Archives for category: Uncategorized

We just knew the Skins would bounce back from their thrashing in New Orleans, right?  The 23-17 win over Carolina swings the burgundy and gold pendulum back over .500–and in a league where 16 of 32 teams are within a game of breaking even the “every week a new season” mentality is not even halfway over.  Buckle up and prepare for the pendulum to swing again.  And again.

Mr. Smith goes to the Endzone- Alex tossed a pair of first-half touchdowns, and while he only threw for 163 yards on the afternoon didn’t have any back-breaking mistakes.  And that was all minus Chris Thompson and Jamison Crowder (a combined 39 catches, or 44% of Smith’s completions this year).   And that was with a banged up Josh Doctson and Paul Richardson.

Captain Kirk in Exile- Cousins threw for 233 yards and a touchdown while running for another score in 3-2-1 Minnesota’s 27-17 win over Arizona.  For the season the former franchised one has a passer rating of 102.7 (10th in the NFL) while the new kid in town has 90.9 (18th).  Not that anyone is keeping track.

Running is Back- Adrian Peterson and the ground game continued their rollercoaster ride.  One week after the Skins rushed for just 39 yards at New Orleans, Peterson (and his banged up shoulder) rumbled for 97 of the team’s 132 yards.  In three wins the team has averaged 160 yards rushing, and in three losses they’ve been held to 52 yards per game.

Best Run of the Day- the biggest run was not by Peterson but by his former Oklahoma teammate Trent Williams.  The left tackle somehow found a fumble in his hands on a third and long…and instead of going to the ground rumbled ahead eight yards.  He didn’t reach the first down marker, but got to the Carolina 38 and Dustin Hopkins’ 56-yard field goal was good.  Instead of the Panthers needing a field goal to tie with under a minute left, they had to go for the endzone.  Perhaps going forward this might be a new wrinkle in the playbook.

Tight End Tandems- Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis received 12 of the 34 targets,  with the duo combining for 8 catches for 84 yards and a touchdown.  Reed had one sweet one-handed grab to help keep a first half drive alive and Davis caught the game’s first touchdown.  The TD was set up by a fumble recovery by fellow TE Jeremy Sprinkle on a special teams play.

Third and Reed-  the Skins moved the chains on 7 of 16 money downs…running the ball just once (a sneak by Alex Smith that got the job done).  Smith completed 8 of 13 passes for 6 conversions while getting sacked once.  Jordan Reed was the top target–with four passes thrown his way (two catches for one conversion).  Paul Richardson caught both of the passes thrown his way while generating one first down and one touchdown.  Yardage breakdown:  5-6 on 3rd and short, 1-3 on 3rd and manageable (4-6 yards needed), 2-7 on 3rd and long.

Norman Invasion Leads the Defense- six days after being benched in the loss at New Orleans, Josh Norman tallied his first interception since December of 2016 while also forcing a fumble that would lead to a field goal.  DJ Swearinger paced the team with seven tackles and recorded their only sack.  The D earned an A on third down, holding the Panthers to 3 for 9 while keeping Cam Newton and company out of the end zone on their final drive of the day.

Special Situations-  Dustin Hopkins connected on 29, 49 and (a career-long) 56 yard field goal attempts while Tress Way averaged 41 yards per punt.  But the big play came on a fumbled punt return by Carolina’s DJ Moore.  Jeremy Sprinkle recovered the loose ball and the Skins would convert on the very next play with the previously mentioned 22-yard TD pass from Smith to Davis.

Flying Flags- five penalties for 43 yards gives the team 33 for 300 on the season (seventh fewest infractions and ninth fewest yards in the NFL).  Two holds (Trent Williams and Morgan Moses) plus an intentional grounding on Alex Smith were the offensive flags.  Preston Smith picked up a neutral zone infraction while DJ Swearinger was whistled for taunting after the Panthers went incomplete on fourth down with under a minute to play.  Most costly flag– Smith’s grounding took the team out of field goal range after they had the ball on the Panther 33-yard line.

