2022 G5 Preview: Independents Power Rankings
A nearly perfect split between very good and very bad.
This is the Independents power ranking, which is included because these are G5 teams but does not earn a conference distinction because it is not a conference. Also, Notre Dame is excluded because I could not care less about their whole thing. That coverage exists elsewhere.
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As it has been at the end of league previews, the Outside Zone will be off for the next week, returning May 27 with the start of the American Athletic Conference preview.
Undergoing a serious rebuild or on the verge of a firing.
UConn relied heavily on freshman in Randy Edsall’s final season at the helm and will benefit at least moderately from that bunch being a year older as Jim Mora takes over in 2022, but the outlook in Storrs remains grim until further notice. UConn’s recruiting is downright atrocious and Mora hasn’t yet offered any plans to separate his program from the others in the Northeast – many of which are struggling in their own right but still have more history and funding to rely on than the Huskies do, along with a conference affiliation (save for UMass).
As for the 2022 season, the Huskies have a relatively intact back seven defensively and can rely heavily on halfback Nathan Carter, but there are no obvious answers at quarterback and the offensive line won’t be doing him any favors, whether Tyler Phommachanh or Penn State transfer Ta’Quan Roberson ultimately claims the job at signal-caller. The receiver trio of Kevens Clercius, Keelan Marion, and Aaron Turner is solid and Old Dominion transfer Nigel Fitzgerald adds some serious length at 6-5, but that quarterback question overwhelms any positivity about the offense.
The departure of Travis Jones and the defensive line he leaves behind brings about similar issues for the defense despite that experienced back-end.
T-4. UMass Minutemen
UMass is in a nearly identical situation but gets the leg up on UConn through its hiring of Don Brown. He’s one of the best (and only good) coaches in program history and he’s hoping to have more success in his return to the position than Mark Whipple did. He would be the first to do so with the Minutemen at the FBS level, which seems more like a failed experiment with each passing year.
However, unlike Mora, Brown does at least offer some sort of schematic creativity. Also unlike Mora, Brown has been to the region he’s now coaching and recruiting in before this year.
His success is still a tremendous longshot, but his propensity for aggressive defenses and familiarity with the program are positives for a situation without many of those. He has an experienced team with plenty of interesting transfers to work with this season as well, though, like UConn, the offense is going to start and stop with the play of UMass’ top halfback, Ellis Merriweather. There just aren’t any encouraging options at quarterback.
However, the defense returns nearly every starter from 2021 and added eight players from the portal – six from the P5 ranks – as well as one first-team Ivy League linebacker in Jalen Mackie. Chief among the P5 transplants is former Vanderbilt defensive tackle transfer Marcus Bradley, a top 200 recruit in 2021.
New Mexico State returns the makings of a borderline capable defense, separating it from UConn, but it has so little to offer on offense that it instead checks tied for fourth with UMass. Linebacker Chris Ojoh is an elite pass rusher for new head coach Jerry Kill to build around and just about the entire line in front of him returns, plus Murray State transfer tackle Izaiah Reed, an All-OVC second-teamer in the spring 2021 season.
On top of that, the cornerback trio of Syrus Dumas, D.J. McCullough, and Torren Union is legitimately decent and gets an extra boost with safety Dylan Early returning to fill out the back end after starting the last five games of the 2021 season.
The offense is in a dire situation, though. Quarterback Jonah Johnson, running back Juwuan Price, and last season’s top six wide receivers have all departed, as have both starting offensive tackles and the starting center. Quarterback Dino Maldonado and halfback O'Maury Samuels have shown some ability, but it’s a nearly clean slate out wide and an already bad line is only going to get worse.
Teams that can win a bunch if they find suitable answers for one or two major questions.
T-2. Liberty Flames
Liberty suffers the most significant departure of any team on this list with quarterback Malik Willis off to the NFL, but the Flames have accumulated plenty of talent and should be able to bring along a new signal-caller without a ton of trouble because of that talent and because of Hugh Freeze’s plug-and-play offense.
