College football independents preview: Notre Dame, BYU, Army burning questions and top players

One power-conference team, one that is soon to be the same, one service academy, two soon-to-be Conference USA rivals and two teams starting from scratch and looking for a future. College football's independents are quite a mishmash in 2022, but with Notre Dame forever leading the way, let's talk indie football.

Every week through the offseason, Bill Connelly will preview another division from the Group of 5 and Power 5 exclusively for ESPN+, ultimately including all 131 FBS teams. The previews will include 2021 breakdowns, 2022 previews and burning questions for each team.

Earlier previews: MWC West | MWC Mountain | AAC (Nos. 6-11) | AAC (Nos. 1-5) | MAC East | MAC West | Sun Belt West | Sun Belt East | Conference USA (Nos. 6-11) | Conference USA (No. 1-5)

2021 recap

For the biggest indie brands, 2021 was primarily about life after losing ultra-successful starting quarterbacks: Ian Book (Notre Dame) and Zach Wilson (BYU). Notre Dame leaned mostly on Jack Coan, with occasional cameos from Tyler Buchner and Drew Pyne, and held steady while BYU managed to slip only from seventh to 15th in offensive SP+ despite losing Wilson, 1,100-yard receiver Dax Milne, All-American tackle Brady Christensen and coordinator Jeff Grimes.

BYU still suffered a step backward because of a defensive reset, but the Irish and Cougars each exceeded projections, going 11-2 and 10-3, respectively. Liberty and Army also enjoyed success -- the former enjoyed its second straight top-50 performance with Malik Willis at quarterback, and the latter won at least nine games for the fourth time in five years.

Then there was the other end of the spectrum. New Mexico State, UConn and UMass took up the bottom three spots nationally in SP+, went a combined 4-32 -- 2-3 against FCS opponents, 2-2 against each other and 0-27 against the rest of FBS -- and either let their head coaches walk or made them. Not great.