Last week, I zeroed in on the ND-Miami game because of its implications. And wouldn’t you know it, that game never happened. Or, at least I think it didn’t happen – I certainly don’t remember Miami hanging 41 points on the previously-#3 Irish. Alas, I’ve moved on.
All Independent games this week are on Saturday. Here’s what we’ve got.
UMass (3-7) v. BYU (3-8)
In a matchup of independent schools, one school has over performed, while another has underperformed. I initially previewed BYU as a school that was capable of winning 8 or even 9 times. As this nightmare season winds down, a year in which they averaged 16.5 points per game while giving up 26 points per game, the Cougars just want to get out of this season unscathed.
You can go ahead and blame quarterback Tanner Mangum if you wish. Squally Canada and Ula Tolautu could never quite get their feet going behind a poor offensive line. They straight up have no reputable targets. Their defense simply couldn’t even keep a lot of games close, as their offense was inept at moving the ball. This is a total team failure.
Don’t think I’m about to argue that UMass has had a good season by any stretch, but they’ve certainly done better than most experts have said. They’ve played with pride, and kept themselves close in nearly every single game. I’d probably argue they might have another win or two with better coaching, but I’ve already made my thoughts on Mark Whipple crystal clear a few months back.
In fact, they’ve already equalled the 3 win outlook I had predicted them to hit before the season. The Minutemen are winners of three of their last four, with a deceiving 11 point loss to Mississippi State mixed in.
When you consider momentum, along with the fact that the BYU defense only has 13 sacks in 11 games this season, I’m taking UMass this week. Andrew Ford is unquestionably better than Mangum, and I’m pretty sold of the Minutemen’s skill position players being better than BYU’s. If they can win in the trenches and give Ford some time, something they’ve been able to do recently, they’re going to win (by 10, to be more exact).
This game is at 3:00 pm and its available on ESPN3.
Navy (6-3) v. #8 Notre Dame (8-2)
While the playoffs became the goal as the season went on for the Irish, it certainly wasn’t anyone’s expectation of them heading into the season (well, except maybe for their players and coaches). But at 8-2 and in the 8th position in the College Football Playoff Standings, they can still make a run to a New Year’s Six bowl game, which would be a great accomplishment considering how bad they played last season.
Elliot already did a great job summarizing what Navy has to do to come in and win this game against ND, so I won’t reiterate what he had to say. I’ll direct you to his points here.
From an Irish perspective, they can’t let the emotional low of getting embarrassed by a rival on the road weigh down the rest of their season. They close their year out with two rivalry games, and both teams have reputable running attacks, which is something that gave this Irish D a problem.
The difference maker is that Navy is not as tough defensively as they typically are. As Elliot said, they’re going to have their hands full with Josh Adams, Dexter Williams, Deon McIntosh and Tony Jones. I’d really like to see the Irish try to mix in more throws than usual with Brandon Wimbush, who had as rough a game as a quarterback can possibly have last week.
ND are 18 point favorites for their senior day at home. They’re also wearing these kickass jerseys (above). For that reason, I’m taking them by 21 points. The game will be on NBC at 3:30.
Army (8-2) v. North Texas (7-3)
For the second straight year, the Army Black Knights are ticketed for a bowl game. Head coach Jeff Monken (featured) deserves a lot of credit for turning this program into a reputable foe that no one wants to see on their schedule.
Army’s defense is going to have to have a big game this week. They’ve played well this season, giving up under 350 yards per game and only 18.6 points per game; that’s impressive, given that even those numbers are a bit inflated due to a drubbing at the hands of Ohio State in September. The biggest thing they needed to improve was their pass rush, which has gotten marginally better, as they’re averaging a bit over 2 a game.
They can’t afford to give sophomore Mason Fine much time, as he’s completing 64 percent of his passes on the year, with 22 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. North Texas has themselves one of the better young quarterbacks in the game in Fine.
While Fine and the rest of the Mean Green can score quickly, it’s Army that can control the clock with their triple offense. That should be easier against a North Texas team that gives up close to 33 points per game. They’ve won a lot of shootouts this year.
Since I’m rooting against one service academy this week, I’ll root for the other this week. I like the Black Knights by 5 in this one. This kicks off at 6:30 pm.
Cover photo from Twitter.
Other media from Pinterest, Tulsa World, Boston Herald.