Archives for category: College Football

Merry Christmas to one and all– and even though some of our favorite college football teams didn’t give us what we wanted under the tree, the area schools certainly supplied a few stocking stuffers of magnificent memories from 2018.  And even though they failed to beat Virginia Tech for the 15th straight year, my UVa tailgating pals Kippy & Buffy had one fun fall supporting their team as well as making new friends while enjoying pretty good wine.  They’d like to extend best wishes during the holiday season for all out there who enjoy a pregame beverage by sharing their game-by-game selections (excerpted from the award-snubbed “Presto’s Picks” on WTOP.COM.)

Richmond- One program that never changes at Scott Stadium is Kippy & Buffy’s tailgate, and the popped-collar pair are already in midseason form.  They kick off 2018 with a bottle of Moscato:  Beni di Batasiolo Moscato d’Asti Bosc dla Rei 2013.  On name value alone it impresses, but “with the palate profile packing D’Anjou pear and red apple nuances, the fizzy, fruit-forward themes run well-balanced from the semi-sweet start to fairly, full finish.”  What a way to start, indeed.

Indiana- Kippy & Buffy aren’t messing around with any short stuff at their tailgate:  Conundrum White 2015 “lures you with scents of apricot, pear and honeysuckle.”  There’s also a “hint of oak” that I think is more of a strong suggestion. I suggest a pairing with brie and crostini.

Ohio- A semi-neutral site game means a semi-neutral white wine for Kippy & Buffy;  nothing says “home away from home” better at the tailgate than Chateau O’Brien’s Northpoint White.  The 2017 Chardonnay offers “a beautiful array of creamy hazelnut and subtle butterscotch” and “shows a profound maturity, along with a balancing elegance and grace”.   Perfect with take-out from Bojangles.

Louisville- The first ACC game means Kippy & Buffy switch over from white to red wine…and there’s no better way to kick off conference play than with a bottle of A to Z Pinot Noir from Oregon.  The 2015 vintage offers “striking aromas of black cherries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries are overlaid with a cornucopia of spices. As the wine moves across the palate, ripe, dusty tannins bracketed by juicy acidity give shape and definition to the powerful fruit flavors in harmony with a mineral quality, reminiscent of slate and graphite.”  As we’re already in the Beaver State, Kippy & Buffy break out the Rogue Smokey Blue cheese on multi-grain crisps.

NC State- this is the first meeting between these two founding ACC members since that game, so Kippy & Buffy go with the Founding Father inspired “Federalist Bourbon Barrel-Aged Zinfandel“.  The 2015 vintage possesses “aromas and flavors of black fruit, smoke, caramel and vanilla”.  Despite the portrait of university founder Thomas Jefferson’s rival Alexander Hamilton on the bottle, “the finish is long and smooth making this a thoroughly enjoyable wine.”  Enjoy with aged cheddar on club crackers.

Bye Week- don’t you dare think Kippy & Buffy will be taking it easy this weekend.  Bye weeks are for shuttering up the cottage in the Outer Banks-and there’s no better way to wave goodbye to summer than by enjoying a 2010 bottle of JM Gobillard et Fils Millesime Champagne.  “Straw color, lovely aromatics (violets and strawberries), persistent perlage (meaning the bubbles are evocative of pearls), and pleasant mix of fruity and pastry-like notes.”   Break out the Black Diamond Hackleback Caviar on toast points (the lighter toasted, the better).

Miami- Just like college football’s bluebloods (Notre Dame, Alabama, Ohio State) look down their noses at Miami as “nouveau riche” (even though they’ve been a force for over 30 years), Petit Verdot is a varietal that’s been around forever (the Romans enjoyed it) but only recently getting its due as a stand-alone varietal.  Trinchero Napa Valley’s Central Park West Vineyard Petit Verdot “presents a deep, inky purple color, supported by beautiful black fruit and floral aromas reminiscent of lavender and lilac. With layered blueberry and blackberry flavors, this wine’s ripe tannins lead to a sensual, round mouthfeel.” Kippy & Buffy concur.

Duke- Kippy & Buffy prepare for facing the ultimate “bro” school by once again tailgating with Breaux Vineyards-this time they break out the Cabernet Franc.  “Redolent of dark fruits and sweet spice (cardamom) and somewhat woodsy.  Full and juicy with loads of fruit and spice on the palate.  The drying tannins accompany a long juicy finish”.  Sadly, the finish this Saturday will be somewhat sour.

North Carolina- Kippy & Buffy would be more than happy to tell you that the 2015 Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot also exceeds expectations, “underscored by polished tannins, the juiciness of the entry evolves into a lush, silky texture that carries the flavors to a long, generous finish marked by notes of freshly ground coffee beans with a splash of ripe, red cherry.”

