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The final pre-Thanksgiving weekend had a September feel.  Not in the temperatures but in a schedule that smacked of a cupcake buffet.  Alabama-Mercer?  Clemson-The Citadel?  At a time when every game’s importance is magnified, we had just one matchup of top 20 teams (Michigan-Wisconsin).  To make things worse, the two most interesting rivalry games were on at the same time-despite both involving Pac-12 showdowns.  Hey, left-coasters, I love the whole Pac-12 After Dark deal and the like–but couldn’t you have moved USC-UCLA to the 3:30 window so I could watch Stanford-Cal without having to flip over?  The major bummer is one looks up at the calendar and realizes there’s just one weekend left in the regular season to complain about shifting start-times, FOX announcers having Wade Less punting and Lorenzo Hudson carrying the ball, and the long walk from Regent’s Garage to Maryland Stadium.  Where did the autumn go?

Fantasy Field– with no upsets in the top eight the three-round bracket stays fixed (Bama-USC winner vs Miami-Georgia victor, Oklahoma-Auburn and Clemson-Wisconsin reside in the other bracket)…so this week we’ll blow out the true FBS field of 16.  FCS does it with 24 schools on far smaller budgets.  That means the ten conference winners get automatic berths and we add six wildcards.  Hey, the MAC serves as cannon fodder for the Big Ten every autumn.  Let them send their best when it matters.  Automatic berths are in CAPS:

#1 ALABAMA (SEC) vs #16 TROY (SUN BELT)—#8 Ohio State vs #9 Notre Dame

#4 Clemson vs #13 BOISE STATE (MWC)–#5 WISCONSIN (BIG 10) vs UCF (AAC)

#3 OKLAHOMA (BIG 12) vs #14 TOLEDO (MAC)–#6 Auburn vs #11 USC (PAC 12)

#2 MIAMI (ACC) vs #15 FAU (C-USA)–#7 Georgia vs #10 TCU

Four rounds is a little excessive, so I’d settle for an eight-team field.  Although it is a novel concept to give schools that win their respective conferences a chance at winning a National Title.

 

Alma Mater Update- after three straight close games (yes, the 64-43 loss to Wake was much closer than the score indicated) the Orange get blown out in Louisville 56-10.  The thud to 4-7 is a bummer for sure, but one has to have faith that year two of the rebuild will be more like the larvae-cocoon stage.  At least that’s what you have to hope for if you’re a private school in the northeast with a stadium that seats under 50,000 fans.

 

Maryland (4-7, 2-6 Big Ten) saw its slim bowl hopes fade amidst the snow in a 17-7 loss to Michigan State that didn’t feel like a ten-point game.  Now the program has one eye on 2018 and another on sending its seniors out against (gulp) Penn State.  Terrapin Triumphs: they held Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke to 2-of-14 passing and limited MSU to 72 total yards in the second half.  Jermaine Carter led the way with 12 tackles and forced a fumble.  DJ Moore caught 8 passes, putting him within striking distance (64 grabs after 11 games) of the single-season record (Geroy Simon caught 77 passes in 1994).  Terrapin Troubles:  four of their first seven drives were three and outs, and on the other three possessions they punted after moving the chains once.  The defense also coughed up over 100 yards to Spartans tailback LJ Scott in the first half.  Next:  Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against 9-2 Penn State.

 

Virginia (6-5, 3-4 ACC) saw its upset bid of Miami come up short in a 44-28 loss to the Hurricanes.  Somehow 14-point leads are made to be coughed up–more than once.  Cavalier Congrats:  Kurt Benkert threw for 384 yards and four touchdowns with minimal help from his ground game.  Micah Kiser led the team with nine tackles wihle Quin Blanding notched eight stops and an interception.  Cavalier Concerns:  three turnovers on the road against a top ten team is not how you get things done–and Miami turned those miscues into 14 points.  The offense also gained just 52 yards on its final 22 plays from scrimmage.  Next:  Friday at 8 p.m. against 8-3 Virginia Tech.  If you haven’t heard, they haven’t beaten the Hokies since VT joined the ACC.

