Burgundy and Gold Nation doesn’t have a lot to be thankful for this November.  Their quarterback of the future doesn’t seem to be in the plans of their coach of the present.  A defense already with a coordinator on the hot seat loses a new player every week.  Each loss is another indictment on how this team is not well constructed…and the team’s recent history puts everything in play.  It’s not inconceivable they’d fire their coach after one season or trade away their first round quarterback after three seasons as a starter because they’ve done both.  In the interim, there are now five more games to play to set the stage for 2015.  Sunday’s 17-13 loss to San Francisco had a Thanksgiving feel…the offense was repeatedly stuffed and the special teams looked like turkeys.  Did anyone bring yams?

 

RG3VER– the face of the franchise completed 11 of 19 passes for 106 yards and no interceptions…but Griffin was sacked 5 times for 29 yards, meaning the Skins gained just 77 net yards passing.  Three of those sacks came on third down…as the offense feels as threatening as it did in the first year of Gibbs II when one felt the opponents would get their 17 of 20 and then put the game on deep freeze.  At least he didn’t throw any teammates under the bus.

 

Alfred the Centurion– Mr. Morris ran for 125 yards and a touchdown– the first time he reached triple digits all season.  It’s as if Zack had left the cast during the College Years season and then came back for the Wedding in Vegas movie like Lark Voorhies did.  I almost didn’t recognize him…

 

DeSean and Garcon– the dynamic duo combined for 5 catches and 73 yards…aren’t we used to one or the other posting those numbers on his own?  This year the Lamborghini(Garcon) has often been left in the garage…but it’s nice to know that there’s room in there for the Ferrari (Jackson). This is going to sit well…as wide receivers are very understanding and even-tempered.

 

Third and Oh No– the Skins moved the chains on 2 of 13 attempts.  RG3 completed 3 of 7 passes (1 conversion) while getting sacked 3 times;  he ran twice for eight yards (both times coming up short of moving the marker) while Alfred Morris scored a 1 yard touchdown on his lone third down carry (3rd and goal from the 1).  Yardage breakdown:  1-1 on third and short, 1-4 on third and medium (4-6 yards needed) and 0-8 on third and long.  Again, poor execution on first and second down gave the team 5 third downs where they needed 10 yards or more.

 

Here’s to You, Mr. Robinson– when London Fletcher announced his retirement, there was concern that this team would not find the right man to monitor the middle.  Those concerns were overblown as Keenan Robinson once again paces the defense with 8 tackles (7 solo).  The D needs more pieces like Robinson to turn around what’s been a less than ideal fall.

 

Flying Flags– seven penalties for 53 yards might not sound horrible, but five of those infractions came in the fourth quarter.  Three of the seven came on offense (illegal formation, hold, false start) while one came on defense (Ryan Clark’s unnecessary roughness) and three more were on special teams (Akeem Davis with two–a false start and an illegal block).  The illegal block gave the Skins a 1st and 10 from the 8-yard line as opposed to the 28 on their final possession…and Morgan Moses’ false start pushed the ball back to 4-yard line two plays before Griffin’s game-ending fumble.

 

Cobra Kai– one week after going 0-for-2, the Johnny Lawrence of kickers shook it off (apologies to Taylor Swift)– and Sunday he booted both attempts (27 and 36 yards).  Tress Way continues to justify his offseason pickup by averaging 47 yards per kick…

 

Dissecting the Division–Philadelphia’s win keeps the Eagles ahead of Dallas thanks to a better division record;  both would make the playoffs at 8-3 (Eagles get the #3 seed while the Cowboys would be seeded 5th and face the NFC South winner-nice gift for not winning the East).  The NY Giants 5th straight loss keeps the division cellar in play for Big Blue and the Redskins (G-Men own 3rd thanks to their week four win at Fed Ex Field).

 

True North– the AFC North owns a 27-15-1 composite record, two and a half games better than the NFC West (27-17).  The NFC East?  22-22 (good enough for 6th out of 8 divisions) while drawing the AFC South (15-29) as a crossover opponent.  I’m sure they wish they had the NFC South (13-30-1) as their intraconference crossover…as 4-7 Atlanta leads the division with 2-9 Tampa Bay in striking distance of the lead.

