Independents nearly replicate '05 in '06

Updated: December 13, 2006, 6:24 PM ET
By Adam Rittenberg | Special to ESPN.com

Repetition was a common thread for the independents this fall. The four teams' records nearly matched those of 2005: Notre Dame, Navy and Temple made slight improvements, while Army finished one game worse.

All around, there were few surprises, for better or for worse. Notre Dame reached a BCS bowl for the second straight year, but it didn't rectify its weaknesses on defense, leaving top receivers to run wild. Navy continued to thrive despite the loss of promising quarterback Brian Hampton midway through the season. Army endured its 10th consecutive losing season, finished last nationally in turnover margin (minus-1.5 per game) and struggled at quarterback. Temple snapped its 20-game losing streak against Bowling Green but finished last nationally in total offense and third to last in total defense.

Most Valuable Player
QB Brady Quinn, Notre Dame
Quinn cemented himself as the greatest passer in Notre Dame history, throwing for 3,278 yards and 35 touchdowns with only five interceptions this season. After committing four turnovers in Notre Dame's crushing loss to Michigan, Quinn threw only two interceptions in his final nine games. He owns 35 school records and likely will be the first quarterback drafted in April. A Sugar Bowl win would cap Quinn's strong career and prove he can win the big game.

Coach of the Year
Navy's Paul Johnson
It's no secret why Johnson's name is bandied about every December for possible coaching vacancies. He has erased a losing culture at Navy, averaging 8.75 wins the last four seasons. Johnson owns an 8-1 record against service academies and a 4-0 mark against rival Army. After losing quarterback Brian Hampton to a dislocated knee Oct. 14, Johnson kept Navy stable and backup Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada guided the team to four consecutive wins down the stretch. Navy will appear in its fourth straight bowl under Johnson.

Newcomer of the Year
CB Terrail Lambert, Notre Dame
Lambert helped save Notre Dame's season against Michigan State, intercepting two passes and returning one for a touchdown in an improbable 40-37 win. Before this fall the junior had played sparingly, mostly on special teams, before replacing Ambrose Wooden at cornerback. Other impressive newcomers include Navy safety Jeromy Miles, Notre Dame punter Geoff Price and Temple safety Dominique Harris.

Biggest Surprise
Navy's quarterback play
The Mids figured to struggle after losing Lamar Owens, but Hampton and Kaheaku-Enhada more than carried the load. Hampton averaged 92.3 rushing yards a game before dislocating his knee, and Kaheaku-Enhada twice eclipsed 100 yards during Navy's four-game win streak to close the regular season. Other surprises include Notre Dame tight end John Carlson and Army wideout/punt returner Jeremy Trimble.

Biggest Disappointment
Notre Dame pass defense
Increasing speed and limiting big plays became Notre Dame's top offseason priorities, but the Fighting Irish failed to stop elite receivers throughout the season. They couldn't curtail Mario Manningham or Dwayne Jarrett in blowout losses to Michigan and USC, and they struggled against a host of others (Selwyn Lymon, Hakeem Nicks, Marcus Everett) in victories. Until the back half improves, a gulf will separate Notre Dame from the nation's elite teams.

Adam Rittenberg covers college football for the Arlington Heights (Ill.) Daily Herald.