 

Virginia Tech (8-3, 4-3 ACC) fought through a sluggish start and held off a late Pitt drive to prevail over the Panthers 20-14.  Heading into the season finale against Virginia, one doesn’t especially feel confident-could this be the year they finally slip to the Cavaliers? Hokie Highlights:  they held Darrin Hall (486 yards rushing the last 3 weeks) to 4 yards on 15 carries and handcuffed the Panthers on the ground all day.  Cam Phillips continues to be the Blacksburg version of DJ Moore, catching 8 passes for 117 yards and the game-winning touchdown.  Brian Johnson kicked a pair of field goals, on the same weekend ACDC rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young passed away.  HIGH VOLTAGE, indeed. Hokie Humblings:  against the most porous pass defense in the ACC, Josh Jackson completed under 50% of his passes and tossed an interception.  the VT pass defense coughed up 311 yards and almost lost the game in the final minute when the Panthers completed a 74-yard pass to the Hokie 1-yard line.  Next:  Friday at 8 p.m. against 6-5 Virginia.  They can’t lose this one, can they?

 

Navy (6-4) had #8 Notre Dame on the ropes and a seven-point second half lead, before their last three drives ended with a missed field goal, an interception, and on downs in a 24-17 loss to the Fighting Irish.  Midshipmen Medals:  Zach Abey ran for 87 yards and a touchdown while passing for the Mids’ other score.  They also dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 42+ minutes.   Micah Farrar forced a fumble that set up their first touchdown of the day.  Midshipmen Miscues:  the defense allowed 5.3 yards per carry…and wound up surrendering three straight touchdown drives to the Irish.  The absence of a passing game (3 for 8 with an interception) once again limited the possibilities of the option offense.  Next: Friday at noon at 6-4 Houston.

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Maryland is in its fourth Big Ten season, meaning every fourth-year senior attending the school (I know not everybody gets out in four–aka “seven years of college down the drain”) has known no other conference.  But there’s still an ACC feel to the university on gamedays–as the men’s and women’s crowds are robust and the football crowds are lacking.   Instead of a “blackout”, whiteout” or a “gold rush” it appears as there have been “gray ghost” games–where the fans are disguised as stadium seats.

Attendance this fall has averaged 37,636–which ranks 13th in the Big Ten, just ahead of Northwestern.  One could point to the small stadium size as Maryland Stadium is the third-smallest in the conference, but when grading for percentage of capacity the Terps’ 72.7% is only ahead of Illinois.  Since its inaugural season of 2014, the school has gone from 10th to 12th to 13th in putting people in the seats.   No longer having ACC rivals like Virginia on the slate can’t help as there’s a generation of fans who now feel a disconnect and can’t really get motivated for the likes of Northwestern and Purdue.  And for the opponents with big fan bases like Ohio State and Michigan, College Park becomes “Ann Arbor South” or “Columbus East”.  Last Saturday against the Wolverines there was a flood of Maize and Blue in the stands.  One could even hear UCF fans shout “Knight” during the National Anthem when they came to College Park in September.  Brace yourselves, because Penn State fans will likely be holding a “white-out” of their own at Maryland Stadium next Saturday.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange need a win over Louisville to stay in contention for a bowl game.  Yes, the Cardinals that are currently carving their way through the back end of a schedule after early stumbles.  Last year Lamar Jackson led Louisville to 62 points at the Carrier Dome–and he’s found that groove again this fall.  Meanwhile, there’s basketball.

 

Virginia (6-4, 3-3 ACC) at #2 Miami (9-0, 6-0), noon (ABC).  The Cavaliers November gauntlet continues with the resurrected Hurricanes:  how will their 11th best in the ACC run defense hold up against Travis Homer (146 yards rushing against Notre Dame and a 6.7 yards per carry average for the season)?  UVa quarterback Kurt Benkert has thrown an interception in four straight games- he’ll be facing a Hurricane secondary that leads the conference with 16 picks.  Kippy & Buffy pick a red blend for the tailgate, and against the “Convicts” school of the Catholics & Convicts what better to enjoy than a 2016 bottle of The Prisoner: “enticing aromas of Bing cherry, dark chocolate, clove, and roasted fig. Persistent flavors of ripe raspberry, boysenberry, pomegranate, and vanilla linger harmoniously.”  Cavaliers win the tailgate but lose the game, 38-15.

