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FBS Independents: Examining Over/Under Win Totals for the 2021 Season

Jack Coan, Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football

Coming off of a College Football Playoff appearance, Notre Dame is turning the offense over to Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan

Life as an independent in college football isn't too bad. Notre Dame, BYU, and Liberty all have TV deals and connections to bowl games that others have to fight for. They also have the ability to schedule almost anyone, and with some of these slates, you can see the teams take advantage of that. There are also some really bad squads that are independent because no conference wants them. Let's take a look and see if there's any value in the win totals among those teams that have no conference affiliation.

Note: Win total numbers courtesy of DraftKings.

Army West Point (Over 8 EVEN...Under 8 -125)

Schedule Notes: The Black Knights have six home games, two neutral contests, and four on the road. They travel to Wisconsin, which should be interesting, and get to host Wake Forest as well. Games against UConn and UMass could be laughers.
QB Battle: Christian Anderson vs. Tyhier Tyler vs. Jabari Laws
Roster Notes: The offensive line returns just one starter, which complicates things for a team that runs the triple option. Sandon McCoy, who led the team with 10 rushing touchdowns last season, has moved on but Jakobi Buchanan and Tyrell Robinson are both back and should see plenty of carries. Robinson also paced the run-oriented Black Knights with 117 receiving yards and two touchdown catches in 2020. Six of the top eight tacklers and eight total starters are back from the nation's leading unit in total defense last season. Army also finished second in the FBS in both scoring and passing defense.

Prediction: Seven or eight wins for Army, so slight lean to the under but nothing I love.

BYU (Over 6.5 -113...Under 6.5 -113)

Schedule Notes: The Cougars had an amazing schedule ruined last year when most Power 5 conferences canceled their out-of-league slates. This year, BYU doesn't play a true road game in September (open against Arizona in Las Vegas) and hosts Utah, Arizona State, Boise State, and Virginia. The Cougars also face Baylor, Washington State, and USC on the road.
QB Battle: Baylor Romney vs. Jaren Hall vs. Jacob Conover
Roster Notes: Zach Wilson is now a New York Jet, so the QB position is up for grabs, although both Romney and Hall have seen significant playing time in the past. The team also lost leading receiver Dax Milne, but Gunner Romney and Neil Pau'u are back and tight end Isaac Rex was a freshman All-American last season. The run game returns 1,100-yard rusher Tyler Allgeier and the bruising Lopini Katoa, but the offensive line will have a different look with just two starters back. The defense returns even less experience (four starters), but linebacker should remain an area of strength with Keenan Pili, Payton Wilgar, and Max Tooley leading the way. The secondary needs to be rebuilt.

Prediction: Six or seven wins sound about right.

Connecticut (Over 2.5 EVEN...Under 2.5 -125)

Schedule Notes: The Huskies have six at home headlined by Purdue and Houston and also six on the road including Vanderbilt, Clemson, and UCF. A winless November is a real possibility.
QB Battle: Jack Zergiotis vs. Steven Krajewski vs. NC State transfer Micah Leon
Roster Notes: UConn took 2020 off due to the coronavirus pandemic after going 2-10 in 2019. We'll see what the year off does for a roster that wasn't good then and probably won't be good now. The offensive line has just two returning starters from a group that struggled to block and open holes. Running back Kevin Mensah ran for 1,013 yards and nine touchdowns in 2019 and Cameron Ross, that season's leading receiver, is back as well. The defense returns eight starters and this unit has plenty of room to improve after ranking 116th or worse nationally in scoring, rushing, and total defense in 2019. A young secondary could get exposed early and often.

Prediction: Maybe the Huskies can put together three wins, but I certainly don't feel confident they will, even with two FCS teams (Holy Cross and Yale) on the schedule.

Liberty (Over 9 -125...Under 9 EVEN)

Schedule Notes: The Flames have a tough stretch of four road games over five weeks that starts at the end of September, including another trip to Syracuse. They also have a fascinating game at Ole Miss on Nov. 6 and another at home against Louisiana on Nov. 20.
QB: Malik Willis
Roster Notes: If Willis played for a bigger school, he'd be a more visible Heisman Trophy candidate after putting up more than 3,000 yards of total offense with 34 touchdowns (14 rushing) last season. Running back Joshua Mack headlines Willis' supporting cast, which returns virtually intact, and he'll be joined by Utah transfer T.J. Green in what should be one of the nation's most potent backfields. The defense also returns 10 starters and should be led by Durrell Johnson and TreShaun Clark, with a couple of transfers expected to play key roles as well.

Prediction: Nine is a solid number.

New Mexico State (Over 2 EVEN...Under 2 -125)

Schedule Notes: The Aggies have just five home games, and none of them appear that exciting other than maybe Utah State. New Mexico State has a stretch of five road contests over eight weeks with trips to Hawaii, Alabama, and Kentucky in there.
QB: Jonah Johnson
Roster Notes: The Aggies played two games against teams transitioning to the FCS level this spring, losing by 26 to Tarleton State and beating Dixie State by seven. There are just two returning starters on the roster from the team that went 2-10 in 2019. Not surprisingly, transfers will be counted on heavily. The defense was one of the worst in FBS two seasons ago and figures to struggle again after giving up 72 points and 984 yards in two games against FCS-level competition this spring.

Prediction: There may be two winnable games on the schedule, but I wouldn't put my money on it.

Notre Dame (Over 9 -106...Under 9 -122)

Schedule Notes: The Fighting Irish host Cincinnati, USC, and North Carolina in October alone but also play at Florida State, Stanford, and Virginia Tech. It's a home-heavy start to the season, although the neutral-site contest against Wisconsin in Chicago should be extremely entertaining.
QB: Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan
Roster Notes: Coan wasn't bad for Wisconsin, but Graham Mertz overtook him. Running back Kyren Williams and tight end Michael Mayer are the two big playmakers that return and one of the nation's best offensive lines from 2020 needs to be rebuilt. The Fighting Irish put up 30-plus points in eight of 12 games last season but may be hard-pressed to repeat that type of production. Although defensive coordinator Clark Lea left to become Vanderbilt's head coach, Cincinnati's Marcus Freeman is an exciting replacement. He inherits six returning starters, including stud safety Kyle Hamilton, but playmakers up front and at linebacker need to emerge.

Prediction: Lean to the under but not enough to make it a play.

UMass (Over 1.5 -152...Under 1.5 +120)

Schedule Notes: The Minutemen have four of their first six at home, although there are some tough matchups against Boston College and Toledo. UMass' best chance for a road win is probably in the season finale against fellow independent New Mexico State.
QB: Colorado transfer Tyler Lytle
Roster Notes: UMass played four games last season and was outscored 161-12 in those. The hope is that Lytle and some other transfers can give the offense a jolt. A line that returns three starters could help ease the transition for all the new faces. The defense has eight starters returning. Despite the lumps (40.2 ppg, 482.0 ypg in 2020), the unit was responsible for nine sacks and 31 TFLs in just four games.

Prediction: This is probably an over, but not at this price, and not even with your money would I make that wager.