Pitt- Kippy & Buffy move the chains and much more during their tailgate by going with a 2015 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cold Creek Cabernet Sauvignon:  “the aromas are bright, with notes of cherry, plum, vanilla and baking spice. The fruit flavors are plump, with plenty of barrel accents. The tannins come off as quite dry, leading to a sweet vanilla-filled finish. The oak is at the fore.” 

Liberty- The final home game at Scott Stadium has Kippy & Buffy breaking out white wine for a non-conference foe one final time, and this week it’s a bottle of 2017 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc“Tightly structured, with strong, vigorous passionfruit and lime flavors, woven with steely acidity, and obvious potential.”

Georgia Tech-  Kippy & Buffy hit the road with a bottle of Cain Five.  The 2014 vintage is 51% Cabernet Sauvignon and 26% Merlot (remaining grapes used are split between Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot).  “The aromas are discrete: fruity—floral—herbal—spicy—and pure. On the palate, the wine has a certain density, but now the tannins have melted and this wine just flows.” 

Virginia Tech- Ending a sorry streak is always a tough task, but Kippy & Buffy plan to do their part by breaking out a bottle of Chateau O’Brien 2013 Mourvèdre.  “The smell of Mourvèdre is an explosion of dark fruit, flowers like violet and herbaceous aromas of black pepper, thyme, and red meat.  The variety can be a difficult grape to grow, preferring “its face in the hot sun and its feet in the water.”

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Haven’t we been here before?  December brings disappointment for 3-5 schools as has been the case since the College Football Playoff began.  I’ve written so many “eight is enough” columns over the years I’m starting to sing like Grant Goodeve.  This year it almost feels as though spots in the playoff field weren’t as much won as not lost.  Once again the Big Ten and Pac 12 champs find themselves on the outside looking in…although at least this year they have the Rose Bowl to play in.  UCF if they beat LSU in the Fiesta Bowl will likely hand out rings that say “National Champions”.  And Georgia will rue that fake punt on fourth and 11…knowing how razor-thin the margin for playoff inclusion is.  Not having an eight-team playoff field sucks.  But this is the world we live in…

If the BCS were still kicking around, Notre Dame would be arguing for inclusion instead of a Clemson team that allowed 35 points to South Carolina (the Irish allowed 54 points in four November games) after winning the ACC in a down year for the league.  Oklahoma would claim that its Big 12 title win over Texas more than erased their regular season loss to the Longhorns…to no avail.  And if the old bowl system were still in place, #1 Alabama would face #2 Clemson in the Sugar while #3 Notre Dame would face #4 Oklahoma in the Orange.  Going back further, at least they award the championships post-bowls.  Minnesota in 1960 and Alabama in 1964 kept their titles despite January defeats and Notre Dame won the 1966 title despite not even participating in a bowl.  So bear with the larvae stage of the college football postseason…and gear up for a better process in eight years.

 

Virginia Tech (6-6) salvaged its season further by beating Marshall 41-20.  The Hokies keep their postseason streak alive thanks to consecutive wins.  Hokie Highlights:  Ryan Willis threw for 312 yards and four touchdowns.  Rayshard Ashby tallied 15 tackles to lead the defense that notched two takeaways and handcuffed the Thundering Herd for the first three quarters.  Hokie Humblings:  the offense converted just 4 of 13 third downs while the defense did cough up a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns.  The sad part about finally putting together two solid efforts is one asks where this team was when they were losing four straight.  Next:  December 31st against Cincinnati at the Military Bowl in Annapolis.

 

James Madison (9-4) saw its season end with a 23-20 loss at Colgate in the second round of the FCS Playoffs.  The defeat also saw the end of the Mike Houston era:  three years and a 37-6 record before he went to East Carolina (after reportedly being bound for Charlotte).  Such is the cost of being a perennial FCS contender.  May the next coach be as successful.  Duke Do’s:  the running game gained 200 yards against a defense that allowed 5.7 points per game during the regular season.  Duke Don’ts:  Ben DiNucci threw five interceptions.  Next:  August 31, 2019 at West Virginia.

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College football will have more games with higher stakes, from the conference championship games on tap next weekend to the College Football Playoff in early January.  But it almost feels anticlimactic after the weekend that was.  High scoring affairs included a 74-72 seven-overtime (septuple-OT for those grading at home) game between Texas A&M and LSU as well as a 59-56 regulation runaway between Oklahoma and West Virginia (or, just another night in the Big 12).  Rivalries with ill feelings included fights during the Ole Miss-Mississippi State (they’ll have their eggs over easy for the next year) and North Carolina-North Carolina State (goodbye Raycom Sports) games.

