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Halfway through the season, we not only start to trim the list of potential College Football Playoff participants but figure out exactly who the Heisman Trophy candidates are.  Round up the usual suspects:  Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was the runner-up last year, and this fall he’s joined by his former backup/teammate Jalen Hurts who transferred to Oklahoma.  LSU QB Joe Burrow has been lights out this fall after making a big splash in the Tigers’ win at Texas, and Ohio State’s Justin Fields has picked up where Dwayne Haskins left off.  Wisconsin’s 24-23 loss at Illinois didn’t just torpedo the Badgers’ Big Ten West hopes; Jonathan Taylor’s Heisman candidacy takes a hit.

This should be no surprise; during this decade only one running back has won the award…can you name him?  Yes, I had to look up Alabama’s Derrick Henry too.  Tailbacks used to dominate the balloting, once enjoying a stretch where they won it 11 straight years.  But the 21st century favors the passer, and since 2000 16 of the 19 Heisman winners have been quarterbacks.  Not many are talking about the nation’s leading rusher Chuba Hubbard, who on name value alone is awesome, because even though the Oklahoma State running back has 1,265 yards and 15 touchdowns his Cowboys are 4-3.  Boston College’s A.J. Dillon is second in FBS, but his Eagles are also 4-3.  It’s a pitch and catch world, and the teams making playoff pushes can each air it out.  Sorry, Earl Campbell.

 

Alma Mater Update- the 27-20 loss to Pitt drops the Orange to 3-4.  The season that began in the Top 25 is almost certain to end Thanksgiving weekend.  Instead of wondering about bowl eligibility SU should be wondering if it’s going to go winless in the ACC as there are no soft touches remaining on the slate.  The fun continues at Florida State, a team the Orange torched last fall in the Carrier Dome.  Somehow I don’t think this will be as fun.

 

Maryland (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) came up short against Indiana 34-28.  The Terps had a pair of chances to take the lead in the final four minutes, but turned the ball over on their final two possessions of the day.  Likewise, the team had two chances to inch closer to bowl eligibility but winds up finding itself three steps shy with a remaining schedule that’s a combined 27-8.

Terrapin Triumphs:  Javon Leake rushed for 153 yards and two touchdowns, the first a 60-yard scamper for a score.  Tyrrell Pigrome threw for 210 yards and two TD’s.  Dontay Demus caught 5 passes for 82 yards and a touchdown.  Chance Campbell tallied ten tackles while Antoine Brooks added seven stops plus and interception.

Terrapin Troubles:  the defense took a while to get in gear, allowing the Hoosiers to reach the end zone the first two times they had the ball.  They also allowed backup quarterback Peyton Ramsey to come in and complete 20 of 27 passes.  While penalties (six this week) were down, the two fourth quarter turnovers killed their comeback hopes.  Ball security by Leake and decision-making by Pigrome need to improve.

Next: Saturday at noon at 7-0 Minnesota.

 

Virginia (5-2, 3-1 ACC) snapped a two-game losing streak by blasting Duke 48-14.  After shutting down the Blue Devils in the first half, the offense scored the first four times they had the ball after intermission.  When Duke did finally score, Joe Reed returned the kickoff back for a UVa touchdown. The season of possibilities is back as they once again stand alone atop the Coastal Division.

Cavalier Congrats: Bryce Perkins ran for three touchdowns while Wayne Taulapapa ran for 78 yards and a score.  Joey Blount tallied 10 tackles and an interception while the defense held the Blue Devils to 2-14 on third down and secured five takeaways.  Brian Delaney made both of his field goals while Reed continues to shine on special teams.

Cavalier Concerns:  Perkins completed just 50% of his passes while tossing an interception.   It was nice to see Chris Moore and Joey Blount finish 1-2 on the team in tackles, but one never likes to see the defensive backs making all the stops.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against 4-3 Louisville.

 

Virginia Tech (5-2, 2-2 ACC) needed six overtimes to get by North Carolina, finally prevailing in a 43-41 marathon.  The win gives the Hokies a bit of a bounce entering their bye week, and the fact remains that they control the path to the ACC Championship Game.

