The Ultimate Schedule: Independents

    
August 24th, 2009

To be frank, there are no rules when it comes to making up the ultimate schedule for the Independents. But instead of the requisite twelve games the schedule will have thirteen thanks to Navy’s trip to Hawaii. Look for an awful lot of Navy and Notre Dame since both are expected to have bowl-worthy campaigns.

 

Week 1: Navy @ Ohio State (September 5th)

 

Navy has a tough task in the season opener: shut down Terrelle Pryor. The sophomore quarterback is firmly entrenched as the starter in Columbus and thus more comfortable in the position of team leader. Despite the loss of skill position players such as Beanie Wells, Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline, the Buckeye offense could become more dangerous due to this development. Look for head coach Jim Tressel’s version of the “Pistol” offense, and a hard-nosed defense that physically could be up to the challenge that Navy’s option offense brings. Whether or not they can shut it down from a strategic point of view remains to be seen; this can be a more dangerous contest than many expect.

 

Week 2: Notre Dame @ Michigan (September 12th)

 

Both teams are under pressure to produce better results in 2009. The Irish went just 7-6, leaving some to wonder whether or not anything less than eight wins would keep Charlie Weis in South Bend. The Wolverines went through some serious growing pains in the first year of the Rich Rodriguez era, going 3-9 due in large part to an offense in which the tools didn’t match the machine. The hope in Ann Arbor is that freshman Tate Forcier is ready to take control of the position, and the deep running back position can make some plays in the spread option system. The Irish are expected to be much better this season, maybe even BCS bowl good. Last year’s meeting was a blowout; don’t expect the same in 2009.

 

Week 3: Navy @ Pittsburgh (September 19th)

 

An upset in the Steel City is possible since the one man that killed the Midshipmen last season is now in the NFL. LeSean McCoy was the catalyst for last year’s Panther victory, rushing for 156 yards and three touchdowns. The Panthers will now rely on a stable of running backs, and it’s a young group with first-years players leading the way. Meanwhile, the Pitt defense is expected to be solid despite the loss of leading tackler and overall leader Scott McKillop. Navy watched the Panthers show offensive balance in racking up 499 yards of offense (255 passing, 244 rushing), but due to the youth at running back look for Pitt to look to their talented wide receivers (Jonathan Baldwin being one) for more big plays.

 

Week 4: Bye Week (September 26th)

 

Army does make a trip to Iowa State this weekend, but outside of that there isn’t much to look forward to on the final Saturday of September. Take the week off and get ready for the first game in the series for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.

 

Week 5: Air Force @ Navy (October 3rd)

 

The Midshipmen have held the aforementioned rivalry trophy for six consecutive seasons, and the run has coincided with their win streak over the Falcons. Air Force dominated the yardage department (411-244) and both teams finished with two turnovers apiece. The difference in Navy’s 33-27 win was special teams, more specifically two blocked punts that were returned for touchdowns by the Middies. Expect Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun to spend a lot of time in the practices leading up to the rematch working on the kicking game. Any game between the service academies promises to feature sixty minutes of competition, and with Army not winning the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy since 1996 this matchup will likely decide who holds the trophy.

 

Week 6: Vanderbilt @ Army (October 10th)

 

The Black Knights host the Commodores, who went from perennial SEC doormat to bowl game winner in 2008. Bobby Johnson’s team has the ability to get back to a bowl game, and besides Florida there really isn’t an invincible team in the SEC East. It’ll be interesting to see how well the new double-eagle flex defensive scheme does with Rich Ellerson taking over at West Point, especially in facing a team with eight starters returning on offense.

 

Mackenzi Adams and Larry Smith will fight it out for the starting quarterback job, and with five starters back on the offensive line they could have enough experience to deal with the Army defense. Vandy also returns nine starters to their defense, with the only two losses coming in the secondary. At the very least, this is a good time to take in one of college football’s best sights: Michie Stadium, which has a beautiful view of the nearby Hudson River.

 

Week 7: USC @ Notre Dame (October 17th)

 

According to many of the pundits the Irish essentially have a one-game season: beat the Trojans and not only does Notre Dame enter the BCS conversation but they also become part of the national title talk. That’s not the opinion here, but make no mistake about it when measuring the importance of this game. The Irish haven’t even been close to the Trojans in recent meetings since the infamous “Bush Push” in 2005, a period that has coincided with Notre Dame’s loss in national respect. With the Trojans breaking in a new quarterback and replacing some key contributors on defense could this be the year that Notre Dame beats the Trojans? Not sure about that, but at the least the Irish should be able to keep this one close.

