The fraternity of independents has added one more member -- plus plenty of optimism.
Army, BYU, Navy and Notre Dame have reason for hope after closing the 2010 season with bowl appearances. Army, BYU and Notre Dame won their bowl games.
Notre Dame closed the season on a four-game winning streak, while BYU won five of its last six games in its final season as a Mountain West Conference member. Army earned its first bowl triumph in a quarter-century, while Navy earned a bowl bid for the eighth consecutive season.
Here's a look at where each of the independents stands heading into spring practice.
Practice begins: Feb. 16
Spring game: March 9 (tentative)
The buzz: Army begins the task of rebuilding its defense following the departures of senior standouts Josh McNary at end, Mike Gann at nose guard and Stephen Anderson at middle linebacker. Anderson led Army in tackles (108) and McNary topped the Black Knights in sacks (10) last season. McNary also led Army in tackles for loss (12.5) last season, while Anderson ranked second (12) and Gann third (nine). Army also must replace three starters from the secondary and four starters from the offensive line. Starting QB Trent Steelman will sit out spring practice to recover from shoulder surgery, which should turn this month into an excellent learning opportunity for second-teamer Max Jenkins and the other reserve quarterbacks.
Practice begins: March 14
Spring scrimmage: April 9
The buzz: BYU must adjust to a different staff on offense, though the new coordinator at least is a familiar face. BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall promoted quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman to coordinator after Robert Anae was forced out. Newcomers to the staff include former BYU and CFL receiver Ben Cahoon as the receivers coach and former Navy slotbacks coach Joe DuPaix as the running backs coach and recruiting coordinator. Lance Reynolds, the former running backs coach, will now work as the tight ends coach.
Practice begins: March 28
Spring game: April 22
The buzz: The Middies must replace the production of departed star QB Ricky Dobbs, but they already have his successor in Kriss Proctor. He stepped in for an injured Dobbs last season and rushed for 201 yards in a 38-37 victory over Central Michigan. He also started two games in 2009, including a victory over Wake Forest. Since they already have an obvious replacement for Dobbs, the Middies' greatest challenge this spring will be retooling a secondary that lists senior CB Kwesi Mitchell as its only returning starter. CB Kevin Edwards and SS Wyatt Middleton completed their eligibility last season, and FS De'Von Richardson was dismissed for academic reasons.
Practice begins: March 23
Spring game: April 16
The buzz: Notre Dame must sort out its crowded quarterback field, though 2010 season-opening starter Dayne Crist could be limited this spring as he recovers from a ruptured patella tendon. Sophomore Tommy Rees returns after leading Notre Dame to a four-game winning streak that ended the 2010 season. Other returners include sophomores Andrew Hendrix and Luke Massa plus senior Nate Montana. The Irish also are excited about true freshman Everett Golson, an early enrollee who threw for 11,634 yards and 151 career touchdowns at Myrtle Beach (S.C.) High despite being injured for half his senior season. Golson's mobility and athleticism -- he also might play basketball at Notre Dame -- could give the Irish a new dimension. That makes six quarterbacks. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has said only the top four will get reps as the Irish get ready for the season, so spring practice could help determine who stays and who switches positions or transfers.