Utah transfer Charlie Brewer, former Tennessee four-star Kaidon Salter, and incumbent backup Jonathan Bennett are all battling to replace Willis, but Salter is the most athletically and physically gifted of the bunch. If Freeze’s history is any indicator, that will earn him the nod.
He will take some time to get fully acclimated, but Liberty returns starting outside receiver CJ Daniels and slot specialist Demario Douglas while adding one of the best receivers from the FCS ranks, Campbell’s Caleb Snead. Halfbacks T.J Green, Shedro Louis, and Hawaii transfer Dae Dae Hunter will help his case too, though the offensive line has some holes to fill and may find similar struggles early in the season.
The ceiling for the team will be set by its defense, however, especially in the wake of coordinator Scott Symons’ departure to SMU. The internal replacements have plenty of talent to work with, though they do have to find two new starting linebackers, two new starting defensive tackles, and three new starters in the secondary.
JUCO linebacker Mike Smith Jr., Stephen F. Austin tackle Dennis Osagiede and the very rising safety trio of Rocket Rahimi, Javon Scruggs, and Juawan Treadwell should help dull those losses and the offense will be good enough to get Liberty back to a bowl game at the least, while an above-average defense makes it competitive in just about every game on the schedule.
T-2. Army Black Knights
Army also has a quarterback to replace as physical runner Christian Anderson departs, but the battle here is a bit less dramatic. Tyhier Tyler was Anderson’s primary backup last season and is the odds-on favorite to take over his job this year. He’s not as big, nor is he as capable in the passing game, but he’s quicker than his predecessor and will pair very well with lightning-fast slotback Tyrell Robinson. Plus, incumbent starting receiver Isaiah Alston was nearly Army’s first 500-yard receiver since 2009 last year and can help bring along anyone behind center.
In the power category, fullback Jakobi Buchanan returns to lead the way on that front as he did last season. The depth has taken a hit at both fullback and slotback but the top-end talent from 2021 remains in place, as does most of the offensive line (and Army plays so many linemen that departures don’t sting that much).
The defense has two linebackers to replace, along with nose tackle Nolan Cockrill, safety Cedrick Cunningham Jr., and cornerback Julian McDuffie, but there are easy replacements in each spot and the star of the defense is back to lead it again this year. That would be 6-7, 265-pound edge rusher Andre Carter II, who had 14.5 sacks last season and just about carried the pass-rushing unit.
At linebacker, last year’s No. 3 option Spencer Jones and week one starter Jonzell Prudhomme can take on larger roles, while Kwabena Bonsu and Chris Frey both played plenty at tackle, Leo Lowin started five games in essentially the same role as Cunningham and young cornerback Bo Nicolas-Paul looked phenomenal at the end of last season.
The best of the best. Very few if any questions, should be a serious playoff contender.
1. BYU Cougars
On my returning production spreadsheet – which identifies last season’s contributors at each position and states if they’re returning – BYU claims 59 names. Four are transfers in, so we can say essentially that the Cougars leaned on 55 players last season for significant snaps with 24 on offense and 31 on defense.
Of those 55, just 11 players are departing. Seven of them started five or fewer games, and five of those seven didn’t start any games at all. BYU returns a majority starter at QB, WR (2), TE, LT, LG, RT, RG, DE (3), DT (2), LB (3), CB (2), and S (2).
This team went 10-3, fielded a top 20 offense, and was a few defensive stops away from 11 or 12 wins. That defense that couldn’t get off the field enough last season returns every starter and all but four contributors, two of whom were little-used cornerbacks.
There’s no reason to think the offense, led by a second-year Jaren Hall at quarterback and one of the best offensive lines in America, won’t get even better. And though the defense does need to improve, Kalani Sitake’s best defenses with the Cougars have been his most experienced defenses. This one is certainly experienced.
Staring down one of the nation’s hardest schedules, BYU has quite the road to travel if it wants to exit the regular season unbeaten. But if (insanely big if) the Cougars can rattle off 12 in a row, they’ll have beaten Arkansas, Baylor, Boise State, Liberty, Notre Dame, Oregon, and Utah State, among others. That’s a playoff team, and it may very well be the best team in America.