College football has a history of being less than progressive…so I can understand if the four team playoff is here for a while.  Lets be honest–they didn’t use the bowls as a championship determining tool until the late 60’s…and it took 30 more years to move away from the jigsaw puzzle of New Years Day bowl game format.  Even the BCS overstayed its welcome.  So I’m not expecting football tournament expansion–but wouldn’t eight be great?  Five major conference winners plus three wildcards.  Home field for the higher seed.  No complaining by the Big Ten or Pac 12 if their leagues get shut out…plus once you move past the third at-large team there’s rarely a team that belongs in the championship mix.  Wouldn’t you want to see an Alabama-Ohio State quarterfinal in Tuscaloosa?  A quadruple-header December 13th or 20th would be preferable to the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl…with the winners advancing to the January 1st semifinals.  Can’t wait until 2035 when this actually happens…

 

Alma Mater Update– is it over yet?  The Orange’s 30-7 loss at Pitt further cemented a forgettable season.  Coach Scott Shafer’s 2015 season begins now.

 

Maryland cemented its status as Big Ten road warriors…rallying with two fourth quarter touchdowns to beat Michigan 23-16.  Two weeks after posting its first ever win at Penn State, coach Randy Edsall’s team notches its first ever win against the Wolverines.  Terrapin Triumphs– CJ Brown rushes for 87 yards and a TD and avoids tossing an interception after throwing 3 last week…Cole Farrand tallies 10 tackles while Will Likely secures his 6th interception of the season…Brad Craddock converts all 3 field goals as the Aussie improves to 17 of 17 on the season.  Terrapin Troubles– the offense converts just 3 of 12 third down attempts… the defense allows 319 yards rushing… and the white ops uniforms make one miss the “X-Wing Pilot helmets” look.  Next:  Saturday vs Rutgers.

 

Virginia somehow finds itself in position to make the postseason…mauling Miami 30-13 on Senior Day.  All they have to do is win on the road against a rival they haven’t beaten since 2003…in a stadium where they haven’t won since 1998.  Cavalier Congrats– Khalek Shepherd rushes for 95 yards and a touchdown while leading the team with 5 catches…Max Valles notches three of the team’s four sacks while posting seven tackles…Kippy & Buffy end a great tailgating season by enjoying a Taylor Fladgate LBV Port with Gruyere on Captain’s Wafers.  Cavalier Concerns– CONCERNS?  They just beat the U by 17!  One just has to be worried about getting one’s hopes up heading into the annual ACC version of Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown.  Next:  Friday night at Virginia Tech.

 

Virginia Tech finds itself on the precipice of bowl elimination…thanks to a 6-3 double overtime loss at Wake Forest.  How did ACC Commissioner John Swofford not step in after 60 minutes of scoreless regulation? Couldn’t he create a “thunderstorm warning” and send everybody home?  Hokie Highlights– can I actually list positives from such a dreadful day?  JC Coleman rushes for 98 yards… while Andrew Motuapuaka tallies 10 tackles and 2 sacks (of the team’s 7).  Hokie Humblings– where to begin?  Start with two fumbles lost plus an interception–both fumbles coming in Demon Deacons territory.  Continue with an offense that converted just 3 of 15 third down attempts.  Finish with an offensive line that allowed five sacks.   Next: Friday night vs Virginia.

I hate to be the old guy on the porch yelling at kids to get off of his lawn.  I try to embrace change…from the 12-game regular season in college football (that was really tough because 11 is divisible by–never mind) to NFL’s playoff expansion that robbed the 3rd best division winner of a first round bye in 1990 (some habits die hard).  I’m not supportive but at least understanding of the multitude of helmets and uniforms a school wears…up to and including North Carolina’s “reflective heel” the other night against Duke.  But–I wish teams would wait just one week to tip off the college hoop season.  I’ve still got my football fever going– and all of a sudden Maryland’s played three games, Georgetown plays its third today and Virginia’s already 4-0.  What’s notable about the Cavaliers’ start is that I actually would have wanted to see their game against George Washington– a matchup of NCAA Tournament teams from the previous season.  Sadly, that’s the exception instead of the rule.  It’d be one thing if the early season smorgasborg brought quality opponents to Verizon or XFinity– but Fordham, Wagner and St. Miscellaneous just don’t cut it.  It’s the equivalent of getting filled up on bread before your Bloomin’ Onion arrives.  I wouldn’t mind if it were just one game pre-Thanksgiving to whet one’s appetite…but instead we’re being force-fed steak tacos as an appetizer.  I don’t want more than one order–please!  Either reduce the number of pre-Thanksgiving games or delay the opener to the Friday before Turkey Day–and please get off my lawn.

