In 1988, the last time Notre Dame won the national title, four of the top five teams in the final AP poll -- the Irish, plus No. 2 Miami, No. 3 Florida State and No. 5 West Virginia -- were independents. So were Penn State (No. 1 in 1986), Pitt (No. 4 in 1981), Syracuse (No. 4 in 1987), Boston College (No. 5 in 1984), South Carolina (No. 11 in 1984) and East Carolina (No. 20 in 1983). There were 25 indies in 1988, 33 a decade before that.
Now there are four.
Granted, we were down to just three as recently as 2010 before BYU and some other hipsters tried to make independent living cool again. But the Cougars are off to the Big 12, and Liberty and New Mexico State hopped aboard the Conference USA train. So now it's just stalwarts Notre Dame and Army and two northeastern teams -- UConn and UMass -- that probably would join a conference if it made sense. (They should convince Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island and New Hampshire to jump to FBS and reform the Yankee Conference of old!)
Despite all the maneuvering and the consolidation of brands within the SEC and Big Ten, Notre Dame remains an indie, meaning that remains a viable path. How much longer will that remain the case? It's hard to say. Forever would be nice. But for now, let's preview 2023's independents!
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 133 FBS teams. The previews will include 2022 breakdowns, 2023 previews and burning questions for each team.