Once again, and with apologies to Alabama-Auburn and Washington-Washington State, the centerpiece to the weekend began at high noon Saturday in the Big Ten.  And once again, Ohio State was the effective roadblock standing between Michigan and a shot at a Big Ten (as well as a potential national) championship.  Just like the Wolverines kept John Cooper’s title-contending teams out of the Rose Bowl in the 90’s, the current Buckeyes appear to be the bane of Jim Harbaugh’s team this decade.  And this time is was even more painful for the school up north:  a 62-39 thumping that turned the maize and blue red-faced.  That makes the man in khakis 0-4 against Urban Meyer, whose school is suddenly back in the playoff conversation.  Winter never seemed so cold in Ann Arbor.

 

Alma Mater Update- it was also on the cold side in Chesnut Hill Saturday- but the Orange left alumni and faithful headed home warm after a 42-21 win at Boston College.  For me, it was a great day to meet up with my roommate from freshman year as well as friends from high school the night before in a class reunion.  For SU, it’s the best regular season since 2001 and a second-place finish in the ACC Atlantic Division.  The two league losses have come against the two division winners, while the third is against unbeaten Notre Dame.  It’s off to Orlando.  Or El Paso.  I’m just happy there’s no Pinstripe Bowl Banner in this team’s future.

 

Virginia Tech (5-6, 4-4) somehow salvaged what could have been its worst season since 1992 with a 34-31 overtime win over Virginia (7-5, 4-4).  The Cavaliers rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to take a seven point lead with under three minutes left in the fourth quarter.  But just like the Hokies have had a hex on their instate foes since joining the ACC, wouldn’t you know Ryan Willis would find Dalton Keene for a 45-yard hookup on third and 10?  And wouldn’t you know that Tech would fumble later in the drive only to have Hezekiah Grimsley recover the ball in the end zone for a game-tying touchdown?  And doesn’t it make sense somehow that Bryce Perkins—who had put the Cavaliers on his shoulders all afternoon and all season—would fumble in OT?  Now Virginia Tech has beaten Virginia 15 straight seasons.  That means that no fifth year player on the Cavaliers’ roster was on the same team as anyone who played alongside anyone who beat the Hokies.  Staggering.  Hokie Highlights: senior Steven Peoples went out in style, rushing for 96 yards as Tech tallied 254 on the ground.  The defense held the Cavaliers scoreless in the first half.  Special teams returned a blocked punt for a touchdown.  Hokie Humblings: Ryan Willis threw a pair of interceptions and the offense converted just 6-of-18 third downs.  The defense allowed touchdowns the first four times UVa had the ball in the second half.  Cavalier Congrats: Bryce Perkins threw for 259 yards and three touchdowns while running for 112 more.  Joe Reed caught four passes for 119 yards and two TD’s.  Juan Thornhill tallied 14 tackles while Jordan Mack made 10 stops while recording an interception.  Lester Coleman averaged 44.8 yards per punt.  Cavalier Concerns: in addition to his defeat-sealing fumble in OT, Perkins lost a ball at the Hokie 12-yard line on their deepest drive in the first half.  Next:  for Virginia Tech, a December first duel with Marshall at noon to see if they can become bowl eligible.  For Virginia, a long winter of discontent–until men’s basketball begins ACC play.

 

Navy (3-9, 2-6 AAC) fell behind Tulane 21-3 before rallying to take a fourth quarter lead over the Green Wave.  Unfortunately, the Mids’ defense allowed the Green Wave to drive 71 yards on seven plays to retake the lead for good in a 29-28 Navy loss.  Midshipman Medals: Zach Abey threw for 167 yards and a touchdown.  Taylor Heflin led the defense with nine tackles.  Owen White averaged 51 yards per punt.  Midshipman Miscues:  the offense went three and out in four of six first half possessions and finished 2-for-15 on third down.  The defense was gashed early and then couldn’t stop the Green Wave when it counted in the fourth quarter.  Next:  December 8th against 9-2 Army.

 

Maryland (5-7, 3-6 Big Ten) after losing by two points two weeks ago and then falling by one last Saturday were never close in a 38-3 loss at #15 Penn State.  A season that showed plenty of promise amidst plenty of tragedy comes to a close with questions surrounding the future of the current coaching staff and the athletic program in general.  Terrapin Triumphs: Tyrrell Pigrome threw for a career-high 185 yards on a day the run was bottled up.  Isaiah Davis paced the defense with nine tackles while graduate transfer Tre Watson closed out his Terps career with four stops to finish the season leading as the Big Ten leader.  Wade Lees booted a 50-yard punt and placed five of eight kicks inside the Penn State 20.  Terrapin Troubles: the running game never got in gear, with the tailback triumvirate being held to 53 yards on 19 carries with a long of seven.  The offensive line also allowed five sacks.  The defense coughed up 310 yards rushing (7.0 yards per carry).  Next:  August 31, 2019 at home against Howard.  After the offseason press conference that wraps up a third coaching search in eight years.

