When judging the independents in College football you have to take it game by game. With that in mind I'm going to handle this a little different than I do conference previews and spend more time discussing individual schedules.
Here's how I see it developing.
Notre Dame: A bounce-back year for the Irish but will it be enough to keep Kelly employed?
Predicted record: 7-5
Wins: Temple, Boston College, Michigan State, Miami (OH), NC State, Wake Forest, Navy
Losses: Georgia, North Carolina, USC, Miami (FL), Stanford
Yes, the Irish are going to be better but they still play a too-strong schedule given their current status in the college football landscape. They do bring back 4 out of 5 OL starters which should help, but they're going to be hoping that new QB Brandon Wimbush is as good as advertised, and he's going to have to get that way in a hurry. Josh Adams should do a good job taking some heat off, as he and his over 1,700 yards rushing will be a much needed pressure release for the young QB. A major question for ND is who in the heck is going to catch the ball? They have talent, but it's all young and unproven. Equanimeous St. Brown is my leader in the clubhouse for the "all name team" of 2017.
On defense the Irish have a very, very good LB and DB units, and they're deep to boot. Where I'm afraid they're going to struggle is on the D-line, and many of the teams they play will either run it right down their throats are have a QB sit unpressured in the backfield and pick them apart. If Wimbush develops you could see many more Big XII-like scores in Notre Dame games than you are used to.
BYU: It's going to be more of the same for the Cougars, who should start out slow and then pick up steam.
Predicted record: 8-5
Wins: Portland State, Utah State, Eastern Carolina, San Jose State, Fresno State, UNLV, UMass, Hawai'i.
Losses: LSU, Utah, Wisconsin, Boise State, Mississippi State.
After seven games I predict that BYU will be 2-5 and in full on panic mode before finishing 6-0 during the last half of the season. The problem is that they play a murderer's row of teams from the jump and they're going to have to replace a ton of parts while doing so. Tanner Mangum should be OK at QB, but RB and WR is going to be an early season adventure.
Defensively BYU is going to have to find replacements for 3 out of 4 positions on their defensive line, and they're going to be pounded by Wisconsin and LSU before getting thrown on by Utah, Boise State and Mississippi State while doing so. BYU does have a strong LB corps that's returning intact. They're going to have to rely on them to make a ton of plays if they want to improve on their record from last year.
Army: A bowl-season, and a win over Navy, last year might be possible given the pieces that are returning.
Predicted Record: 9-3
Wins: Fordham, Buffalo, UTEP, Rice, Eastern Michigan, Temple, Air Force, North Texas, Navy.
Losses: Ohio State, Tulane, Duke
Head Coach Jeff Monken is a local hero in West Point, and he has most of the pieces of his triple-option attack, including most of the offensive line, returning for a swan song. Army also benefits from a soft-schedule with really only Ohio State pushing them into blow-out territory. While I give them a win over Temple, they could lose that game and beat Duke so it would be a wash. Overall I think the floor for this team is 7-5 given the schedule, with some breaks they could be 11-1. Don't laugh.
Despite what might be a gaudy record, don't expect the Black Knights to get much run Nationally because they're going to be doing it against a very weak slate of opponents. They will have some time early to let the defense replace some key graduates, but they have enough pieces coming back that I think they will be competitive against all but Ohio State.