 

I will admit the NCAA gets a lot of grief.  Justifiably so.  The unwieldy organization chooses to act like a powerless confederation when schools jump leagues yet brings the hammer if a 19-year old gets a free sandwich.  An organization that is ridiculously behind the times on athlete compensation…but won’t let you take a non-sponsored cup to press row at the NCAA Tournament.  But there may be a light at the end of the tunnel…for years the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament has had what is in effect an opening/play-in round.  They’ve titled it the “First Four” and the record books treats those games in Dayton like “First Round” Games…causing confusion when the round of 64 is now the second round and so on.  I feel uncomfortable with the second/third round labeling of the first weekend games–and just refer to them as “round of 64″ or “round of 32″.  Somehow the NCAA finally woke up and announced they will call the round of 64 the First Round…starting in 2016 (hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day).  Sanity at long last!  I‘m not saying they’re going to get major issues right all of a sudden…but that’s a start.

 

Alma Mater Update– Syracuse-Pitt isn’t Penn State and it’s not West Virginia.  But as long as the Nittany Lions are in the Big 14 and the Mountaineers are in the Actual 10…next to BC the Panthers are the Orange’s big rival.  Sadly the Orange are reduced to the spoiler role as a 3-7 start prevents them from the glory that is a Pinstripe Bowl appearance.  Pitt is 4-6 and on the precipice of postseason elimination (they have to sweep SU and Miami to become eligible)… I think I’ll be reading Jim Boeheim’s autobiography “Bleeding Orange” and wondering where the offense is going to come from after their loss to Cal and near defeat to Iowa at MSG.I

 

Maryland at Michigan– Welcome to THE BIG HOUSE.  Michigan Stadium seats over 109,000 fans…unfortunately for the UM faithful the team hasn’t given them much to cheer about this fall.  A 5-5 start with home losses to Utah and Minnesota.  A coach under fire…and an Athletic Director shown the door.  The Wolverines have won 3 of 4 thanks to improved defense (-9 rushing yards allowed against Northwestern)… but QB Devin Gardner is a shell of his 2013 performance (21 TD’s passing with 11 rushing last year–8 and 3 this fall).  Speaking of seniors slipping, CJ Brown tries to turn around what’s been a disappointing fall as well (5 TD’s and 6 INT in Big Ten play).  If only Maryland had a ground game…Terps tumble, 26-14.

 

Virginia hosts Miami– can the Cavaliers end a four game losing streak and keep its bowl hopes alive?  Will runningback Kevin Parks shake off the November frost (56 yards on 20 carries this month)?  Is Greyson Lambert’s play forcing Mike London to junk the Magic Eight Ball once and for all? “Better not tell you now” is the reply.  The Eight Ball would have a field day with the Hurricanes–since joining the ACC, they’ve represented fool’s gold more often than not.  Nobody follows up a “turning the corner win” better with a loss than this program over the last decade.  After their incredible effort that just came up short against #1 Florida State–this is just the type of game the U loses.  And who doesn’t want the Charlottesville faithful to have a faint hope of the postseason leading up to their annual smackdown by Virginia Tech?  Cavaliers come up huge, 33-27.

 

Virginia Tech at Wake Forest– I certainly didn’t see the Hokies bouncing back to beat Coastal Divsion leading Duke.  That win puts Frank Beamer’s team one victory away from becoming bowl eligible…begging the question- do you want to see this team play a 13th game?  Michael Brewer makes too many mistakes…the running game remains dormant…and special teams is a myth.  Still, this team is only a pair of field goals and a touchdown away from playing for an ACC championship.  Wake Forest is one field goal away from going winless against FBS competition.  Hokies destroy the Demon Deacons, 44-13.

 

Howard handles Hampton, Georgetown loses to Holy Cross, James Madison rips Elon, Towson tops Rhode Island, William & Mary edges Richmond, Morgan State beats Delaware State.