 

James Madison (9-3) was one of five CAA schools to see action in the first round of the FCS Playoffs, and the only one to advance.  The 20-6 win over Delaware sends coach Mike Houston’s team to the round of 16 for the third straight December.  Duke Do’s: Ben DiNucci threw for 223 yards and a touchdown while the offense held the ball for over 37 minutes.  The defense held the Blue Hens to 2-of-14 on third down and kept the Blue Hens out of the endzone.  Duke Don’ts: the running game had issues, generating just two yards per carry.  Eleven penalties cost JMU nearly an entire football field.  Next: Saturday at 1 p.m. against 9-1 Colgate.

 

Towson (7-5) took a 10-3 halftime lead over Duquesne in its first playoff appearance since the 2013 FCS Championship game, but the Dukes dominated the second half as the Tigers tumbled 31-10.  But coach Rob Ambrose gets quarterback Tom Flacco back for his senior season, and a program on the right track.  Tiger Takeaways: the tailback tandem of Shane Simpson and Kobe Young averaged almost six yards a carry while the team gained 230 yards on the day.  Simpson also caught a pair of passes.  The defense held the Dukes to 5-of-14 on third down.  Tiger Takedowns: Tom Flacco completed just 10-of-33 passes as the offense went scoreless after intermission.  The defense allowed 282 yards rushing.  Next: August 31, 2019 at the Citadel.

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Thanksgiving weekend gives college football the crescendo of arch-rivals clashing across the country.  In-state matchups like Alabama-Auburn and Clemson-South Carolina have playoff ramifications, while Michigan and Ohio State play for more than just a Big Ten East title and the usual bragging rights.  USC has spoiled Notre Dame’s National Championship hopes in the past;  this year the Trojans are fighting not just the Irish but for bowl eligibility (and relevance).  The second-tier affairs range from something tangible (Washington-Washington State is for the Pac-12 North) to something else (Ole Miss-Mississippi State I believe decides if eggs in the Magnolia State will be poached or scrambled over the next calendar year) to nothing at all (let’s not kid ourselves, Indiana and Purdue are fully focused on hoops).  But regardless of the stakes, college football’s rivalries deliver dislike and begrudging respect.

Which brings us to Maryland’s situation as a dancer without a true partner.  For years the Terps thought of themselves as Virginia’s ACC rival, and the Cavaliers thumbed their nose north by saying their true football foe was North Carolina (dubbed “the South’s Oldest Rivalry”) even though the Tar Heels laughed every time that was uttered.  Virginia Tech supplanted the Terrapins as the ACC’s northernmost rivalry before they left the league.  Which brings us to the Big Ten:  there are two schools in decent proximity of College Park. Penn State will have nothing to do with a rivalry with anyone–let alone Maryland.  And given how Rutgers has been either a dumpster or tire fire since joining the Big Ten, do you really want to use the Scarlet Knights as a measuring stick or focal point for your program?  One of the cases for lagging attendance at Maryland has been the fact that the must-win games like West Virginia, Virginia or even Clemson have disappeared off the slate.  Until they find a worthy partner, the Terps will be dancing with themselves when it matters most.

Alma Mater Update- a tradition continues on Chesnut Hill. No, I’m not trying to palm off the Syracuse-Boston College game as anything but a season-ending battle to see who gets to avoid the Pinstripe Bowl…even though banners from said bowl actually hang in the Carrier Dome to my dismay.  But for years I would travel to watch the Orange play on the road with my roommate from freshman year.  Since we left SU, we each have moved across the country and back.  We’ve carved out careers and have lived lives neither of us fully expected when we shared room #220 in Shaw.  So Saturday if you happen to stumble anywhere near Alumni Stadium, watch out for the two guys wearing orange hats and giving each other high fives when SU scores its lone touchdown against BC.  Go Orange…

Friday’s Game-

Virginia (7-4, 4-3 ACC) at Virginia Tech (4-6, 3-4), 3:30 p.m. (ABC).

You may have heard that the Cavaliers haven’t beaten the Hokies since Tech joined the ACC in 2004.  In the fourteen game losing streak, four of the games have been one-possession affairs.  Two of those losses prevented the UVa from reaching a bowl, so as they face the weakest Virginia Tech team in over 25 years there’s a chance for sweet revenge.  These Hokies rank 11th in the ACC in scoring and in points allowed.  If a bowl-bound Virginia led by dual-threat quarterback Bryce Perkins doesn’t beat Virginia Tech this year, when will they?  Ending a sorry streak is always a tough task, but Kippy & Buffy plan to do their part by breaking out a bottle of Chateau O’Brien 2013 Mourvèdre.  “The smell of Mourvèdre is an explosion of dark fruit, flowers like violet and herbaceous aromas of black pepper, thyme, and red meat.  The variety can be a difficult grape to grow, preferring “its face in the hot sun and its feet in the water.”