Hokie Highlights:  the quarterback carousel paid off, with Hendon Hooker completing 8-12 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown before going down with an injury. Ryan Willis stepped in to throw the go-ahead TD pass in the second quarter. Quincy Patterson II ran for 122 yards and a touchdown in the second half while also tossing a TD pass in overtime.  Rayshard Ashby notched 17 tackles while Jarrod Hewitt added 2.5 sacks.  Oscar Bradburn averaged 49.2 yards per punt.

Hokie Humblings: Brian Johnson missed 41 and 42 yard field goals that would have won the game.  The defense coughed up 348 yards through the air.  The offense lost two of their three fumbles on the afternoon.  Turnovers all but torpedoed the season in September; they’ll have to keep the mistakes to a minimum if they want a November to remember.

Next: November 2 at No. 8 Notre Dame.

 

Navy (5-1, 3-1 AAC) posted another dominant effort, crushing South Florida 35-3.  The difference this fall has been a defense that is much more disruptive than previous units.  The usual offensive efficiency saw Malcolm Perry join Keenan Reynolds, Napoleon McCallum and Chris McCoy as the only Mids to post 3,000 career yards rushing.

Midshipmen Medals: Perry rushed for 188 yards and two touchdowns while the team gains 434 yards on the ground. Diego Fagot notched 10 tackles as the defense tallied five sacks and kept the Bulls out of the end zone.  Owen White averaged 47 yards per punt.

Midshipmen Miscues: Perry’s legs may be legendary, but his arm remains a work in progress after an 0-3 performance that included two interceptions.  Six penalties for 45 yards isn’t a big deal at most schools, but it is at the Academy.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against 5-2 Tulane.

 

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Some say timing is everything, and if it isn’t it certainly remains a pretty big factor.  College Football’s Power Five slate kicks off at 12 p.m. Saturdays with more chaff than wheat while its prime matchups are usually offered up to ABC, CBS, and ESPN in the coveted 3:30 p.m. window.  The late games kick off from 6 to 7:30 p.m., with a prime time showdown and the customary Pac-12 After Dark duel wrapping up the day’s action.  It should be easy to have everybody play at a reasonable time.

Except with dreaded noon eastern games in the Central Time Zone.  This Saturday there are four games involving ranked teams that begin at 11 a.m. local time:  Oklahoma-West Virginia, Wisconsin-Illinois, Auburn-Arkansas and Purdue-Iowa.  Earlier this fall to fit into the ACC Network’s grid, Pitt played Ohio at 11 a.m. EDT.

Last month Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban complained about a 12 p.m. EDT game against Southern Miss, which would kick off at 11 a.m. local time.  Saban was pounced on by some as being elitist, but I completely understand his thinking.  In a sport where empty seats are a pox and the final days of summer can be toasty, late-morning is the last time you want to gather 75,000 people outside in the sun.  On weekends the last thing many want to do is have to be anywhere by 11 a.m.; even though noon is just an hour later it feels a world away from late-morning.  College students waking up and getting anywhere on a Saturday morning by 11?  Right.  And even though college athletics is not always about the actual student athletes, a player’s body-clock can’t benefit from the morning start.

Leagues blame TV; one wants to show as many games to as many people as possible.  But if the SEC and Big Ten have their own networks, can’t they move the 11 a.m. Central games to noon/aka 1 p.m. Eastern?  It’s not like these channels don’t have pregame and highlight shows that could fill those slots.  So your SEC mid-afternoon game kicks off at 4:30 instead of 3:30…or the seven o’clock game starts at eight.  People will still watch–because it’s football.  Unless it’s Rutgers.

 

Alma Mater Update- major gut-check time for the Orange, who need three wins to become bowl-eligible.  First up is 4-2 Pitt, who’s coming off of three straight wins by a combined seven points.   But at least it’s at home–even if it’s on Friday night.  The offensive line that allowed eight sacks against NC State needs to find itself, and Tommy DeVito needs to put up quality yards instead of simply a quantity of yards.  I’m not confident that will happen this year.

 

Maryland ( 3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) vs. Indiana (4-2, 1-2), 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network). 