 

Last Week: 4-4.  What can you say– Shelly took the leads…

Overall: 78-32.

Sunday’s 27-7 loss to Tampa Bay had a Groundhog Day feel about it.  You know, where if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow we get six more weeks of winter?  Well, Sunday at Fed Ex Field the Burgundy and Gold saw a team that was a shadow of a contender tell us there will definitely be six more weeks of another winter.  This was an underwhelming defeat along the lines of Kansas City last year or against Kansas City in 2009–losses that set in motion the ends of the Shanahan and Zorn regimes.  One can’t imagine Jay Gruden becoming a one-and-done in Ashburn, but it’s happened before.

 

RG3VER– the face of the franchise completed 23 of 32 passes and threw for the team’s only touchdown.  As we can’t cook the books any further, Griffin averaged under 9 yards per completion and was intercepted twice in the first quarter– the first set up the Buccaneers first points (a 32 yard field goal) while the second was returned for Tampa Bay’s first touchdown of the day.  RG3 was sacked six times…and coach Jay Gruden said Monday that Griffin was taking the wrong drops in the wrong situations.  It didn’t help that #10 compared himself to elite quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers while complaining he didn’t have great material around him.

 

Alfred the Almost– Mr. Morris was this close to reaching the century mark for the first time this season…gaining 96 yards on 20 carries in the loss.  The actually went to #46 on third and short!  Morris and Roy Helu Jr. provided RG3 with solid short options as they combined for 8 receptions–but when your QB checks down that much, there’s a problem.  Just like when it seemed Mr. Belding was a little too invested in Zack, Slater and the gang…I mean even Casey Kasem was doing double takes at the Max.

 

DeSean goes off…only not during the game– Jackson caught 4 passes for 35 yards but saved his burning speed for Monday morning, instagramming “You can’t do epic s#$t with basic people”.  Perhaps this was in response to RG3’S comments the day before?  It’s a shame Jackson was forced into signing the free agent deal with the Redskins, because I’m sure as a member of a team just 128 miles away he had no idea that this franchise wasn’t well-stocked with talent.  Especially since his Philadelphia Eagles played this team twice a year.  Glad you waited until after your visit to FOX’s pregame show to drop this deuce, DeSean.

 

Third and Aggravating– the Burgundy and Gold moved the chains on 4 of 13 attempts…with RG3 competing 6 of 8 passes while scrambling twice and getting sacked three times (one incompletion was wiped out by a TB penalty).  Problem was, four of those six completions were of the check-down variety.  Two of the three sacks gave Kai Forbath longer attempts (47 instead of 38, 50 instead of 44)–both of which he missed–while the third pushed the team completely out of field goal range.  Yardage breakdown:  2 for 4 on third and short, 2 for 4 on third and medium (4 to 6 yards needed) and 0 for 5 on third and long.  And I mean LOONNGG:  a third and goal from the 20 highlighted the first half, and the last four third down situations faced were by 13, 13, 24 and 10 yards.

 

Defensive Breakdown– coach Jay Gruden says the D played well for 50 plays Sunday…unfortunately the eight plays or so were back-breaking.  Second half touchdown passes allowed of 36 and 56 yards.  The secondary was already a patchwork– and Ryan Clark looks like he’s on his last legs at safety.  Poor communication and/or execution result in once again huge windows of opportunity for the opposition.  They did notch a pair of sacks and hold the Buccaneers to 3 of 10 third down conversions…but tallied just one takeaway as their interception total (3) remains tied for last in the league.  They didn’t play badly, but on a day when the defense needed to bail out an ineffective offense, the Skins came up short.

 

Flying Flags–  Nine penalties for 67 yards.  Not as bad as Tampa Bay’s tally (11-101)…but still damaging when you have issues on both sides of the ball.  Four of the seven offensive infractions were false starts while Tom Compton was flagged for both an illegal block above the waist and illegal formation in the third quarter.  Most costly flag?  Logan Paulsen’s false start pushed them back to their own 2 a few plays before RG3 threw his pick six…while Compton’s illegal formation helped move a 1st and goal from the 6 into an eventual 47 yard field goal attempt they’d miss.  But Perry Riley’s facemask in the fourth quarter allowed Tampa Bay to run off 3 and a half minutes of clock…effectively slamming the window of limited opportunity shut on the Skins.