Dissecting the Division- the victory keeps the Skins ahead by one half game in the NFC East and owns the tiebreaker over Chicago for the #3 seed (common opponents).  Philadelphia owns the common foes tiebreaker over Dallas for second place.  Both the Eagles and Cowboys are a half game out of the Wildcard (Green Bay’s MNF win puts the Packers in the #6 spot).  The New York Giants remain in the cellar and dead last in the conference…and the gap is widening by the week.

NFC Least- well, the 10-13 composite record of the division is the seventh best in the league…only better than the AFC South (good news, the Skins have three more games against the South this year).  The AFC North is tops at 13-9-2 (boosted by 2-3-1 Cleveland) …with the NFC North (11-9-2) and AFC East (13-11) helped by last-second field goals in prime time.

 

Advertisements

Welcome to October- where strong starts go to die and September unbeatens get a double dose of reality.  After extended sunny skies in September, this past Saturday’s weather shook up the rankings.  Four of the top ten survived scares and four others went down in defeat.  Number two Georgia saw its unbeaten season go up in flames at LSU- the 36-16 blowout officially relegates the SEC East to second-tier status.  Sixth ranked West Virginia suffered the “Dave Preston writes a column about you jinx” and lost at nondescript Iowa State.  Number seven Washington came up short in overtime at Oregon (who had previously fallen this fall in OT) and ninth rated Penn State’s chant is now “We are”—“a two-loss team” after a second fourth quarter fade to a conference foe.  Even paper-Buffalo Colorado (a very soft 5-0 and deservedly ranked 19th) lost.  Meanwhile, third ranked Ohio State, number five Notre Dame, ninth rated Texas and number ten UCF count their lucky stars after needing rallies to stay in the potential playoff mix.  Before bundling up again this week.  Don’t you feel a little chill outside?

Alma Mater Update– the Orange come off their bye week with a magnificent opportunity ahead.  Three of their next four foes are sub-500 in conference play and they play two of those games at home.  The road to another Pinstripe Bowl is there.

Maryland (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) routed Rutgers 34-7 in a game where they held the Scarlet Knights scoreless for over 59 minutes.  There are those who say Maryland-Rutgers is not a true Big Ten matchup, as both schools are less than a decade in the league.  I found the matchup remarkably like the Big Ten I grew up watching–in 1972 when “passing game” meant you received a C+ in Hunting & Fishing 101 and quarterbacks looked like they wore mittens on their throwing hands.  Terrapin Triumphs:  the D earns an A+ by intercepting the Scarlet Knights five times (most since a seven-INT effort at Duke in 1998) and holding the visitors to 1-10 on third down until the final drive of the day.  How bad was it?  Rutgers had 41 yards on 24 first half plays and in 13 possessions either turned it over or failed to register a first down nine times.  Ty Johnson tallied 132 yards as well as a 65-yard scamper for a score that put the Terps ahead to stay.  Kasim Hill threw three touchdown passes to three different receivers.  Wade Lees had some killer punts in the first half, forcing Rutgers to start from their own two and six yard lines their first two possessions.  Terrapin Troubles:  the passing game stalled at times…and while the inability to get more than a field goal out of a late first-quarter takeaway inside your foe’s 30 won’t hurt you against Rutgers, it will come back to haunt you against Iowa, Illinois and Michigan State.  Next:  Saturday at 5-1 Iowa (noon).

Navy (2-4, 1-2 AAC) took a 17-7 lead over Temple on their first possession of the second half.  Unfortunately, the offense would gain just 67 yards on their final 26 plays–and the Owls would tally two touchdowns and a field goal as the Mids fall 24-17 in Annapolis.  With the Commander in Chief’s Trophy and AAC West hopes taking major hits the last two weeks, one now wonders if the Mids can scrape their way to a bowl berth-especially with the next four schools on their schedule currently 24-1.  Midshipman Medals:  new quarterback Garret Lewis ran for 56 yards and a touchdown while fullback Nelson Smith notched 108 yards rushing and a TD.  Hudson Sullivan paces the defense that tallied a pair of takeaways with 12 tackles.  Midshipman Miscues:  Lewis completed just 3 of 11 passes…while the offense converted just 5 of 13 third downs.  After a solid first half, the defense coughed up over seven yards per play after intermission (not including the Owl’s kneeldown at the end).  Next: Saturday at home against 4-1 Houston (3:30 p.m. kickoff).

