All three Independent teams outperformed the computer's forecast last year. Notre Dame turned a 4-8 prediction into a 6-6 regular season; Navy's expected 4-8 campaign became an 8-4 reality; and Army went 3-9 instead of the projected 1-11.
Notre Dame even shook a big monkey from its back when it ended a 9-game bowl losing streak. The 49-21 defeat of Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl was its first postseason victory since 1993.
This year's forecast for the Independents is still quite bleak as Notre Dame (8-4) is the only team given a projected winning record, Navy (5-8) and Army (1-11) trail at a distance.
Meanwhile, three of the top preseason magazines are predicting Notre Dame's return to national prominence with Athlon, Phil Steele and The Sporting News all bestowing preseason rankings among the Top 25 (see Preseason Rankings Comparison). Steele, who ranks the Irish 7th, was the only major preseason publication to put Notre Dame in the Top 25 last year when he penciled them in at No. 19. However, with a post-bowl record of 7-6, the Irish did not receive a single vote in the final AP and Coaches' polls. According to research published at Stassen.com, the Irish are the second-most over-hyped team in preseason polls since 1989 (Michigan tops the list).
While the the computer's (about the computer) forecast isn't as rosy as the others mentioned, it does foretell continuing improvement for Charlie Weis' squad. Projected losses at home to USC (+17.54) and at Pitt (+9.40) would echo last year's results against those schools, and suggest the Irish won't be anything close to a national championship contender. But the computer sees all of their other games as winnable, and the schedule includes five teams that won four games or fewer last season - Washington State (2-11), Syracuse (3-9), Michigan (3-9), Purdue (4-8), and Washington (0-12).
Navy, in its second season under Ken Niumatalolo, is in danger of relinquishing a six-year streak of winning seasons. The 5-8 forecast includes a home loss to Air Force (+1.77) that could end Navy's six-year grip on the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy, awarded annually to the winner of the round-robin competition between the nation's three major military academies - Air Force, Army and Navy. The Middies' domination of Army, however, is predicted to stay intact as Navy is favored by 19.64 points in the season finale at Philadelphia on December 12.
Navy has gone bowling for six straight seasons, and is precommitted to the Texas Bowl this year if it can produce a qualifying record of at least 7-6. It has several chances to pocket additional wins as three of the projected losses are at home, and by less than two points - Louisiana Tech (+1.83), Temple (+0.46), and Air Force. The Midshipmen are also a narrow home underdog to Wake Forest (+5.45), but the predicted win at Hawaii is by less than a point (-0.25).
Army has endured 12 straight losing seasons while compiling a 27-99-1 record. With patience wearing thin, Stan Brock was fired six days after the Black Knights completed a third consecutive 3-9 season that included a 28-10 loss to FCS member New Hampshire. He spent just two years at the helm and was 6-18 overall.
New head coach Rich Ellerson comes to the program via Cal Poly where he guided the FCS Mustangs for the last eight years. Last season, his squad beat FBS member San Diego State and took Wisconsin to overtime. He has FBS experience as an assistant with Hawaii, Idaho and Arizona on the defensive side.
The Black Knights will begin 2009 as the lowest-rated team in the FBS with a power rating of 43.02, more than four points lower than the number 119 team. This season's only forecasted win is by a mere 0.46 points over FCS member VMI. Projected home losses to Duke (+5.96) and Tulane (+6.50) appear to offer Army the best chances for additional victories.