optimism heading into the 2022 season. Not only do they have 19 returning starters back, but they are also one of the few teams in the country that return their starting QB, head coach, and both coordinators. That continuity is uncommon for a team coming off a 10-win season. According to Brett Ciancia’s Season Preview they are one of only 3 teams to meet the following criteria: 2021 Top 25 team according to his game grader, Top 40 in the nation in offensive returning production, & Top 40 in defensive returning production. The offense scored 33.1 ppg & 452 ypg in 2021. They showed great balance, coming close to averaging 200+ ypg both on the ground and through the air. While they lose stud RB Tyler Allgeier, they do return QB Jaren Hall and an OLine that figures to be a strength this season. The OL was one of only 8 teams to finish in the top 25 in Ciancia’s sack rate and run pass metrics and they return all 5 guys this year. I think they will be able to find a RB to plug in with so much talent around that position. They added Cal’s starting RB in the transfer portal and with that OL he should be fine. The defense should be very strong this season. They got hit hard by injuries at the end of the 2021 season, but still but up strong numbers (24.8 ppg & 389 ypg). This year they return all 11 starters. If they stay healthy they should be really tough.
  1. Army: Jeff Monken’s Black Knights have put together a couple nice seasons in a row, going 9-2 in 2021 and 9-4 in 2021. While the loss to a bad Navy team certainly left a bitter taste in their mouth, they were able to rally to beat an SEC opponent (Missouri) in their bowl game. Like the other service academies, Army runs the triple option on offense which is designed to put together long sustained drives that frustrate and wear down the opponents defense. This was certainly the case in 2021 as they averaged only 10.2 offensive possessions per game (2nd fewest in the FBS) but scored a TD on 42.5% of their possessions (3rd highest in the FBS). The offense returns 8 starters. While they lose QB & leading rusher Christian Anderson, they do return their next 5 highest rushers from the 2021 season. Senior QB Tyhier Tyler will probably assume the starting QB role and he has started 4 games in his career. As I noted in my Air Force writeup, there are new rules in place regarding cut blocks this year, which is a standard blocking strategy when running the triple option. It remains to be seen how these rules will impact the triple option offenses. The defense returns 6 starters. This unit benefits from an offense that puts together long possessions as it limits the amount of time they need to be on the field. Last year they surrendered only 22.3 ppg & 329 ypg. Army appears to be in line for another strong season and will benefit from a pretty manageable schedule. They have a couple fun G5 matchups to open the season in Coastal Carolina & UTSA but overall their schedule ranks as only the #114 toughest schedule according to Phil Steele.
  1. Liberty: Liberty went 8-5 last year. This was a bit of a disappointment coming off a really strong 2020 campaign where they had just about everyone coming back. This year they lose NFL QB Malik Willis and have only 11 total returning starters (7 offense/4 defense). I think this will be a bit of a reloading year for Hugh Freeze. They have a challenging schedule and inexperienced roster and I think they might slip back a little bit before joining Conference USA in 2023. They did add QB Charlie Brewer who has played at both Baylor & Utah who might be a nice fit with Freeze. The offensive line gave up 52 sacks last year and will need to improve with a less mobile Brewer back there now. They return 3 starters up front and added a transfer from Colorado State & Kentucky to round out the starting 5. The defense loses 4 of their top 5 tacklers from the 2021 season.
  1. New Mexico State: This was a program that was set back by their decision to not play football in the Fall of 2020. They played a couple games that Spring against FCS teams, but those we’re more like scrimmages. In 2021, they went just 2-10 but did hang tough in a few more games, leading @ SDSU 10-0 at half, vs Utah State 13-7 at half, and had a first down advantage of 23-18 vs San Jose State. This year they have brought in new Head Coach Jerry Kill who had a nice run at Northern Illinois. He will have a year to provide stability before they make the jump to Conference USA next year. The offense has just 4 returning starters. They lose their QB, top RB, and top 3 WR and will be learning a new system. I suspect Kill will likely try to slow down the pace to limit possessions and keep his team in games for longer. They did add a speedy RB transfer from TCU Ahmonte Watkins. The defense might be the strength of the team. They have 9 returning starters and did add some transfers as well.
  1. UConn: Connecticut is another team that chose not to play football in 2020. Over their last five seasons they are only 7-41 with losses by an average of 26.2 points. They went 1-11 in 2021 which included a win vs Yale and a couple of 2-point losses to Wyoming & Vanderbilt. But they lost their last 4 games by an average score of 46-14 and we’re outgained by 252 ypg in those losses. HC Randy Edsall resigned midseason & new HC Jim Mora Jr. joined the staff with 4 games remaining so he could get a jump on recruiting. The offense averaged only 15.6 ppg & 265 ypg in 2021. They do have Penn State transfer Ta’Quan Roberson in line to take over at QB. The defense allowed 38.5 ppg in 2021 but will be switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 under the new coaching staff.
  1. UMass: UMass is another team that has had a really rough go of it lately. They are just 2-26 in their last 3 seasons, losing by an average score of 47-16. Last year they went just 1-11 and fired HC Walk Bell about just 9 games and a little over 2 years. They brought Don Brown back to Massachusetts to be the head coach. Brown was the DC at UMass in 1998-1999 & the head coach from 2004-2008. He’s made his name as a defensive coordinator at schools like Michigan & Arizona and is known for his aggressive style of play calling. The minutemen return 16 starters (8 on each side of the ball). The offense scored just 25 TD in 12 games in 2021 averaging only 16.3 ppg & 300 ypg. They do bring back RB Merriweather who ran for 1136 yards & 5.2 yards per carry last year. The defense allowed 43.1 ppg & 485 ypg in 2021. Obviously there is nowhere to go but up for this unit. They return 8 starters and added some transfers as well. This is Don Brown’s bread & butter, but it will take time.

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