Virginia (4-2, 2-1 ACC) came off of its bye week by nipping #16 Miami 16-13.  So much for a Hurricane warning this fall in the ACC–instead Mark Richt’s team gets downgraded to a tropical storm.  And Bronco Mendenhall’s team just got one step closer to bowl eligibility…something that hasn’t happened in consecutive seasons since 2005.  Cavalier Congrats:  Juan Thornhill notched two of UVa’s three interceptions…while Zane Zandler tallied nine tackles and half of a sack.  Jordan Ellis ran for 86 yards and scored the Cavs’ only touchdown.  Brian Delaney nailed all three of his field goal attempts.  Cavalier Concerns: Bryce Perkins threw three interceptions…while the offense went 3-10 on third down.  Tough to find blemishes when you upset a ranked team in conference play.  Next:  Saturday against 5-1 Duke (12:30 p.m. gametime).

Virginia Tech (4-2, 3-0 ACC) had beaten North Carolina 34-3 and 59-7 the previous two years, and this fall’s Tar Heel team looked even worse than the 2016 and 2017 editions.  So naturally Tech needed to rally to stay unbeaten in the conference and atop the Coastal Division.  The 22-19 victory wasn’t pretty, but coach Justin Fuente and staff will take the W and use the gamefilm as “coaching moments” over the next week and a half.  Hokie Highlights:  Ryan Willis threw two touchdown passes while running for a score.  Rayshard Ashby tallied 12 tackles as the defense recovered a pair of fumbles.  Oscar Bradburn averaged 43 yards per punt.  Hokie Humbles:  Willis isn’t exactly the quarterback you want to lead the team in rushing–while the rest of the ground game was limited to 66 yards on 26 carries.  He also threw a pair of picks.  Next:  Thursday October 25th in Blacksburg against 3-4 Georgia Tech (7:30 p.m. kickoff).

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

It feels like this happens every year.  West Virginia is off to a 5-0 start for the third time since joining the Big 12 under coach Dana Holgorsen–and with Oklahoma’s 48-45 loss to Texas the Mountaineers at #6 in the nation are the conference’s lone unbeaten team.  Preseason All-American quarterback Will Grier is completing 71% of his passes and is on pace to blow past the total of 34 touchdowns he tossed as a junior.  The triple tailback attack features three kids who are averaging 6.0, 5.8 and 5.2 yards per carry.  Bowie, Maryland’s Marcus Simms is scorching secondaries (26 catches for 490 yards).  But what makes this year’s edition different is its defense:  while previous units have coughed up over 25 points per game in four of the previous six seasons, the 2018 edition allows a (for the Big 12) stingy 18.6 points per outing (25th nationally but the fewest in the league).  Led by disruptive linebacker David Long Jr., coordinator Tony Gibson’s unit appears to have turned the corner, ranking second in the Big 12 against the run, pass and overall.  Do the Mountaineer faithful dare dream knowing they’ve produced finishing kicks of 2-4, 5-5, 1-6 and 2-6 this decade?  If Matthew McConaughey can win an Oscar for Best Actor, there’s no reason his look-alike coach can lead West Virginia to the Big 12 title.  All right, all right, all right… 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange have the weekend off, and after snagging defeat from the jaws of victory each of the last two weeks that is a good thing.  North Carolina and NC State come to the Carrier Dome the next two weekends-and there’s no reason not to think the Orange shouldn’t beat the Tar Heels while being competitive with the Wolfpack.  But the team that beat Florida State yet lost to Pitt doesn’t always deal with reason.

Maryland (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) vs. Rutgers (1-5, 0-3), noon (Big Ten Network).  For some reason I think “Maryland-Rutgers” is French for “noon on the Big Ten Network”.  The conferences two newest members are a combined 11-46 in league play since 2015…and while the Terps are attempting to scrape together three more wins for a second bowl berth in that span,  the Scarlet Knights are already on an expressway to the East Division cellar.  Where to begin?  They currently rank last in the conference in scoring, yards gained, stopping the run, getting off of the field on third down as well as offensive and defensive passing efficiency.  Redshirt sophomore runningback Raheem Blackshear is the bright spot, leading Rutgers in rushing yards and receptions.  It’s also Homecoming in College Park, which means my Terp tailgating tandem of Matt & Stacia will be breaking out the shrimp dip and Frito’s.  While the likes of Anthony McFarland and Ty Johnson are giving each other high fives on the field, my stomach will be doing the same in the press box.  Bon appetit.  Terrapins Triumph, 36-13.