 

Virginia Tech (7-3, 3-3 ACC) vs Pitt (4-6, 2-4), 12:20 p.m. (ACC Network).  The Hokies need to get right before their annual Commonwealth clash with Virginia.  Quarterback Josh Jackson hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since before Halloween-he’ll face a rather accommodating Panthers defense that allows the most passing yards in the ACC.   Despite allowing 28 points in each of the last two weeks, the Hokies defense remains first against the pass and in points allowed as well as in getting off of the field on third down.  They’ll be tested on the ground as Darrin Hall is averaging 162 yards over his last three games.  Hokies make it happen, 28-16.

 

Navy (6-3) at #9 Notre Dame (8-2), 3:30 p.m. (NBC).  This isn’t the walkover it used to be:  The Mids have won four of the last ten meetings and came within a touchdown on two other occasions.  The Fighting Irish can still secure a New Year’s Day bowl berth with wins this weekend and at Stanford, while Navy appears to be bound for the Military Bowl in Annapolis–leave it the USNA to save the government money in travel expenses.  Navy’s had a pair of quarterbacks run for over 200 yards this fall, but both Zach Abey (shoulder) and Malcolm Perry (ankle) are questionable for Saturday–potentially placing Garret Lewis in the driver’s seat of the option offense.  The junior has 46 total yards rushing this fall.  Midshipmen come up short, 44-17.

 

Maryland (4-6, 2-5) at Michigan State (7-3, 5-2), 4 p.m., (FOX).  The Terps need a win to keep their bowl hopes alive, while the Spartans are smarting after a 48-3 loss to Ohio State.  MSU’s offense may be middle of the road (seventh in the 14-school Big Ten in rushing, passing and total yardage), but Maryland’s defense has been roadkill over the last two months-allowing 31+ points in six league games while coughing up 38+ twice in non-conference play.  Quarterback Max Bortenschlager (still not specified if it’s a shoulder, head or hangnail injury) remains a question mark for the Terps;  and while Ryan Brand played better as the Michigan game progressed there’s something to be said about instability (even injury-induced) at the game’s most important position.  Terrapins tumble, 31-17.

Howard makes Mike London the MEAC Coach of the year with a victory at Hampton, Georgetown ends its autumn by falling to Colgate, Richmond edges William & Mary, Towson tops Rhode Island, James Madison escapes upset at Elon…and enters the FCS Playoffs as the #1 seed.
Last Week: 6-2.

Overall: 64-23.

Don’t worry.  The Skins’ trip through the NFC Gauntlet is almost complete.  Two games against the sad-sack NY Giants bookend a cakewalk that features three other teams with losing records and the fourth is a Dallas squad minus Ezekiel Elliott.  The 38-30 loss to Minnesota was merely a speedbump on their way to a 10-6 finish.  Yes, they have to play the South-leading Saints next, but after that it’s nothing but smooth sailing for the Burgundy and Gold.  Unless–the Skins are really a pretender that’s on their way to a sub-500 finish for the sixth time in nine years.

Captain Kirk- the Face of the Franchise completed 26 of 45 passes for 327 yards and a touchdown while adding a pair of TD runs.  He did throw an interception that allowed the Vikings to take a double-digit lead late in the first half.  But with receivers slipping and minimal support from his backs, Cousins was still an onside kick away from being in position to tie up NFC North leaders.  Star Trek Episode Equivalent- “A Piece of the Action”, where Kirk and Spock beam down to a planet that’s mimicked the 1920’s Prohibition Ganster era.  Plenty to like (especially the card game “fizzbin”) but at the end you realize you were looking for a better sixty minutes to spend your time.