 

Cobra Kai– every Billy Zabka character has his fatal flaw:  Johnny Lawrence couldn’t handle Ali’s rejection, Greg Tolan picked a fight with a cross-dresser  and Chas Osborne suffered a cramp on the high diving board.  He always gets his comeuppance, by crane kick or other means.  Sunday Mr. Forbath missed 47- and 50-yard field goals…his first misses since week three.  He’s far from the problem.

 

Dissecting the Division– Philadelphia despite its loss to Green Bay retains the NFC East lead thanks to a better division record than Dallas…the two teams play twice in the final six weeks of the season.  The Eagles own the NFC’s #3 seed while the Cowboys take the #6 spot (Green Bay has a better conference record).  The NY Giants despite being a grease-fire at 3-7 are in third place because of their 45-14 win over the Skins in September…meaning the Burgundy and Gold have a slight edge in the race for last place.  Last in the conference remains a possibility– they’re one game better than 16th place Tampa Bay but the Buccaneers own the tiebreaker.  Fantastic…

 

Division of Depression– Tampa Bay is actually in the thick of the NFC South race:  the NFL’s Sun Belt Conference boasts a composite record of 13-27-1 with all four teams boasting losing marks.  Atlanta leads at 4-6 because the Falcons are a perfect 4-0 against division rivals.  Yes, this means they’re 0-6 against everybody else.  The NFC West is percentage points better than the AFC North (25-15 to 25-15-1)–although the AFC North has four teams with winning records.  The NFC East?  Tied for fourth with the AFC West at 20-20.

 

The character of Fredo Corleone is highly underrated in the Godfather Saga.  Aptly played by the late John Cazale, Fredo is far from a force in the first film while his betrayal of Michael is the centerpiece of II.  In a pivotal scene late in the film, Fredo complains that he isn’t given the necessary “respect”– not long after asking “what’s Spanish for Pina Colada?”.  Closing month begins with one-loss teams complaining they aren’t getting the necessary respect…only to show why it wasn’t given in the first place.   Arizona State undervalued at #7?  The Sun Devils fall at Oregon State.  Nebraska not getting enough love at #11?  The Cornhuskers get crushed by Melvin Gordon’s record 408 yards rushing and Wisconsin.   Duke was only ranked 21st despite an 8-1 start?  The Blue Devils respond with a home loss to Virginia Tech.  The herd thins a bit…while other one-loss teams hope they’re not going fishing without Anthony.

 

Is Math a Major at Notre Dame?  Evidently not.  The Fighting Irish while leading Northwestern 34-29 scored a fourth quarter touchdown.  Instead of taking the 12 point lead the Irish attempted to stretch the lead to 13 by going for two…which they failed to do.  College Football Karma can be an unforgiving beast, as the Wildcats proved that 29 + 8 + 3 = 40 by scoring a late TD, going for two and then kicking a last-second field goal.  By the way, Northwestern won the game in overtime.

 

Maryland missed a chance to move into second place of the Big Ten East by losing 37-15 to Michigan State.  Unfortunately the “Blackout at Byrd” coincided with the loss of offensive power against the Spartans.  Terrapin Triumphs– the defense held out as long as they could, limiting Michigan State to 6 of 18 on third down and forcing 4 first half field goal attempts (3 after MSU reached the red zone), Cole Farrand leading the way with 18 tackles…Juwann Winfree and Daniel Adams stepped in for the injured Stefon Diggs by combining for 6 catches, 119 yards and both Maryland touchdowns.  Terrapin Troubles– the running game netted just six yards (even accounting for sacks they would have gained 22 yards on 14 tries)…with the runningbacks gaining 11 yards on 11 carries.  CJ Brown threw 3 interceptions (although one was a late first half hail-mary), the first leading to a Spartan field goal and the last being a pick six.  The fans at Byrd Stadium despite trailing by only 16 points at the end of the third quarter departed the stadium en masse–way to come up small in your first Big Ten prime time game.  Next:  Saturday at Michigan.