Navy (2-3, 1-1 AAC) vs. Temple (3-3, 2-0), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).  The Owls are one tough team to get a handle on this year:  first they lose to FCS Villanova and Buffalo before blasting Maryland in College Park.  They then cough up 45 points to offensively challenged Boston College (75th in the nation in passing) before keeping East Carolina out of the end zone.  The Mids have been consistently able to run the ball this fall-their 310.4 yards per game ranks second in the nation, but the air attack is far from being the spark/mixer needed to keep foes honest.  The loss at Air Force was the first time they’ve been held to single digits in almost five years.  Defensively Navy hasn’t been able to consistently stop-or even slow down-opponents, allowing 33.4 points per game (101st in FBS).  It’s a good thing Temple is a team that can stop itself (12 turnovers in six games), but they’re not that counterproductive.  Midshipmen sink, 27-16.

Virginia (3-2, 1-1 ACC) vs. #16 Miami (5-1, 2-0), 7 p.m. (ESPN2).  Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s team has two weeks to prepare for the Hurricanes…and they could have used a third to get ready for this defense.  Miami ranks #1 in the ACC against the run and the pass as well as getting off of the field on third down and sacks.  Since going with freshman quarterback N’kosi Perry, the Canes have averaged 35 points per game, but the Cavs’ D may be the toughest one he’s faced this fall (no offense, Savannah State).  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.  Cavaliers come up short, 31-12.

Virginia Tech (3-2, 2-0 ACC) at North Carolina (1-3, 1-1), 7 p.m. (ESPNU).  Despite a pair of defeats where they’ve allowed over 40 points, the Hokies remain in the driver’s seat of the Coastal Division.  The Tar Heels?  Under the wheels of the ACC after a 1-3 start: last in the conference in third down conversions as well as turnover margin will do that to a team.  It’s amazing to realize the Tar Heels played for an ACC Championship only three years ago.  Since winning the 2015 Coastal Division, Larry Fedora’s team is 12-19 and 6-11 in the conference.  The only thing the Heels appear to be able to do is stop the pass (3rd best in the conference), but VT quarterback Ryan Willis is fresh off consecutive 300+ yard efforts.  After not being able to run the ball against Duke, Tech was able to move the ball on the ground and in the air against Notre Dame.  And UNC is no UND.  Hokies handle the Heels, 38-10.

Georgetown tops Lafayette, Howard defeats Delaware State, James Madison beats Villanova, Towson tops William & Mary, Richmond falls at Albany.

Last Week: 5-4.  Moving Month begins with a whimper…

Overall: 31-18.

 

So–you’re telling me the Redskins needed two weeks to come up with what we saw Monday night?  Sadly the Skins in their 43-19 loss to New Orleans showed more pretender than contender…2-2 for the seventh time in ten years.  This wasn’t just a loss, this was a dismal defeat and an exposing exhibition.  Instead of taking control of what appears to be a sagging NFC East, the Burgundy and Gold keep the hopes of Cowboys and Eagles fans alive.  Giants fans–2020 is going to be great.  Meanwhile, Drew Brees carved up the defense like a beignet to the tune of a video game on cheat mode 26 of 29 passes while passing Peyton Manning’s career mark for passing yards.

Not Ready For Prime Time Again- the Skins drop to 1-7 on Monday Night Football under coach Jay Gruden, with the only victory coming in 2014 at eventual NFC East Champ Dallas.  With Colt McCoy at the controls.  Perhaps the Redskins should make him their designated MNF starter.

Mr. Smith Goes to .500- Alex completed 23 of 39 passes for 275 yards and an interception while getting sacked three times.  Number 11 did score the team’s first touchdown late in the first half…but looked shaky throughout the night.