Running on Fumes- the ground game was held to under 100 yards for the fifth straight week.  The firm of Perine, Thompson & Kelley resembled Lionel Hutz “I Can’t Believe it’s a Law Firm!” as the trio tallied 71 yards on 22 tries.  Now Kelley goes on injured reserve and the Skins ink Byron Russell from Philadelphia’s practice squad;  the former Oregon Duck was the first player in program history to notch a 1,000-yard rushing season AND a 1,000-yard receiving season in his collegiate career.

Third Down and Out- the Skins converted 5-of-14 money downs, with Cousins completing 7 of 10 passes (and four conversions) while running for a first down and getting sacked (an early incompletion to Vernon Davis was wiped out thanks to a roughing the passer penalty).  Chris Thompson (in addition to making one catch on three targets that moved the marker) carried twice on 3rd & 1…getting stuffed once while getting the yardage once.  Jamison Crowder was the top target- getting four throws, catching three and converting two.  Yardage breakdown:  4-of-5 on short-yardage (including 2-of-3 on the ground), 2-for-2 on medium yardage and 0-for-7 on 3rd & 7+.

Zach Brown Band- sometimes even when the album has ten tracks (or tackles), the product doesn’t work.  The Skins allowed touchdowns on five of the first six times they took to the field…or 35 points on the first 32 plays from scrimmage en route to a season-high 38 points allowed.  The pass rush failed to get a sack.  While DJ Swearinger tallied two interceptions in the second half, Case Keenum completed over 70% of his passes and averaged over ten yards per attempt.

Third Down and Up- the Vikings converted 8-of-12 attempts while only facing three third downs in the first half.  Keenum completed 7-of-10 passes with each completion resulting in a conversion…while also scrambling for a yard on 3rd & 8 late in the game.  Keenum found Adam Thielen for three first downs while connecting with Stefon Diggs twice.  Yardage breakdown:  3-for-3 on short-yardage, 5-for-5 on medium yardage and 0-for-4 on 3rd & 7+ yards neeeded.

Special Situations- Tress way booted his only punt of the day for 52 yards (you mean the Skins punted just once and still lost?).  Nick Rose connected on all three extra point attempts and on field goals of 21, 28 and 55 yards.  And then he attempted that onside kick…that didn’t go ten yards.  Meanwhile, on the other sideline Cobra Kai Forbath did his best “Johnny Lawrence at the 10-year reunion” impression–booting a 53-yarder while making all five extra point attempts.  Didn’t gloat about how he turned okay after attending Duke while Daniel LaRusso surely got popped for sneaking a bonsai tree into the US and did hard time.  I’m sure Johnny even got a wink from Ali at the reunion (she’s now happily married to Bobby, the sensitive Cobra Kai guy).

Dissecting the Division- Philadelphia increased its lead without playing a game.  The Eagles had their bye week and at 8-1 own the best mark in the division, conference and league.  Dallas (5-4) stays in second place after their loss to Atlanta, while dropping to 10th place in the NFC.  Third place remains in the 4-5 Redskins grasp;  a better conference record gives them 11th place in the NFC over Arizona.  The Giants are in last place of the NFC East and are the 15th place team in the conference.  The only thing keeping NY out of dead last? San Francisco hasn’t had their bye week yet…and this weekend they will.

Conference Call- the NFC took a 24-16 lead with 24 games remaining in the inter-conference clash.  All four AFC Divisions have losing records against their NFC quartets.  When did it become 1995 again?  The NFC South owns the best record at 22-15 while the AFC North is a Browns-induced 14-22.  The NFC East?  Fourth best at 18-18.

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The Maryland Women’s Basketball program has been a model of consistency over the last decade.  Since winning the 2006 National Championship, coach Brenda Frese’s Terps have advanced to a pair of Final Fours and have made the NCAA Tournament in ten of eleven seasons all while getting accustomed to as well as dominating a new conference (a 58-3 mark and three Big Ten Tournament championships don’t lie).  However, the theory of “Maryland doesn’t rebuild, it reloads” will be tested this winter.  The Terps graduated a pair of All-Americans in Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Brionna Jones while also losing National Freshman of the Year Destiny Slocum to transfer.  The projected depth will take a hit as well, as three reserves also left the program.  The lack of experience and roster size (nine until transfer Eleanna Christinaki becomes eligible December 20th) reminds one of the 2009-10 season that ended in the WNIT.