Cavaliers finally get to have their faces in the hot sun, 27-16.

 

Saturday’s Games-

Navy (3-8, 2-5 AAC) at Tulane (5-6, 4-3), noon (ESPNU).

The Midshipmen’s tour of colored singular foes continues, but they’ll find the Green Wave a little tougher than the Tulsa Golden Hurricane:  Tulane has won three of four behind backup quarterback Justin McMillan.  Zach Abey is coming off of his best day (128 yards and two touchdowns rushing) since suffering a shoulder injury last season, but the Green Wave are one of the better teams at stopping the run in the conference.  Their 33 sacks are also tied for the AAC lead, but that won’t help much against the Navy option.  At the other end of the pass rush spectrum are the Mids, who are tied for last with just eight sacks on the season.  That will hurt.

Midshipmen stumble, 35-30. 

 

Maryland (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) at #15 Penn State (8-3, 5-3), 3:30 p.m. (ABC).

One week after losing to Ohio State by one and two weeks after losing by two at Indiana, the Terps have a final shot at bowl eligibility.  The Nittany Lions are coming off an underwhelming win over Rutgers, and three of their other seven wins are one-possession affairs.  Senior quarterback Trace McSorley is having his best year as a runner and his worst season as a passer.  The Nittany Lions don’t have Saquon Barkley in their backfield this year, but junior Miles Sanders is averaging 5.7 yards per carry.  Expect freshman Anthony McFarland to continue his November to remember (525 yards rushing over three games this month) against the 10th rated defense against the run in the Big Ten, but the lack of a consistent passing game will once again torment the Terps on chilly afternoon.

Terrapins tumble, 34-22.

 

FCS Playoffs:

Towson (7-4) vs. Duquesne (8-3), 2 p.m. (ESPN3).  The Tigers make the tournament for the first time since they reached the 2013 championship game.  The team’s turnaround this fall can be traced to transfer Tom Flacco (younger brother of Ravens QB Joe) who has helped the school lead the CAA in passing yards, total offense and scoring.  Problem is, Rob Ambrose’s defense is at near the bottom of every defensive category in the conference–except against the run where they lead the league.  Good thing these Dukes bear little resemblance to their James Madison namesakes:  five of their eight wins were one-possession affairs.  It’s an early exit for the automatic-qualifying Northeast Conference champs.

Towson triumphs, 33-25.

James Madison (8-3) vs. Delaware (7-4), 3 p.m. (ESPN3).  A rare first round game between fellow conference members was made possible because the Dukes and Blue Hens did not play during the regular season;  if we go by the old NFL tiebreaker of “common opponents” JMU has the 5-2 to 4-3 edge.  They also have the edge on third down:  coach Mike Houston’s team ranks first in the CAA at moving the chains while his defense is fourth best at getting off the field on the money down.  Delaware-not so much.  Although we’ve seen Danny Rocco-coached teams come out of Harrisonburg with upsets in the past,  the Blue Hens enter this postseason with two straight losses.  The Dukes will likely make it three.

Dukes defeat Delaware, 31-16.

 

Last Week: 5-3.

Overall: 61-39.

College football gives fans a chance not just to talk up their own school, but their entire conference.  Nothing beats Vanderbilt or Arkansas fans talking smack about the SEC, or Rutgers people telling you how great the Big Ten is.  I’ve even looked at the Power Five Conferences multiple times this fall.  But everyone takes a back seat to the best in the business…a conference that might be closer than you think.  The Colonial Athletic Association places SIX teams in the 24-school tournament:  James Madison, Towson, Delaware, Maine, Elon and Stony Brook.  In other words, half of its membership was deemed to be worthy of 25% of the tournament bracket.  The cost of a top-heavy league was that conference champion Maine only gets a #7 seed and they were the only CAA team to get a first round bye.  James Madison (8-3) advanced to the Championship game last year;  the Dukes host Delaware in the Blue Hens’ first playoff  appearance under former Richmond coach Danny Rocco.  Towson (7-4) also has a home game:  The Tigers entertain Duquesne in their first playoff game since the 2013 FCS Championship Game.

Alma Mater Update- let’s just say that things did not go as planned in New York City…as the men’s basketball team lost two straight and the football team fell 36-3 to #3 Notre Dame.  That they weren’t shut out shouldn’t be noted, because the Orange elected to kick a field goal late in the fourth quarter.  Kind of more embarrassing than actually getting blanked.  Actually a blocked field goal returned for a Fighting Irish TD would have been the only result more embarrassing.  At 8-3 they visit Boston College to wrap up the season. I’ll be there.

