There's been a new addition to the Independents this year - Brigham Young University. The Cougars join Notre Dame, Army, and Navy as the only schools in the FBS not affiliated with a major conference.
CollegeFootballTalk.com's Ben Kercheval has his finger on the pulse and gives us his thoughts on what these schools will look like on the offensive line.
You can catch Ben's great reporting at www.collegefootballtalk.com. Be sure to follow him on Twitter as well, at @CFTBenKerch.
What is the overall strength of the offensive line among the Independents?
The four independent programs -- Army, BYU, Navy and Notre Dame -- are very interesting because they revolve around very specific offensive schemes. The two military academies run the triple option, which requires a very athletic lineman capable of clearing the first wave of defenders.
BYU and Notre Dame, on the other hand, really put more of an emphasis on pass protection, so you get to see both sides of the spectrum with these teams.
But whatever the scheme, I really think the strength in the trenches for most of these programs is the experience. Notre Dame and Navy, for example, return practically everybody on the line and they’re veteran groups at that. That’s especially important for Brian Kelly in his second year in South Bend -- that O-line is one year wiser and older in his spread offense.
And if there’s one thing that leads to a successful line, it’s one that has plenty of playing experience.
BYU is entering its first season as an Independent. Does this change anything about how their offensive line will approach each game?
One of the luxuries of being a member of a conference is the film you have on other conference members. You’re looking at teams that you know like the back of your hand, barring a coaching or coordinator change, of course. Once a team goes independent, you give that up a little bit.
So, for BYU, it’s definitely going to be an adjustment; they’re essentially playing 10 nonconference games (they’ll still play TCU and Utah) and I think that’s how the Cougars staff will approach this new challenge. The Mountain West was not known to have great defenses outside of its top two or three teams, which more of than not, included the Cougars.
Now, you look at BYU’s schedule, and you see teams like Texas, Oregon State and Ole Miss. These are teams with bigger, faster guys on the opposite side of the ball. Handling that, to me, is going to be the biggest challenge for BYU.
For each of the four offensive lines in the Independents, which opposing defense poses the toughest challenge?
For BYU, it’s Ole Miss, hands down. You’re talking about an SEC defense, which always has athletes, and Tyrone Nix is one of the up and coming better defensive coordinators in the country. He’s a guy with a history of great pass defense and how he mixes in the pass rush will be a challenge for BYU’s line.
Army has to play Northwestern this year, which will be a tough assignment for Rich Ellerson. I tend to be wary of option offenses, or option quarterbacks, that play against great assignment defenses like the ones found in the Big Ten. And Northwestern has really improved under coach Pat Fitzgerald, a former linebacker for the Wildcats. He’s a defensive guy, so the Black Knights will have their hands full here.
Notre Dame isn’t as obvious, but I’ll tentatively put USC down here. The Trojans have a veteran D-coordinator in Monte Kiffin, but I’m not 100 percent sold on USC’s depth, which proved to be an issue last season. But Kiffin has a lot of reps and how he dials up blitzes could keep the Irish guessing and out of an offensive rhythm
Navy, on the other hand, has to go to South Carolina. You can’t count on a ton of consistency out of the Gamecocks on every level, but you usually can expect great defense. Getting off that line and clearing that first level could be really difficult for Navy. USC is big and they’re explosive on the defensive side.
Who do you think will emerge as the best center among the four?
Right now, you have Braxton Cave of Notre Dame and Terence Brown of BYU as two guys on the Rimington watch list, and it’ll likely come down to one of those two when you’re talking about the best center of the four Independents.
Of those two, I like Brown. The guy is just an absolute mammoth as the anchor of that line and he’s poised for a great year. As I mentioned earlier, it’s going to be interesting to see how this BYU line adapts to being an independent, but I really like the potential for the Cougars up front.