Returning are a pair of starters who were complimentary pieces last winter:  senior Kristin Confroy and sophomore Kaila Charles.  Charles came in as a freshman and started as the “fourth guard”, finishing second on the team in rebounding.  “Kaila is one of our dominant leaders,” coach Brenda Frese said, “she wants the ball and wants the pressure.  You see how explosive she is-she’s a matchup nightmare from that wing-forward position.”  Charles was voted to the Preseason All-Big Ten team.  Confroy brings 60 career starts back to a team that doesn’t have a lot of experience, and hopes to provide wisdom to a young squad.  “I’ve been to a Final Four. I’ve seen what doesn’t work in our early departures from the last couple tournaments,” Confroy said, “(I hope to) share that with them and hopefully make that so we don’t have to learn those lessons the hard way.”  On the court, Confroy also will provide production from the perimeter:  the guard ranked tenth in the Big Ten in three-point shooting last winter.

Getting Charles and Confroy the ball with be a pair of point guards:  to start the season the offense will be in the hands of sophomore Sarah Myers and freshman Channise Lewis.  The six-foot-one Myers brings added rebounding for a team that’s playing a four-guard lineup, while Lewis is expected to add the spark similar to previous freshmen who have played the point for coach Brenda Frese:  Kristi Toliver, Chloe Pavlech, Lexie Brown and Destiny Slocum each came into College Park and excelled running the offense their first winter on campus.

 

Up front the Terps plan to rely on junior Brianna Fraser and sophomore Stephanie Jones.  Each notched a double-double in the Terps’ season-opening win over Albany Friday night.  “Big things for Brianna Fraser,” coach Frese said, “she has worked extremely hard and when she puts her mindset in the right direction and plays at the highest level she can’t be stopped.”  One key as the team gets into Big Ten play for Fraser will be staying out of foul trouble; the forward from Brooklyn fouled out opening night against the Great Danes.  Stephanie Jones is the younger sister of Brionna, and while she doesn’t have the former Terp’s ridiculously sick collection of low-post moves she appears to be the athletic forward (Laura Harper, Alyssa Thomas) that Maryland teams in the past have needed en route to deep NCAA runs.  Stephanie feels the team’s participation in the World University Games in Taiwan will help. “We were able to grow a lot as a team because we had all of those early practices and play together in Taiwan.  Just to get a snapshot of how it was going to be (playing together) for the rest of the year, so I think we really grew as a team over there.”

They’ll need that cohesiveness before conference play tips off December 28th against Illinois as the schedule begins with a bang.  After losing to defending National Champion South Carolina 94-86, Maryland visits perennial power UConn Sunday, November 19th.. “I think in all my years here probably our toughest non-conference schedule we’ve ever had.  We’re gonna know where we are early, which will prepare us for conference schedule and the postseason,” coach Frese said,”To be the best you’ve got to play the best, and so we’re excited about the games on our schedule.”  The Gamecocks come to College Park Monday, November 13th.  While we’ll learn a lot about this team over the first month of the schedule, we won’t find out if this is a rebuilding or reloading season until the Big Ten Battles of the new year.  Ohio State is the preseason favorite and is the only school to beat the Terps since they joined the conference.  ESPN.COM’s projection has seven schools from Big Ten advancing to the NCAA Tournament.  Maryland is one of them–for now.