 

Virginia Tech instead of pulling a Fredo gave us Godfather III’s line “just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in”:  who wasn’t ready to call it a season with the Hokies having lost three straight going into the Coastal Division leader’s den?  I didn’t see a 17-16 win at #21 Duke.  I guess the pollsters were right to keep the Blue Devils out of the top 20 despite an 8-1 start.  Hokie Highlights– JC Coleman powered the suddenly awakening running game with 95 yards rushing… Dadi Nicholas led the pass rush with 2 of the team’s 4 sacks (he also had 5 hurries) as the defense held Anthony Boone to under 50% completions and intercepted the Blue Devils QB twice:  the first came at the VT 2 yard line and jumpstarted the Hokies first TD drive, second one returned by Derek DiNardo 51 yards to set up a field goal.  Hokie Humblings– 2 for 15 on third down?  Six sacks allowed? Minus nine yards on five punt returns?  Oh my– when do they play Virginia?  Next:  Wake Forest is worse–and the Hokies head to Winston-Salem Saturday.

 

Navy put itself in great position to return to the postseason…blasting Georgia Southern 52-19.  Now all they need is a split of their final two regular season games– South Alabama and Army– to secure a spot on the bowl calendar.  Midshipmen Medals–  Keenan Reynolds ran for 277 yards and 6 touchdowns– did Georgia Southern not know that the quarterback keeper was one of the options?  The defense tallied three takeaways– twice giving the offense the ball on the GS side of the field in the fourth quarter.  NO PENALTIES– where is the gold star for that?  Midshipmen Miscues– the offense converted just 3 of 7 third downs…while the defense gave up 375 yards rushing on 8 yards per carry.  Next:  Friday November 28th at South Alabama.

 

November is what defines a college football season.  Yes, Show Me Month is scintillating and Moving Month is can save or scorch a campaign…but Closing Month is when teams make that final push towards a bowl, a conference championship or a national title.  For Virginia Tech, Virginia and Navy, it’s a question of if they’ll be able to scramble up enough wins to reach the postseason.  For Maryland, it’s which destination coach Randy Edsall’s team earns.

 

Alma Mater Update– NO more football talk as the team is 3-7 entering their second bye week.  Didn’t the Orange look just dandy against Kennesaw State?

 

Maryland vs #12 Michigan State– father against son…sort of.  Quarterback CJ Brown’s father Clark played QB for the Spartans in the early 80’s.  CJ denies any “friendly wagers” between the two (mowing lawns, doing laundry and the like)…and Brown will have his hands full with a Spartan pass rush that leads the Big 10 in sacks.  The Terp defense that’s coughed up 50 points twice in conference play tries to derail an MSU offense led by quarterback Connor Cook– who leads the league in passing yards and is second in passing efficiency.  Prepare to do dishes for a while, CJ. Terps tumble, 31-24.

 

Virginia Tech at #21 Duke–  The Blue Devils being ranked shouldn’t be as much of a surprise (they are the defending Coastal Division champs after all) but the fact that even though they’re 8-1, this team is only 21st.  Evidently wins over Elon, Troy and Syracuse don’t carry the juice they used to.  Coach Tommy Tuberville has concocted a high-octane offense with Anthony Boone at the controls–but it’s the Blue Devils defense that has made the difference this fall (ranking 11th in Division I in fewest points allowed).  The Hokies after a September upset of Ohio State have seen their season revert to what the last three have been– frustrating defeats with many questions and few answers.  Hokies come up short, 24-14.

 

Navy vs Georgia Southern– this isn’t your everyday Sun Belt Conference team the Midshipmen are facing.  GSU is 7-2 with a pair of one-possession losses at Georgia Southern and NC State.  They beat Florida at the Swamp last year. The Eagles boast a running back who averages over 9 yards a carry.  Navy needs two wins over its last three games to qualify for postseason play;  it likely won’t happen this week.  Midshipmen fall, 33-21.

 

Howard loses to Central Connecticut State, Georgetown falls at Fordham, Morgan State over South Carolina State, William & Mary tames TowsonRichmond beats James Madison,

 

Last Week:  6-1.  Closing Month commences…as I earn my coffee.

Overall: 74-28.

