It was hard to pick just 11 teams from the ranks of Independent and non AQ leagues and I didn’t like leaving BYU, Toledo and some others out, but these are the squads I thought we should keep an eye on. All of these teams should make bowls and contend for their league crowns. A few of these could even impact the NCAA race. As a result, these will be treated like mutual funds. High yield are the cream of the crop, mid yield will still make you a princely sum and low yield are the steady performers most people use for their 401Ks. Since there are no lines yet, Tulsa is No. 4 and Kent State No. 9. Notre Dame is in the two hole with Utah State positioned sixth.
Boise State – It was a rebuilding year last year and the Broncos still finished 10-2. If they can win their opener at Washington, they face very few hurdles the rest of the way.
Notre Dame – The Irish’s incredible defense returns plenty of talent. All word out of South Bend last off season was “wait until you see our 2013 squad.” Well, its 2013 folks.
San Diego State – I have this team as a possible upset special in Columbus. They return a ton of talent around Adam Dingwell, so if he can up his game a bit, he should quarterback a fun and very competitive offense.
Tulsa – Tulsa returns, well, ALL their offensive playmakers from a team that finished 30th in ppg. They weren’t a one-trick pony last year though. They finished 35th in points allowed. Thanks to several teams jumping from C-USA, the Golden Hurricanes have to love their chances at a league title. Outside their trip to Oklahoma, the other 11 games are all winnable.
Kent State – Their two-headed monster rushing attack is back, including the electrifying Dri Archer. Their biggest roadblock could be ambitious scheduling. They have LSU and PSU in the non-con, with Bowling Green, Northern Illinois and Ohio in league play.
Louisiana Tech – The nation’s number one offense from a year ago returns Kenneth Dixon, who put up absurd stats as a freshman. They do face a step up in league talent as they move from the WAC to C-USA and they will also make this leap without Sonny Dykes who took the Cal job.
Northern Illinois – The MAC BCS buster from a year ago returns several key players, including standout quarterback Jordan Lynch. They too saw their coach move on to a bigger and better gig, but both of their Big Ten foes in the non-con are winnable before a very easy MAC slate (outside a trip to Kent).
Ohio – The Bobcats were my MAC pick a year ago and it looked good as they won on opening day at Penn State. They ran their mark to 7-0 before the wheels fell off and they finished 8-4. Still, they crushed ULM in the bowl to get to nine wins. The Bobcats return Tyler Tettleton at quarterback, who is a gamer. Frank Solich is still at the helm of the program. He’s a proven winner and with several of his rivals taking new jobs, he should be able to outwit all the new faces in the league.
Louisiana-Lafayette – The Ragin’ Cajuns went to their second bowl in as many years under Mark Hudspeth, who is now 18-8 as ULL’s head coach. With questions at defending Sun Belt champ Arkansas State, I like ULL to make a third straight bowl, as well as having a real shot at winning the league with Terrance Broadway returning under center.
San Jose State and Utah State – Identical situations here. SJSU has a solid QB in David Fales, but their coach is now at Colorado. They have a tough non-conference slate that includes Stanford and a step up in league opponents after going from the WAC to the Mountain West.
Utah State has a fantastic QB in Chuckie Keeton, but their coach is now at Wisconsin. They also have a tough non-conference slate that includes USC and have made the move from the WAC to Mountain West.
Each of these clubs can push San Diego State and maybe even Boise, but they are making double transitions between leagues and coaching.