 

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Let’s get this out of the way to start:  the Heisman Trophy process is far from an exact science.  Technically it’s for the “best player in college football”, when in reality it’s intended for the “best quarterback/runningback on a nationally contending team”.  Which is much better than it used to be–until they started handing this award to sophomores and freshman (thank you Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel), it was the “best upperclassman quarterback/runningback on a nationally contending team” honor.  This year’s field has had many favorites who have either played their way out of contention (USC’s Sam Darnold) or watched their team suck the life out of their campaign (reigning winner Lamar Jackson at Louisville).  Enter Baker Mayfield.  The Oklahoma quarterback is completing 71% of his passes for 31 touchdowns to only 5 interceptions.  In his three biggest games of the year he’s thrown for 333, 386 and 598 yards.  And he’s got the Sooners on the cusp of a trip the College Football Playoff.  Sorry, Bryce Love at Stanford.  Prepare the pose, Mr. Mayfield.

 

Alma Mater Update- whenever we get to Heisman time I think not of the trophy Ernie Davis won in 1961, but the two others that should have come to SU.  Jim Brown in 1956 and Donnie McPherson in 1987.  Look up the years they had.  Another reason to love Notre Dame.  Heismans that weren’t is a nice distraction from allowing 64 points (and 43 in the second half) to Wake Forest.  The window is almost closed on a Pinstripe Bowl banner, and hopefully we’ll get another strong recruiting class of players who can rush, cover and tackle to bolster a struggling D next year.  Time for hoops.

 

Maryland (4-6, 2-5 Big Ten) lost to Michigan 35-10.  The Wolverines put the game away with three touchdowns over a four-minute span in the second quarter. Despite outplaying their foes in the second half and outgaining them on the afternoon, the Terps find themselves on the precipice of postseason elimination.  Terrapin Triumphs: DJ Moore achieved a rare feat:  completing a pass, making a catch, punting the ball and making a tackle.  Quarterback Ryan Brand played well for a former fifth string walk-on in his first collegiate start against the #2 defense in the nation.  Josh Woods tallied 10 tackles.  Terrapin Troubles:  a blocked punt and a failed fake punt gave the Wolverines short fields that they turned into TD’S.  The defense allowed 30+ points for the sixth straight game and eighth time in ten games this fall.  Next: Saturday at 4 p.m. against 7-3 Michigan State.

 

Virginia Tech (7-3, 3-3 ACC) lost for the second straight week, this time slipping at Georgia Tech 28-22.  Two weeks ago we were wondering just how good this team actually was–and now we know they’re a middle of the pack team in the ACC’s weaker division.  Hokie Highlights:  Eric Kumah caught a career-high 6 passes for 82 yards.  Josh Jackson turned in a turnover-free game.  Greg Stroman continues to make impact plays, returning an interception for a touchdown.  Hokie Humblings:  the running game averaged less than 3 yards per carry…and the offense converted just 4 of 15 third downs.  The defense coughed up a 60-yard touchdown pass and an 80-yard scoring strike.  Next: Saturday at 12:20 p.m. vs 4-6 Pitt.

 

Virginia (6-4, 3-3 ACC) lost at Louisville 38-21 as defending Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson ripped through them for 195 yards passing and three touchdowns while adding 147 yards rushing and another score.  Just to further underscore that the statue is not perfect, Jackson’s technically having a better year than 2016 but because his Cardinals can’t defend a ham sandwich he’s a Heisman afterthought.  Cavalier Congrats:  they began and ended the first half with touchdown drives.  Andre Levrone caught 6 passes for 92 yards.  Quin Blanding to the surprise of nobody led the team in tackles again with nine stops.  Cavalier Concerns: after the opening possession, UVa gained 40 total yards on their next 22 plays from scrimmage.  The running game was held to 63 yards on 28 tries–no way to keep Lamar Jackson off the field.  Eight penalties for 73 yards on the road is not helpful either.  Next:  Saturday at noon against 9-0 Miami.

 

Navy (6-3, 4-3 AAC) snapped a three-game losing streak by outslugging SMU 43-40.  A JR Osborn field goal at the final gun qualified the Mids for bowl eligibility–and sent the Mustangs home with visions a ground game that put the Pony Express to shame.  Midshipmen Medals:  backup quarterback Malcolm Perry rushed for 282 yards and four touchdowns while the team tallied 559 yards on the ground.  Micah Thomas led the defense with eight tackles, an interception and half of a sack.  Owen White averaged 43 yards per punt.  Midshipmen Miscues:  two turnovers didn’t help things, and the defense that returned six starters has now allowed 30+ points in its last four games.  Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m at 8-2 Notre Dame.