Talking about the beltway basketball landscape is always a tricky thing…one recognizes the history of Maryland and Georgetown as well as the resources and following each school has at their disposal.  So when a George Mason makes the Final Four, or George Washington goes 26-2, or American leads Wisconsin in the first half–it’s a big thing.  The question is how do you walk the tightrope of appreciating the “other guys” achievements without making them feel like the Scottys and Sulus of the area college hoop scene?  Sadly–Howard has been the guy wearing the red shirt lately.

 

George Washington comes off a 24-9 season where coach Mike Lonergan guided the Colonials to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007.  They’ll miss the thunder of Isaiah Armwood and lightning of Maurice Creek…but have a pair of players they can lean on in guard Kethan Savage and swingman Patricio Garino.  Both missed time last season with injuries…and are expected to bear the brunt of the perimeter scoring.  Danish center Kevin Larsen (the 6-foot-10 junior was second on the team with 7 rebounds a game last winter) provides presence in the post.  An early test at #9 Virginia highlights the non-conference schedule…and the Atlantic 10 expects to be its usual cauldron again this winter.  The season starts November 14th against Grambling State.

 

George Mason hopes its second winter in the Atlantic 10 was kinder than the first– the Patriots dropped their first 8 conference games in painful fashion:  three were two-possession games, and three more were one-possession affairs or went into overtime.  The 11-20 finish was the first losing record in Fairfax since Jim Larranaga’s first season of 1997-98.  Topping that off, coach Paul Hewitt loses his only double-digit scorers from last year.  There’s a vacuum to be filled…and it’s easy to see Patrick Holloway developing into a perimeter threat ala Byron Allen while Patrick Holloway or Eric Copes grow into larger roles down low.  Will Georgia Tech transfer Julian Royal prove he deserved more minutes in the ACC or that he should’ve gone to the CAA?  The Patriots’ toughest non-conference test remains a December 31st trip to #19 Oklahoma.  What sort of team will we see March 7th in the season finale at VCU?  The road to redemption begins November 14th against Cornell.

 

VCU is here to stay–there’s no question about that.  Shaka Smart has the team in the preseason top 20 again…after the Rams made the NCAA Tournament again last March.  He has quality contributors coming back with four of his top six scorers returning.  Treveon Graham proves to be a matchup nightmare as he’s quicker than most bigs and stronger than most perimeter players in the A-10.  The pressure defense will give the Rams plenty of easy buckets as well.  The recent success on the national stage gives this program swagger that is worth at least 2 or 3 conference games alone.  The main question is– does VCU qualify as a “regional team”?  We give Virginia and Virginia Tech plenty of play on WTOP…and they’re more than a short drive away.  The season tips off in Annapolis at the Quicken Loans Veterans Classic November 14th against Tennessee.

 

American after making the NCAA Tournament in coach Mike Brennan’s first season at the helm now brings back just about everybody to a team that was wildly efficient en route to the big dance:  7th in field goal percentage and 37th in assists per game while ranking 7th in fewest points allowed.  Brennan returns eight of his top nine scorers to Bender Arena…but how much will they miss 6-foot-10 center Tony Wroblicky and his 7 rebounds per game?  Junior Zach Elcano and freshman Gabe Brown both loom large…but the best big man might be 6-foot-8 senior Kyle Kager.  The non-conference slate includes the traditional nearly a month a way from Bender from mid-November to mid-December…followed by the rough and tumble Patriot League.  While they were able to sneak upon everybody else last year, this fall AU is the preseason favorite.  The season begins against Temple November 14th.

 

Navy also resides in the Patriot League– and the Midshipmen begin with a bang:  November meetings with Michigan State, Notre Dame and Providence will definitely help their RPI.  Leading scorer Tilman Dunbar’s back– as are Worth Smith and Brandon Venturini.  Even with the experience, the Midshipmen are picked to finish last in the Patriot League.  The season tips off in Annapolis at the Quicken Loans Veterans Classic November 14th against #18 Michigan State.

 

Howard plays the role of Don Quixote again– as coach Kevin Nickleberry enters his fifth season he’s facing not just a 31-94 record in DC but the history of a Bison program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2001-02 and has lost at least 20 games every year since.  James Daniel returns after leading the MEAC in scoring (21ppg) as a freshman…and with senior Prince Okoroh back as well, this could be the year that Howard contends to finish over .500 at long last.  The first windmill to be chased is November 14th at Miami.

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