Maryland (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) went for the win in overtime against Ohio State…and Jeshaun Jones was open in the endzone.  Unfortunately the pass never got there and fell to the turf incomplete, wrapping up one wild afternoon as the Buckeyes remain alive for the Big Ten East with a 52-51 victory.  The Terps missed out on reaching bowl eligibility…despite outplaying OSU for big stretches of the day.  Terrapin Triumphs:  Anthony McFarland ran for 298 yards and two touchdowns- the two scores coming from 75 and 81 yards in the first quarter.  The defense recovered a fumble inside the Maryland five and RaVon Davis returned an interception for a touchdown.  Terrapin Troubles:  by overtime the D was hanging for dear life, allowing touchdowns the last four times the Buckeyes touched the ball.  And while the passing game saw a few sparks (completions of 27, 30, 56 and 60 yards), Tyrrell Pigrome completed under 50% of his throws.  Next:  Saturday at 3:30 against 8-3 Penn State.

Virginia (7-4, 4-3 ACC) saw its Coastal Division hopes evaporate when Pitt routed Wake Forest, before being taken to overtime by Georgia Tech.  While Brian Delaney’s 32-yard field goal sent the game into OT, his 35-yarder in the extra session went wide.  Cavalier Congrats:  Bryce Perkins threw for 217 yards and a touchdown while running for 73 and a score.  Olamide Zaccheaus notched 11 catches for 111 yards.  Jordan Mack paced the defense with 12 tackles.  Cavalier Concerns:  special teams mistakes cost UVa bigtime-the Yellowjackets scored their first TD of the day on a kick return and their second came on a short field after a the Cavs fumbled a punt.  Next:  Friday at 3:30 at 4-6 Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech (4-6) continued its late-season slide in a 38-14 loss to Miami.  But they aren’t out of bowl contention just yet:  The Hokies have scheduled a provisional game with Marshall for December 1st.  If they beat Virginia (like they have every year since 2003), they’ll play the Thundering Herd the following weekend.  If they lose, the game will be wiped out.  Hokie Highlights:  Ryan Willis completed 3 passes for 70 yards on the first possession of the day to give the team a 7-0 lead.  Rayshard Asbhy tallied 14 tackles to pace a much-maligned defense.  Hokie Humblings:  the offense moved the chains on just 2 of 12 third downs, and the defense once again allowed 30+ points (sixth time this fall–all losses).  Special teams allowed a 51 yard punt return for a score that put Tech down 17 points.  Next:  Friday against 7-4 Virginia.

Navy (3-8, 2-5) ended a seven game losing streak by outscoring Tulsa 37-29.  After starting the day with a three and out, the offense reached the endzone the next four times they had the ball.  On senior day, it seemed like old times for quarterback Zach Abey.  Midshipman Medals:  Abey ran for 128 of the team’s 389 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns.  The offense converted 11 of 15 third downs. Nizaire Cromartie paced the defense with nine tackles.  Midshipman Miscues: the defense was either feast of famine in the second half, allowing two touchdowns while tallying two takeaways.  The lack of a passing game (only 15 yards) didn’t hurt them this time,  but the Mids won’t be facing the 2-9 Golden Hurricane every week.  Next:  Saturday at noon on the road against 5-6 Tulane.

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Two weeks ago I was amazed at how Kentucky for the first time since 1977 was going to finish with a winning conference record.  Well, those Wildcats are going to have to take a back seat to a school that wrapped up a Division title-with two weeks in the regular season to spare.

Northwestern’s 14-10 win at #21 Iowa clinches their first West Division title, putting the Wildcats within one victory of their first Big Ten championship since 2000. It’s easy to sell this year’s team short. They lost to Akron, a school that had last beaten a Big Ten team two years before the conference was founded in the 19th century.  They were 1-3 at the start of October–and that one win was a four-point Labor Day weekend victory over Purdue.  Northwestern needed overtime to edge then-winless Nebraska and a fourth quarter touchdown to beat Rutgers (!) in October, and it felt as though whatever division hopes they had were a mirage.  But nobody told the school with the smallest enrollment and tiniest stadium (21,000 and 47,330 respectively) in the Big Ten.  And the little program that could beat ranked foes Wisconsin and Iowa en route to its first division title.  Now coach Pat Fitzgerald’s team waits to see if they’ll face #4 Michigan or 8th ranked Ohio State in the championship game at Indianapolis next month.  I wouldn’t sell them short…

Alma Mater Update-  Syracuse is 8-2 and #13– the rarest air this program has graced since 1998.  An unbeaten record at home!  And a winning mark in the ACC for the first time since SU joined the league…Camping World Bowl here we come!  The Orange face #3 Notre Dame and always-tough Boston College the final two weeks of the season…and both games are away from the dome.  Who’s talking about basketball?

