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College football

2017 Preview:
Independents


Predicted order of finish

1 Brigham Young
2 Notre Dame
3 Army
4 Massachusetts


#27: BYU | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
BYU will turn over their offense to Tanner Mangum. Replacing Tanner Hill, the program's all-time leading rusher won't be easy. Mangum has the experience, as he passed for 3,377 yards and 23 touchdowns as a freshman and is a classic drop-back passer in the BYU tradition. The running game has a hole to fill with the loss of Jamaal Williams. Squally Canada should get his shot after running for 315 yards in relief of Williams. And expect KJ Hall to see more time as both a runner and receiver. Moroni Laulu-Pututau, who had 27 receptions last season, will be the man at tight end. And Jonah Trinnaman is the top returning receiver, having caught 28 passes as a junior college transfer. On defense, BYU is strongest in the back seven thanks to the return of its top three tacklers, all linebackers. The Cougars will miss safety Kai Nacua, who led the team with six interceptions last season and picked off 14 passes in three years. Dayan Ghanwoloku and Troy Warner, Fred's younger brother, are capable cornerbacks, and Micah Hannemann is a solid safety.

#76: Notre Dame | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Notre Dame's fortunes have not been good recently and questions remain going into this season. QB DeShone Kizer is gone, but sophomore Brandon Wimbush should be primed to take the lead. Four starters return along the offensive line, including left tackle Mike McGlinchey and left guard Quenton Nelson. Both are expected to be among the first players at their positions off the board in the 2018 NFL Draft. Sam Mustipher should be a more consistent center this season after his first year as a starter in '16. The Irish are loaded at running back, led by junior Josh Adams, who has rushed for 1,768 yards, 11 touchdowns and a 6.4-yard average in his first two years in the program. But the big question on offense is at the wide receiver and tight end positions. Equanimeous St. Brown leads the pack after a breakthrough sophomore season (58 catches, 961 yards, nine TDs). Sophomore wideout Chase Claypool, who flashed his athleticism on coverage teams, and tight end Alize Jones, who missed the 2016 season to tend to academics, are exciting athletes with size, like St. Brown. Over on defense, the Irish boast strong, deep linebacker and cornerback corps, but the defensive line is a real concern. The safeties are talented but young. Among the 11 returning defensive linemen, none recorded a sack in '16, and they combined for just 5.5 tackles for a loss. Ends Daelin Hayes and Jay Hayes offer the most promise. Veteran interior lineman Jerry Tillery has length and experience, but a skimpy stat sheet. There's ample talent at linebacker, where senior Nyles Morgan - who paced the team in tackles (94) and sacks (four) - returns. Senior Buck linebacker Greer Martini has length, athleticism and instincts and forms a one-two punch with Te'von Coney. Drue Tranquill moves from strong safety to the Rover (outside backer) spot and teams with promising Asmar Bilal. The Irish are loaded at cornerback with Nick Watkins coming off an injury-filled '16 and Julian Love, who emerged as a standout true freshman. The speediest of the group is cornerback-nickel Shaun Crawford, who missed all of ’15 with an ACL injury and then tore his Achilles last September.

#78: Army | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
Expect the Army offense to run well, but passing is an entirely different story. QB Ahmad Bradshaw is a running passer, but not much of a passer. Add in FB Andy Davidson and expect the Black Knights to control the clock via the run. The Army defense, which finished last season fourth in the nation allowing fewer than 300 yards per game, have some holes to plug. The linebackers need work after losing a few mainstays, but there’s still decent size and quickness around Alex Aukerman on the outside. One other key loss is in the secondary with the loss of Xavier Moss at safety.

#128: Massachusetts | ROSTER | SCHEDULE
There are many issues on both sides of the line. The offensive front line must improve. The defense fell apart as the season progresses last season. Can it rebound? Can the defense generate more turnovers? The pass defense was the major problem, giving up way too many big plays and not coming up with enough gamechanging moments, allowing 27 touchdown passes with just four picks. On the bright side, the backs are in place to run well. Four of the top five tacklers are back, led by Steve Casali at one linebacker spot on the outside. All four starters are back in the linebacking corps, and everyone returns on the front three.

2017 Preseason Ranking

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