Kirk in Exile- Cousins helped lead Minnesota to a 23-21 win at Philadelphia in a rematch of last year’s NFC Championship, albeit with different starting quarterbacks.  Kirk completed 30 of 37 passes for 301 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.  And unlike the game at the Los Angeles Rams, there were no defeat-sealing fumbles.  Cousins after five games has a passer rating of 105.1 (7th best in the NFL) to Smith’s 92.9 (20th).

Running on Empty- I guess an even-numbered game means the Skins will have trouble on the ground:  a season-low 39 yards on 18 carries.  Adrian Peterson gained 6 yards on 4 tries while injuring his shoulder.  Granted, they trailed from the end of the Saints’ first drive.  It’s tough to establish the run when being forced into playing catch-up.

Third and Longer- the offense converted 4 of 13 third downs…passing on every play.  Alex Smith completed 6 of 12 passes (for 4 conversions) while getting sacked once.  His top target was Jamison Crowder (one catch in 3 attempts) while Chris Thompson tallied 2 receptions (and one conversion).  Yardage breakdown:  1-3 on third and short (1-3 yards needed), 1-2 on third and medium (4-6 yards) and 2-8 on third and long (7+).  It’s tough to move the chains when over 60% of your opportunities are long-distance.

D earns an F- so much for the new look defense that shined in September.  The Skins allowed touchdowns the first four times the Saints had the ball…and New Orleans had possession for the final 10:25 of the night.  The secondary suffered multiple breakdowns, and cornerback Josh Norman was benched for a series in the third quarter made memorable when Drew Brees burned rookie Greg Stroman.  What’s nice is that Ryan Kerrigan posted his first sack of the season.

Flying Flags- six penalties for 38 yards.  Four on the defense and two on special teams.  No multiple offenders this time–although there were a pair of defensive holds and a hold on a punt return.  The most costly flag?  Down 6-3 the Skins got a third down sack of Drew Brees-but Montae Nicholson gets whistled for unnecessary roughness.  Instead of a 4th and 16 from the New Orleans 41, Brees and company get a 1st and 10 from the Washington 44.  They’d score six plays later for the first double-digit lead of the day.

Special Situations- Dustin Hopkins made both of his field goal attempts and Tress Way averaged 36.7 yards over three punts.

Dissecting the Division- even with the loss the Skins remain on top of the NFC East.  Dallas, Philadelphia and the NY Giants each lost one-possession games Sunday.  The 2-3 Cowboys enjoy the division record tiebreaker over the Eagles while the 1-4 Giants currently occupy last place in the East and in the entire NFC.

NFC Least- the Skins are atop the only division that doesn’t have at least one team with a winning record.  the 7-12 mark held by the East is the worst in football–while the AFC North is the best at 11-7-2 (but only 9-5-1 without the help of Cleveland).  The NFL is a snapshot league, but this has the feel of 2015 when a 9-7 record could win it all over again.  Meaning a team that loses a lot of games will win the division–and the Skins could easily be that team.

Saturday’s marquee matchup saw #19 Texas upset the Big 12 applecart by outscoring #7 Oklahoma 48-45 after a game filled with plenty of thrill and spills–and chills.  The notoriously slow-starting Longhorns jumped out to a 24-10 second quarter lead and led 45-24 after three periods…before the Sooners stormed back to tie things up with under three minutes left.  But Kyler Murray and company left too much time on the clock and Texas was able to kick a field goal with nine seconds left.  Calling this rollercoaster ride next to the Texas State Fair was FOX’s Gus Johnson…an announcer known for high-energy calls of big plays in clutch situations.  He might not be everybody’s cup of tea-or more appropriately given his energy, double espresso-but nobody makes the mundane plays more interesting and nobody makes the big plays more sublime.

 

Alma Mater Update- those of a certain age also recall the last time the Orange started 4-0 they dropped two straight games.  Saturday’s overtime loss at Pitt was unfortunate; while we know SU isn’t in the same class as Clemson, a win at a sub-500 ACC foe like the Panthers shouldn’t be too much to ask for.  They host North Carolina in two weeks.