Maryland (5-5, 3-4 Big Ten) lost quarterback Kasim Hill to injury and fell 15 points behind Indiana-twice-before rallying to take a late lead over the Hoosiers.  Unfortunately, IU’s offense woke up to drive for a go-ahead field goal and backup quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome fumbled on the Terps’ last possession in a 34-32 loss.  The road to bowl eligibility just got a lot tougher.  Terrapin Triumphs: Anthony McFarland rushed for a career-high 210 yards.  Tyrrell Pigrome completed 10 of 13 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown and also made plays with his feet coming off of the bench.  Tre Watson tallied seven tackles plus an interception to direct a defense that held the Hoosiers to 3 for 12 on third down. Terrapin Troubles:  Four turnovers-the first three leading to 17 IU points and the fourth extinguishing any hopes for a victory in the final minute of regulation.  Ten penalties for 93 yards- life is tough enough in the Big Ten…but when you beat yourself it’s even more difficult.  Next:  Saturday at noon against #8 Ohio State.

Virginia (7-3, 4-2 ACC) didn’t make things easy of its fan base at Scott Stadium.  Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s team took a while to get going, falling behind Liberty on the first possession of the game outscoring the Flames 21-7 after intermission en route to a 45-24 triumph.  UVa can still win the Coastal Division, but need a 2-0 finish plus a pair of Pitt losses.  Cavalier Congrats:  Bryce Perkins threw for two touchdowns while running for two more scores.  Both of Perkins’ TD passes were to Joe Reed who also returned a kickoff 90 yards for touchdown.  Jordan Ellis had his first 100-yard rushing game since September.  Juan Thornhill tallied 13 tackles while Robert Snyder posted 11 stops with a sack.  Three takeaways for the defense and just one penalty for the team.  Cavalier Concerns:  allowing 24 points to…Liberty?  The Flames scored on three of their five first half possessions, with the other two resulting in a missed field goal and an interception in the red zone.  UVa allowed 205 yards rushing…and their next foe will try to exploit any weaknesses on the ground early and often.  Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against 6-4 Georgia Tech.

Virginia Tech (4-5, 3-3 ACC) was still in control of its path to the  Coastal Division heading into their game at Pitt…only to run into a Panthers team that appears to be destined this fall.  The 52-22 loss eliminated the Hokies from the division race and put their bowl hopes on life support.  Yes, they face a fading (four straight losses) Miami team followed by the annual duel with Virginia (they haven’t lost to the Cavaliers since joining the ACC)- but the margin for error is ridiculously thin.  Hokie Highlights:  Ryan Willis threw for 231 yards and three scores on a turnover-free day while also leading the team in rushing.  Oscar Bradburn averaged over 40 yards per punt.  Hey-in a 30-point drubbing, you look for what you can get.  Hokie Humblings:  The defense coughed up 492 yards on the ground and allowed 31 points in the first half.  This is the fourth time this fall that the D has allowed 40 points or more and the primary reason why instead of talking division title this year’s team is on the precipice of bowl elimination.  Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. vs. 5-5 Miami.

Navy (2-8, 1-5 AAC) rallied after falling behind to #11 UCF 21-3 at intermission.  While they were able to reach the endzone three times in the second half, it wasn’t enough as the Midshipmen lose 35-24 and are officially eliminated from bowl eligibility.  The good news is the run through the gauntlet is over.  Midshipman Medals:  The offense converted 8 of 13 third downs and scored touchdowns on three of four second-half possessions.  Taylor Heflin led the defense with 14 tackles.  Owen White averaged 54 yards per punt.  Midshipman Miscues:  Zero sacks as the defense was unable to make McKenzie Milton uncomfortable to any degree (he completed 17 of 21 passes).  The run defense allowed 5.7 yards per carry on the afternoon.  Next:  Saturday vs. 2-8 Tulsa.  The Mids’ last five opponents currently have a combined-eight losses.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

As a kid, there was a stretch when I wanted to run for President.  Kind of came with the territory of growing up in New Hampshire and watching the nation’s first Primary up close and personal.  Last weekend I learned what it was like to run for President–as Walter Mondale.  Presto’s Picks went 1-8 as I felt like George Costanza in that “I should do the opposite” episode of Seinfeld.  The Navy pick saved me from a complete shutout–and in retropsect a winless week would have been an achievement to admire:  perfection in reverse.

In Division I FBS there are no winless teams…but there are nine one-win schools whose brotherhood I joined last weekend.  Hopefully listing this rogues gallery will serve as a cleanse before this week’s breakdowns:

UConn (1-8, 0-5 AAC)- the Huskies’ only win was a game where they allowed 49 points to FCS Rhode Island, and they cough up an FBS-high 627 yards per game.