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Miami and Notre Dame.  The series originally began as a way to give the Fighting Irish fans a warm-weather November destination on the odd-numbered years when they weren’t visiting USC.  And then to everyone’s surprise, the intersectional rivalry heated up in the 1980’s with “Catholics vs Convicts” T-shirts, Jimmy Johnson running up the score and the two schools swapping national title runs. From 1987 to 1990 the two schools went a combined 85-12, each playing in New Year’s Day bowl games every season.  And then–they stopped playing.  While the Lou Holtz era is a distant memory and the Hurricanes have dealt with multiple crippling probations since the 80’s, this matchup still raises one’s eyebrows.  Notre Dame fans still look at Miami as obnoxious “new money”, while the Hurricane faithful view the Fighting Irish as “holier than thou” front-runners.  Add into the equation that there are a lot of people who hate both schools for precisely those reasons, and you have two teams that need to play more often.  Now that the Irish are a semi-member (actually a full member in every sport but the one you’d want them to be) of the ACC, this will happen a lot more often.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange need to win two of their final three games to have any hope at reaching the Pinstripe Bowl.  The good news is that neither Wake Forest, Louisville nor Boston College have winning conference records.  Today they take on a Demon Deacons team that’s dropped four of five and has allowed an average of 39 points over its last three games.  Eric Dungey’s health will be a question.  Hopefully the team will move beyond a pair of one-possession losses in the Sunshine state that would have been sweet upsets.

 

#17 Virginia Tech (7-2, 3-2 ACC) at Georgia Tech (4-4, 3-3), 12:20 p.m. (ACC Network).  What is it with this new “12:20” window?  Can’t the ACC Network begin its early games at noon like the rest of us?  If the Big Ten can start games at 11 a.m. local time in Madison and Minneapolis, what’s the delay?  Makes me yearn for the good old days on Jefferson-Pilot.  Despite last week’s loss to unbeaten Miami, the Hokies defense leads the conference against the run and overall while allowing the fewest points per game.  The Yellowjackets lead the ACC in rushing offense and commit the fewest penalties in the league, but have trouble rushing the passer (13th in the league) and are 109th nationally in turnover margin.  Sounds like Annapolis South.  Hokies handle things, 27-13.

 

Maryland (4-5, 2-4 Big Ten) vs #21 Michigan (7-2, 4-2), 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network).  Terps quarterback Max Bortenschlager may have a concussion or a shoulder injury–when asked which it was coach DJ Durkin said, “it was a third down- he was trying to get the first down and took a pretty good hit right there” and “I think he was just competing trying to get the first down-he took a hit there”.  So much for clarity.  If Max can’t go, walk-on Ryan Brand will be the fourth starting quarterback of the 2017 season…and he’ll face a Wolverine defense whose 32 sacks lead the Big Ten.  Michigan runningback Karan Higdon has rushed for 200 yards twice in league play…bad news for a Terps defense that allows the most yards and points in the conference:  Terrapins tumble, 31-16.

 

Navy (5-3, 3-3 AAC) vs SMU (6-3, 3-2), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).  The Midshipmen are free-falling after three straight conference losses.  They’ve gone from the “can they contend for a West Division title?” to the “they’re going to qualify for a bowl, right?” conversation thanks to a turnover-prone offense and a soft pass rush.  The Pony Express isn’t walking through that door for the Mustangs, but they do boast the AAC’s leading receiver in Trey Quinn (90 catches for 921 yards and 7 TD).  They’re also more of a match defensively for the option offense, lead the AAC in red zone defense and own a +12 turnover margin.  Midshipmen fall, 31-24.