 

Maryland (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) in its 42-21 loss to Michigan scored more points against the Wolverines than they had in the last three years combined, but the Terps were unable to contain the Wolverines after holding them in check for the first quarter.  Terrapin Triumphs: Tyrrell Pigrome came off the bench to lead the team with 63 rushing yards, including a 42 yard scamper and the game’s final touchown.  Tre Watson tallied 10 tackles to pace the defense.  Ty Johnson returned a kickoff 98 yards for the touchdown that gave the Terps their only lead of the day.  Terrapin Troubles: the offense stalled early and often, gaining just 47 yards in the first half.  The defense allowed the Wolverines to move the chains on 9-of-13 third downs…as Michigan scored five of the last six times they had the ball (the final possession of the day being the exception).  Penalties continue to be a problem, with 12 flags for 107 yards.  Next:  Saturday at home against 1-5 Rutgers (noon kickoff).

 

Navy (2-3) went west to face Air Force, and things went south after the Midshipmen took an early 7-0 lead.  The 35-7 loss was the their biggest defeat in the series since 2002 (Paul Johnson’s first year).  Midshipman Medals:  not a lot of good to thumb through.  Pete Tanuvsa made 11 tackles to pace the defense.  Owen White averaged 48.7 yards per punt…and he had plenty of practice with a career-high seven punts.  Midshipman Miscues:  the offense went three and out five times in seven first half possessions…and converted just 2 of 13 third downs.  Navy quarterbacks completed 3 of 12 passes.  Next:  Saturday at home against 3-3 Temple (3:30 p.m. kickoff).

 

#24 Virginia Tech (3-2) held Notre Dame to minus-three rushing yards in the first half, but on the Fighting Irish’s second offensive play of the second half Dexter Williams broke for a 97-yard touchdown that turned a one-point game at intermission into a 45-23 rout.  Hokie Highlights:  Ryan Willis threw for 309 yards while Damon Hazelton tallied 12 catches for 131 yards and a touchdown.  Reggie Floyd recorded seven tackles and an interception.  Hokie Humblings:  two turnovers-one of which was returned for a Notre Dame touchdown.  The defense gave up big plays–in addition to the 97-yard TD, the secondary coughed up passes of 40 and 56 yards.  Next:  Saturday at 1-3 North Carolina (7 p.m. gametime).

 

 

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

If September is “Show Me Month” for individual programs and teams, it’s “Crow Me” month for conferences.  Leagues can dine out on their fat won-loss record in the season’s first month–even though many of those games are buyouts with FCS or lower-tier FBS schools.  Alabama has had two such games so far this fall-and coach Nick Saban has wondered aloud why the students haven’t been in their seats for an 11 a.m. local time kickoff with the likes of Louisiana-Lafayette.  Forgive me coach, but most 18-22 year olds are thinking about getting brunch in the dining hall at that time on Saturday-especially if there’s an omelet or waffle bar at their disposal.  Hyphenated schools aren’t going to pull them away from Monte Cristo sandwiches.  That said, the Southeastern Conference is the leader of the pack in our annual October conference call:  this week we look at the Power 5 conferences, from the contenders to the underbelly.

 

SEC: 33-5 with six of 14 schools in the AP Top 25.  Contenders:  #1 Alabama, #2 Georgia, #5 LSU & #8 Auburn.  Kentucky’s 5-0 start, after further review, is not an accounting error and Florida has half of its wins from lower-tier schools Charleston Southern & Colorado State.  Sadly, those are the only Division I schools with the initials “CS”–so Idaho will make the short flight from Moscow in November.  Underbelly:  Missouri is 3-1 and averaging over 40 points a game?  The third best Tiger team in the league is the early surprise.  Woe are the Magnolia State schools:  Ole Miss and Mississippi State are a combined 0-4 in league play.  Thank goodness for the Egg Bowl.

 

Big 12:  21-7 with four of 10 schools in the Top 25.  Contenders:  #7 Oklahoma and #9 West Virginia are unbeaten, while #19 Texas continues to kick itself for the Longhorns’ loss to Maryland and #25 Oklahoma State continues to be embarrassed by coach Mike Gundy’s mullet.  Underbelly:  TCU couldn’t hold on to leads against Texas or Ohio State…while Kansas is 2-3!?!  That’s like an 8-win season in Lawrence.