 

Week 8: Boston College @ Notre Dame (October 24th)

 

The Eagles and Fighting Irish have quite a history; unfortunately for Notre Dame they’ve been on the short end of the stick recently. Boston College has won six straight in the series, including a 17-0 win at The Heights last year. But things have changed for the Eagles, with Frank Spaziani the new head coach and nary a quarterback who has taken a live snap at the collegiate level. On paper the Irish will be a prohibitive favorite but things could become tight should Jimmy Clausen throw four interceptions as he did last year. But the role of underdog won’t be anything new for Boston College, which seems to come into this game with a chip on its shoulder every year. No one picked the Eagles to beat Notre Dame in 1993, and we all know what happened there.

 

Week 9: Temple @ Navy (October 31st)

 

Al Golden’s Owls should be pretty good this season; the MAC media picked them to finish second in the MAC East behind defending league champion Buffalo. Temple returns seventeen starters but one of them is not QB Adam DiMichele, who lit up the Middies for 340 yards and three touchdowns in last year’s meeting. Temple actually led 27-7 in the fourth quarter before falling victim to a heartbreaking comeback. Navy tied the game on a fumble return by Clint Sovie with less than a minute to go and then won it in overtime (33-27) on a Ricky Dobbs 1-yard run. The ending wasn’t as bad as Baylor’s to UNLV a decade ago but it sure was close for Temple. Will lightning strike twice?

 

Week 10: Navy @ Notre Dame (November 7th)

 

The Irish had won forty-three straight before the Midshipmen stunned them in South Bend two seasons ago. Now they return to the scene, this time encountering a far better product on the opposite side of the field. Notre Dame won last season’s meeting in Baltimore despite turning the ball over five times. How they won was on the ground, rushing for 230 yards. Outrushing the team that’s led the country in rush offense the past four years was an unexpected development, something the Irish can build on in this meeting due to the progress made in the passing game. The last two meetings have been close; a departure from the one-sided nature of the series, and hopefully this remains close as well.

 

Week 11: Notre Dame @ Pittsburgh (November 14th)

 

Notre Dame hits the road to take on a Panther team that knocked them off in overtime a season ago. LeSean McCoy ran for 169 yards and a score in the 36-33 triumph, a game that the Irish probably left thinking they should have won. Pat Bostick was picked off three times and the Irish got one of the best games of the season from Jimmy Clausen. Bill Stull is now the starter at Pittsburgh, and the hope is that he can consistently get the ball to his numerous options in the passing game. Notre Dame’s secondary will be tested early and often due to the youth of the Pitt backfield; if they’re up to the task more interceptions could be the end result.

 

Week 12: Connecticut @ Notre Dame (November 21st)

 

Yes more Notre Dame, this time for the first-ever meeting on the gridiron between the Huskies and Fighting Irish. Connecticut will unveil a new no-huddle look under new offensive coordinator Joe Moorehead, and Zach Frazer is the starter at quarterback thanks to a solid spring under center. Running backs Andre Dixon and Jordan Todman have the unenviable task of replacing the departed Donald Brown, and given the shaky nature of the passing game in the post-Dan Orlovsky era they’d better be ready to make some plays on the ground. This is a game that’s been handed to Notre Dame by the experts before a snap has been taken; they’d better be careful not to underestimate a team that consistently ranks at or near the top of the Big East in most defensive categories. Notre Dame could be two wins away from a BCS invite; both UConn and Stanford will be dangerous opponents.

 

Week 13: Navy @ Hawaii (November 28th)

 

Opposites attract on the islands, with Navy visiting a Hawaii squad that aims to put the ball in the air on just about every down. The key stat will be time of possession. Both offenses are most effective when they control this area of the game. How Navy’s pass defense and Hawaii’s run defense hold up will ultimately determine who wins; neither offense is good enough in their “weakness” to pose a serious risk in those respective departments. Don’t expect the Midshipmen to get caught looking past the Warriors, but there’s a far bigger game looming on the horizon for them.

 

Week 14: Army vs. Navy (December 5th in Philadelphia)

 

Unfortunately many have overlooked this game, putting it on the backburner in favor of conference championship games and other “big” contests played on the first Saturday of December. But this is one of the game’s best rivalries, as much for the sportsmanship on display throughout as for the hard-nosed play for sixty minutes. Navy has won the last seven games in the series, with none of those wins coming by fewer than twelve points.

No matter how bad the year may be going for the Black Knights, a win over Navy would dramatically change how the story of 2009 is to be told in the future.

 

Army could get nothing going in last year’s 34-0 loss, racking up just seven first downs and 154 yards of offense. Navy on the other hand rushed for 368 yards on the day, leaving no doubt in clinching their sixth straight Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. Expect the Black Knights to be prohibitive underdogs once again; just don’t expect them to simply lie down. And the playing of each alma mater at game’s end is one of the more emotional moments in college football, especially for seniors who now know they’ll be a part of a bigger team in the coming months and years.