North Carolina (1-7, 1-5 ACC)- a three-point win over Pitt is the only non-blemish for a Tar Heel team that’s 123rd in turnover margin.

Rutgers (1-8, 0-6 Big Ten)- what happened to the team that opened with a 35-7 thumping of Texas State?  The Scarlet Knights rank 130th in passing efficiency- the lowlight at Maryland where they tossed five interceptions to two completions.

San Jose State (1-8, 1-4 MWC)- a 50-37 win over UNLV keeps the Spartans out of last place in their division.  Their achilles is running the ball (130th and last in the nation).

Bowling Green (1-8, 0-5 MAC) and Central Michigan (1-9, 0-6) meet Saturday in Mount Pleasant.  Movable object or stoppable force?  The Falcons rank 129th in points allowed while the Chippewas are 129th in total offense.

Conference USA’s Three Stooges- slapstick at the bottom of the standings has UTEP (1-8, 1-4) getting their only win of the year against Rice (1-9, 0-6).  The Owls have a sacrificial lamb game at LSU later this month while the Miners play Western Kentucky (1-8, 0-5)  the same day.  Pick your poison…

Alma Mater Update- the Orange blasted Louisville–improving to 7-0 at home and 8-2 on the season.  Forget about the Pinstripe Bowl– I’m thinking Camping World Bowl!

Saturday’s Games-

Maryland (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten) at Indiana (4-5, 1-5), noon (Big Ten Network).

The Terps are one win away from bowl eligibility, and with #8 Ohio State and #21 Penn State on the horizon this is their last best chance to secure a holiday destination.  The Hoosiers are coming off of consecutive one-possession losses to Penn State and Minnesota–and have two weeks to prepare.  Sophomore Peyton Ramsey is completing 68% of his passes this fall- and threw for three scores last year in a loss to the Terps.  Maryland has yet to show that they can pass the ball and are coming off of a season-low 26 yards rushing.  Everything tells me that the Terps come home from Bloomington empty-handed. After last week, everything tells me to go opposite what everything tells me.

Terrapins Triumph, 26-21.

 

Navy (2-7, 1-4 AAC) at #11 UCF (8-0, 5-0), noon (ESPN2).

The gauntlet ends for the Midshipmen as they meet a school that has won 21 straight games.  One of the reasons why the Knights are unbeaten is they don’t beat themselves: their +14 turnover margin ranks second nationally.  Causes for confidence include the fact that UCF did allow 226 yards on the ground to Temple last week…and the Mids can’t be as bad as they were against Cincinnati.  Sadly for Navy the defense has to deal with McKenzie Milton, who has thrown for 300+ yards four times this fall-and the junior is also a threat on the ground (seven touchdowns rushing).  This trip to Orlando is more “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” and less “Carousel of Progress”.

Midshipmen sink, 44-16.

 

Virginia (6-3) vs. Liberty (4-4), 3 p.m. (ACC Network).

The Cavaliers go outside the ACC for the final time this fall, hosting an independent Flames team that has allowed over 40 points four times in their last five games.  Look for the offense to sort itself out, or at least roll up some yards while attempting to do so.  The final home game at Scott Stadium has Kippy & Buffy breaking out white wine for a non-conference foe one final time, and this week it’s a bottle of 2017 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc.  “Tightly structured, with strong, vigorous passionfruit and lime flavors, woven with steely acidity, and obvious potential.”

Cavaliers live up to their obvious potential in a 45-20 win.  

 

Virginia Tech (4-4, 3-2 ACC) at Pitt (5-4, 4-1), 3:30 p.m. (ESPNU).

Does anyone want to win the Coastal Division?  Pitt is the third team to have the lead in the last three weeks, a turnover that began when the Hokies were steamrolled on national TV five days before Halloween.  They gave up 465 yards rushing that night–and surrendered 219 yards on the ground last weekend in a loss to Boston College.  The one thing Pitt does well offensively is run the ball, whether it’s Darrin Hall (229 yards against Virginia last week) or Qadree Ollison (192 yards against Duke October 27th).  The Panthers may be 5-4 but their losses have come to unbeatens Notre Dame and UCF as well as #21 Penn State.  Yes, there’s that defeat at North Carolina one can’t explain but the Tar Heels just seem to have their number.  Just like Pitt seems to always play well against the Hokies (four one-possession games in the last four years).

Hokies slip under .500 with a 19-17 loss.

 

Howard handles Norfolk State, Georgetown beats Bucknell, Richmond slips to Maine, William & Mary loses to Villanova, James Madison beats Rhode Island, Towson tumbles to Elon.

Last Week:  1-8.  It’s Morning in Picksland?  Or more appropriately, quicksand.

Overall: 50-32.