 

ACC: 32-11 with four of 14 schools in the Top 25.  Contenders: #3 Clemson needed a fourth quarter rally to beat Syracuse at home, while #17 Miami got exposed by LSU Labor Day weekend.  NC State (#23) is unbeaten, but lost a huge chance to develop street cred when their game against West Virginia was cancelled by Hurricane Florence.  Underbelly: while Duke and Syracuse are defying their “basketball school only” stigma with 4-1 starts, North Carolina is playing up to that stereotype at 1-3.

 

Pac-12: 23-11 with four of 12 schools in the Top 25.  Contenders: #10 Washington lost a tough “neutral site” game to Auburn in Atlanta, while #21 Colorado is the league’s last remaining unbeaten.  The Buffaloes will be tested with consecutive road games at USC and the Huskies.  Underbelly:  we knew the transformation wouldn’t be immediate under coach Chip Kelly, but I don’t think anyone thought UCLA would start 0-4 while allowing 38 points in consecutive losses to Fresno and Colorado.

 

Big Ten: 27-13 with five of 14 schools in the Top 25.  Contenders:  #3 Ohio State is the league’s last unbeaten after rallying to beat #11 Penn State in Happy Valley, but the Nittany Lions, #15 Michigan and #16 Wisconsin are each 4-1 with the path to the College Football Playoff in their hands.  Does anyone think that one-loss teams like Indiana, Iowa, Maryland and Minnesota are capable of making a move?  As always, the jury is out on #20 Michigan State.  Underbelly:  Rutgers (1-4) has a better record than Nebraska (0-4).  Let that sink in for a while…as there are those who will remind you how great the Cornhuskers were last century.  Just like the Scarlet Knights dominated the first ever college football game played in 1869 (a 6-4 win against Princeton).

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange take their 4-1 record to Pitt Saturday in the ACC Network’s 12:20 p.m. Bojangles Battle.  This month will be a big barometer for how far this program has come under coach Dino Babers:  so far this year they’ve played better than the 2-3 Panthers.  SU also has home games with 1-3 North Carolina and unbeaten NC State this month…there’s a great chance that October could be a treat instead of a trick for Syracuse.

 

Saturday’s Games:

Maryland (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) at #15 Michigan (4-1, 1-0), noon (ABC).  The Terps come off the bye week by going to the Big House…and take the Big Ten’s least productive passing game into Ann Arbor to face a Wolverines defense that ranks first in the conference against the pass and overall (they may rank #3 against the run in the league but are 7th overall nationally).  Keep your eyes on Chase Winovich;  the senior defensive linemen leads the team in sacks and is second in tackles.  Maryland will go as far as its running game that has shown a propensity to make the big play (touchdown runs this season include scampers of 36, 64 and 81 yards)–but they’ll be minus the injured Lorenzo Harrison and his 8.4 yards per carry.  When Michigan has the ball, watch out for Karan Higdon (6.3 yards per carry and 119.8 per game)…a tough test for a Terps D that leads the league in getting off of the field on third down.  Terrapins tumble, 26-10.

 

Navy (2-2) at Air Force (1-3), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).  The Mids have won just once in Colorado Springs this decade, and they needed overtime to do so in 2012.  Offense is not a problem for the Falcons, who have scored 25 or more points in each of their four games.  The Midshipmen have had issues stopping everybody this year, allowing 21 or more points whether their foe was a FCS Lehigh, a Hawai’i team that’s off to a 5-1 start or an SMU squad that was 0-3 when they met.  Both teams can run the ball, as the Midshipmen lead the nation by averaging 355 yards on the ground and the Falcons rank 11th (254.8).  But Air Force also ranks 11th nationally in stopping the run, allowing 98.5 yards per game.  They won’t handcuff Navy’s option, but they’ll slow the fleet of backs just enough.  Presto’s Pick:  Midshipmen come up short, 28-24.

 

#24 Virginia Tech (3-1) vs #6 Notre Dame (5-0), 8 p.m. (ABC).  Which Hokies team will we get in Blacksburg Saturday- the one that went into Durham and defeated then-unbeaten Duke or the one that allowed 35 points in the second half at then-winless Old Dominion?  After three one-possession games to start the season, the Fighting Irish appear to have turned the corner behind quarterback Ian Book.  Pick your poison, VT defense:  the junior threw for four touchdowns against Stanford one week after running for three scores at Wake Forest.  It’s the second start for Ryan Willis, who will find the Catholic school’s defense a little less forgiving than the Blue Devils.  Life is amusing that way.  Hokies go down fighting, 27-20.

