Independents forecast: Irish will return to postseason play

Here are five predictions for the Independents in 2008:

1. Notre Dame will play in a bowl game.

The Fighting Irish were one of the youngest teams in college football last season, when they limped to a 3-9 record.

But with quarterback Jimmy Clausen, tailbacks Robert Hughes and Armando Allen and receiver Duval Kamara all returning a year older and wiser, Notre Dame will find a way to win seven games. In fact, Charlie Weis will start the season with a 2-0 record, beating San Diego State and Michigan.

2. Jon Tenuta will be the loudest voice heard from the coaches' box.

Corwin Brown remains Notre Dame's defensive coordinator, but Weis was smart in hiring Tenuta as his assistant head coach (defense) and linebackers coach.

The former Georgia Tech defensive coordinator will bring an attacking, aggressive scheme to South Bend. Cornerbacks Terrail Lambert and Raeshon McNeil are fast enough to adapt to Tenuta's scheme, and linebackers Brian Smith and Maurice Crum will be more active.

3. Navy won't hand over the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy.

The Midshipmen aren't about to lose possession of the service academies' top prize just because coach Paul Johnson left for Georgia Tech. Navy's triple-option spread offense remains intact, and new coach Ken Niumatalolo will keep the machine running. The Midshipmen will beat Army and Air Force -- again.

4. Army will be better.

At least the Black Knights will look more like Army teams of the past, as coach Stan Brock has gone back to a watered-down version of a wishbone offense. The Black Knights tried to run a spread offense for the past seven seasons, but it left their defense too vulnerable. Reinstalling an option offense at least gives them a chance.

5. Western Kentucky will scare the heck out of someone.

The Hilltoppers went 7-5 in their first season of a two-year transition into Division I-A -- they're not eligible for the Sun Belt championship or a bowl game until 2009.

But with 14 starters returning and many players who redshirted last season coming back, Western Kentucky should improve in 2008. Its schedule includes road games at Indiana, Alabama, Kentucky and Virginia Tech, and the Hilltoppers might be good enough to give one of those BCS schools a big scare.

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.