 

Virginia (6-3, 3-2 ACC) at Louisville (5-4, 2-4), 3:30 p.m. (ESPNU).  Expect plenty of points as the Cardinals lead the conference in passing, total yardage and scoring.  They’re also near the bottom of the league in most defensive categories and have coughed up 28 or more points in four straight games.  Meanwhile, the Cavaliers have reverted to last fall’s “break but don’t bend” defense that coughed up big plays, allowing 30+ points the last three Saturdays.  Defending Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson might not be on track to claim another statue, but the junior is completing passes at a higher rate and gaining more yards per carry this fall.  UVa is also coming off its sixth win of the year, and might just be exhaling now that they’ve clinched bowl eligibility for the first time since 2011.  Kippy & Buffy plan on exhaling at the tailgate with a bottle of Carlisle Winery 2011 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel:  “drop-dead gorgeous aromas of cherry, herbs, and spice box spill from the glass. Full bodied with an explosion of red cherry fruit. Suave tannins build through the long finish.”  Unfortunately one does not see a happy finish at Papa John’s Stadium.  Cavaliers come up short, 43-31.

 

Howard beats Norfolk State, Georgetown falls at Bucknell, Towson tops William & Mary, James Madison tops Richmond.

Last Week: 5-4.

Overall: 58-21.

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Welcome to one-bid land.  Where the schools know a December signature win means nothing because only the conference tournament champ will get to the big dance.  The three beltway one-bid schools have each enjoyed sporadic success to understand what the taste of the NCAA Tournament is like–but each knows the perfect storm necessary to be in position to have your name called Selection Sunday.

Howard has the longest of the three droughts, last reaching the NCAA Tournament in 1992.  The Bison have enjoyed just one winning season since, although it appeared they were poised to break through after a 16-16 season with coach Kevin Nickelberry in 2014-15.  But injuries torpedoed a good thing-James Miller missed most of the following season and James Daniel III after leading Division I in scoring played just a pair of games last winter.  Now Miller has graduated and Daniel is suiting up for Tennessee after transferring.  Nickelberry will build around swingman Charles Williams;  the sophomore scored 15.6 points per game while making the MEAC All-Freshman Team.  Williams and senior guard Dalique Mingo are the only returning players who saw more than ten minutes a game in 2016-17.  Expect plenty of growing pains–especially early when Howard goes on the road for 13 of its first 16 games (truth be told, the final MEAC tuneup is at Hawaii–try the poi).

Navy last reached the NCAA’s in 1998.  The Midshipmen attempt to bounce back from last year’s February fade that saw the Midshipmen lose their final four regular season games.  The good news for coach Ed DeChellis is the Mids return their top five scorers-including senior guard Shawn Anderson.  Backcourt mate Bryce Dulin is a solid defender and 6-foot-7 senior Tom Lacey provides presence in the post (his 7.7 rebounds per game finished second in the conference last season).  Last winter Navy led the Patriot League in rebounding margin and were second in turnover margin;  conversely they were the worst 3-point shooting team in the league and had the second-worst field goal percentage.  Defending champ Bucknell is the team to beat in the Patriot League once again, and Navy is 0-7 against the Bison over the last three seasons.

American’s most recent trip to the big dance is just four seasons ago, but the Eagles have gone from 20 to 17 to 12 to 8 wins in that span.  This year’s Eagles will be young-there are no seniors on the roster, coach Mike Brennan is bringing in seven freshmen and the top two returning scorers are sophomores Sa’eed Nelson and Mark Gasperini.  Both players adapted well to AU’s deliberate offensive style (the team attempted the third-least shots last winter) as first-year players and should be able to help bring along the newcomers.  The Eagles appear to subscribe to the Howard theory of pre-conference scheduling, playing eight of 11 non-league games on the road.  AU begins Patriot League play against three-time defending champ and preseason favorite Bucknell, a school they’re 2-6 against during coach Brennan’s tenure.

 

Your best bet from these three?  The Midshipmen are the only school picked in the top half of their conference’s preseason polls.  But last year Howard advanced to the MEAC Semifinals and AU has had a history of scoring upsets on opposing floors in the Patriot League Tourney.  Enjoy the journey…before the journey.