 

Virginia (3-2, 1-1 ACC) is idle, but 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).

 

Georgetown falls at Fordham, Howard beats North Carolina Central,  James Madison beats Elon, William & Mary loses to Albany, Richmond falls to Delaware, Towson shocks Stony Brook.

Last Week: 6-1.  “Show Me Month” ends with an exclamation point…

Season: 26-14.  What will “Moving Month” bring us?

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

Even though the Boston Red Sox have won three World Series this century, many of the Fenway Faithful still look for the dark clouds on sunny days.  Eighty-six years in the wilderness will do that to a fan base.  The generation that watched Ted Williams bat .200 in the 1946 World Series is mostly gone now, and those who knew in their heart of hearts that Yaz’s last best chance at the brass ring faded away the day he popped foul to Nettles in 1978 are beginning to diminish in number as well.  Today’s “Red Sox Nation Generation” of 25-54 year olds celebrates instead of curses the name Mookie.  For them the “Boston Massacre” refers to the Game Three loss in 2004 that preceded the greatest comeback in baseball playoff history.  But as always, the ghosts of Octobers past lurk in the Fenway Park shadows.

Yes, there are more than a few “Sullies From Southie” who will tell you how wicked awesome this year’s team is–108 wins thanks to the highest-scoring offense will do that.  But for every “Donnie from Dorchester” who basks in rally from being down 3-0 in the ALCS to the New York Yankees, there’s another who recalls the late-season collapse of 2011.  While Bill Buckner has been forgiven, the knowledge that baseball’s fickle momentum can turn on a dime is never forgotten.  So despite the best record in baseball, wiser heads are cautiously optimistic.  Or maybe optimistically cautious.  One can never tell these days.

The Sox may have the best record in the American League, but the AL’s top team in 2017-Cleveland-was bounced in the Division Series.  And twice in the last five years the squad with the best record was swept in the ALDS.  There’s also the case of “momentum”– a 15-11 September mark that saw this team lose four of six to the New York Yankees and two of three to Houston and Cleveland is far from ideal.  That’s 4-8 against the other three teams remaining on the AL side of the bracket.  While teams have bounced back from late-season fades before, the glass remains half-empty for Sox fans who still recall Bucky Dent taking Mike Torrez over the Wall in 1978.

A quick glance at the stat sheet will tell you that Boston led the Majors in batting average and runs scored–but look closer.  In September they ranked 13th in scoring.  Pitching?  How about 26th in team ERA over the last month.  From Chris Sale evolving from Cy Young Shoe-in to postseason non-factor (12 innings pitched over four starts) to David Price’s poor performance against ALDS foe New York (0-3 with a 10.34 ERA), it looks like we’re going to bank on Rick Porcello and his flammable 4.28 ERA.  That’s encouraging.

But Boston has the best outfield in the game today–led by likely AL MVP Mookie Betts who led the majors with a .346 batting average.  Slugger J.D. Martinez’s 130 RBI were the most in baseball…and shortstop Xander Bogaerts drove in over 100 runs.  Fellow middle infielder Brock Holt is getting hot at the right time, hitting .341 in September and making the absence of Dustin Pedroia somewhat tolerable.  Will the lineup find its groove in a postseason world where pitchers are flipped like blackjack dealers at a casino?

Yes, it’s the first year at the helm for manager Alex Cora.  But the Sox won it all in John Farrell’s first year and broke the curse during the initial season of Terry Francona (my records seem to be incomplete regarding the first years of Bobby Valentine and Butch Hobson).  Cora’s pushed every button correctly over the 162-game marathon…but can he make the right moves during the five (and hopefully seven and then another seven) game sprint?  Sully’s glass of Sam Adams Octoberfest is more than half-full…but very well may spill on the first sip.  Naturally I’m going to watch every pitch like it’s the end of the world.  It’s our nature in Red Sox Nation…