College Watch: Independents


Jonathan Bulls, a Hayfield graduate, will again start the year as Army's starting punter. Last year, Bulls had a tremendous season as he put 25 punts inside the 20-yard line.
Photo By: Flickr.com

Independents are an interesting bunch. They're kind of like the old guy in the neighborhood who refuses to ditch his 1962 Oldsmobile.

To the independents, that 1962 Oldsmobile kills the Toyota Camry everyone else is driving. They wonder why everyone is trying to force them to mainstream with everyone else. The only thing they know is that Oldsmobile and it works perfectly fine, perhaps better and more reliable than everyone else's new hip ride.

You see, independents are smart. Without a conference, they can sit back and get rich. They don't have to disperse their revenue equally with other schools. So for Notre Dame, who has an exclusive TV contract with NBC worth 15 million dollars per season, why the heck would they want to join a conference? They're already loaded! Notre Dame is also tied into the BCS in a very favorable way (LSU Sugar Bowl anyone?), so other than having a more competitive schedule, there's no advantage. Also, without being bound to play specific teams each year, they also get a chance to play whoever they want and maintain whatever rivalries they have.

Army even tried the whole conference thing for awhile when they joined Conference USA from 1998-2004, but they dropped them like third period French. They went 7-27 in C-USA and their football program suffered big-time. Plus, they only had three out-of-conference games at their disposal, so after they were finished scheduling rivals Air Force and Navy, they were left with only one other out-of-conference game. When they went back as an independent, they were free to schedule whoever they wished, and that meant scheduling much easier teams to help the rebuilding process. It took them awhile, but they posted a 5-7 record last year, which was the best they've done since the 1990s.

These schools are also national brands. Notre Dame is one of the most popular teams in college football and you can find Catholics all around the country who like them simply for being the leading Catholic university in America. Navy and Army can find just as many passionate fans in San Diego, Texas or Jacksonville as they can in Maryland or upstate New York. When they align with conferences that are geographically positioned in one part of the country, they risk losing some of that national brand. For example, if either Navy or Army aligned with the Big East or ACC, then say goodbye to a schedule comprised of teams from all four time zones.

All of these schools do participate in conferences for other sports, but there's no way any of these independents will cease being independent in football anytime soon.

The Big 10 tried to offer Notre Dame that new and shiny Camry this offseason, but like they've said a thousand times before, "we don't need it!"


NOTRE DAME

Andrew Nuss, OG (Sr)
Stone Bridge High School, Class of 2007
#76; 6-foot-5, 303 pounds
4 stars

Nuss will be entering 2010 with a ton of potential. He's currently listed second on the depth chart at left guard, but in the case of Notre Dame, that could all change in a hurry. For one thing, Fighting Irish return just one starter along the line, and their offensive line last year was average at best. Allowing 25 sacks on the season and mustering up the nation's 84th rushing offense, the offensive line was a constant source of criticism last year for Notre Dame. Not only that, but only one starter returns from that offensive line and they must learn a whole new offensive system under head coach Brian Kelly. That leaves the competition still wide-open even after the fact spring practice is over. Nuss did see time in 11 games last year at right guard and on special teams duty so he does have experience on his side. Should Nuss again be relegated to a reserve role, there's a great chance he will start next year as he has a year of "preserved eligibility" (Notre Dame's term for a fifth year) left and the man above him on the depth chart, Chris Stewart, is out of eligibility after the 2010 season.

Ryan Sheehan, CB (Sr)
Loudoun Valley High School, Class of 2007
#39; 5-foot-10, 177 pounds
0 stars, Walk-on

Sheehan joined Notre Dame's squad as a walk-on out of Loudoun Valley High School. Currently, Sheehan is not listed on the two-deep at cornerback and will likely contribute on Notre Dame's scout team.


ARMY

Jonathan Bulls, P (r-Sr)
Hayfield Secondary School, Class of 2006
#18; 6-foot-1 217 pounds
0 stars, Walk-on

After attending the New Mexico Military Institute in 2006, Bulls came into West Point for the 2007 season. While he didn't see any time his first two years up at Army, he emerged as the team's starting punter last season and had an amazing season. Of his 72 punts, he put 25 of them inside the 20 yard line and only two of them trickled in for a touchback. Playing with an offense that ranked fourth-worst in the country, Bulls was able to get plenty of action punting the ball. His 72 punts were 11th-most in the country last year. As a wide-receiver and former basketball player at Hayfield, Bulls is one of the more athletic punters hanging around the FBS ranks. Because of that, he was used twice in fake-punt scenarios where he picked up a combined 14 yards. Bulls will again be Army's starting punter for the 2010 season.

Will Wilson, C (r-So)
Langley High School, Class of 2008
#62; 6-foot-2, 280 pounds
2 stars

Wilson is currently listed behind two seniors on the depth chart, so while he likely won't see any playing time this year, he'll have an outstanding chance at starting next year.


NAVY

None - Despite Annapolis being located just an hour away, the Naval Academy has not been the military school of choice for area athletes.