Speaking of early starts, how is this game not beginning at 12?  I thought “Maryland-Indiana” was French for “noon kickoff”.  Both schools suffer from the “Rutgers Inflation Effect”.  The Terps torched the Scarlet Knights by 41 points while the Hoosiers won by 35 against RU.  They’ve each been humbled by Big Ten foes not residing the state of New Jersey, Maryland getting outscored 99-14 while IU’s been pasted 91-41.  Indiana brings the Big Ten’s second-best passing game into College Park Saturday, and the Terps passing defense allows the most yards per game in the conference.  Hoosiers quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (69.5% completion rate) has the necessary counter-punch in running back Stevie Scott III (5.0 yards per carry) to keep opponents honest; sadly he lacks a “IV” on the roster.  Tyrrell Pigrome starts for the second week at quarterback as Josh Jackson’s ankle still isn’t right, and running back Anthony McFarland’s high ankle sprain looks to limit the sparkplug that gained over 1,000 yards last fall further (he notched four yards at Purdue and dropped a pass in the end zone).

Presto’s Pick: Terps tumble, 35-20.

 

Virginia (4-2, 2-1 ACC) vs. Duke (4-2, 2-1), 3:30 p.m. (ACC Network).

Easter may be in springtime, but last Friday the Cavaliers laid a major egg in their 17-9 loss at Miami.  So much for the “Season of Possibilities” (thankfully not trademarked yet). Early issues that won’t go away begin and end with an offensive line that can’t generate a running game (a league-worst 102 yards per game) or protect Bryce Perkins (13 sacks in their last two games).  Duke has already won in the Commonwealth this fall, but after scorching Virginia Tech by 35 they allowed 33 points in a loss at home to Pitt.  Quentin Harris  is also averaging fewer than 10 yards per completion in four of six games this fall;  UVa’s defense leads the ACC in sacks and will need to make him uncomfortable all afternoon.

Kippy & Buffy are more than comfortable going with an old standby for Duke week:  the ultimate “bro” school demands a bottle from Breaux Vineyards.  This year it’s the ”
Equation Red”, a blend that is 73% merlot with dashes of Petit Verdot, Chamborcin, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.  With aromas of “ripe cherry, plum, and chocolate” plus the taste of “juicy fruit, baking spices such as clove and nutmeg” the lingering dusty tannins will go great with some sauteed mushrooms plus Bleu Cheese on toast against the Blue Devils.

Presto’s Pick:  the Cavaliers find the right equation and defeat Duke, 24-20.

 

Virginia Tech (4-2, 1-2 ACC) vs. North Carolina (3-3, 2-1), 3:30 p.m. (ACC Network).

Past is present in Chapel Hill, as Mack Brown returned to the program he led to 69 wins from 1988 to 97 (including consecutive 10-win seasons that wrapped up his tenure).  Behind freshman quarterback Sam Howell (15 touchdowns and 3 interceptions) the Tar Heels began the season with thrilling wins over South Carolina and Miami, before dropping one-possession games to Wake Forest, Appalachian State, and then-No. 1 Clemson.  While a 16-point win at 1-5 Georgia Tech doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, look at the Hokies: they led Rhode Island by seven in the fourth quarter and it was just as close in wins against Furman, Old Dominion and Miami.  Cause for confidence:  VT is 2-0 since going with turnover-free Hendon Hooker at quarterback.  What’s helped the sophomore is the presence of a running game, with Deshawn McClease emerging as the primary ground threat.

Presto’s Pick:  Hokies come up short, 26-20.

 

Navy (4-1, 2-1 AAC) vs. South Florida (3-3, 1-1), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).

The Midshipmen are coming off of their first road win in over two years, while the Bulls are .500 at midseason despite returning 15 starters.  The sizzle for the Mids is often its option offense, and quarterback Malcolm Perry is directing an attack that leads the nation in rushing.  But major strides have been made so far this year on defense:  the team leads the AAC in stopping the run as well as fewest yards and points allowed.  USF has had major issues protecting the quarterback (a league-high 24 sacks allowed) as well as moving the chains (second-worst in the conference).

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen move one step closer to bowl eligibility with a 31-17 win.

 

Georgetown beats Lafayette, James Madison wins at William & Mary, Richmond gets by Yale, Towson beats Bucknell, Morgan State slips to South Carolina State.

Last Week: 5-5.  Overall: 44-19.

 

After a week where the team got blown out by New England and fired head coach Jay Gruden, the Burgundy and Gold bounced back Sunday with their first victory of the year.  In response to questions about the team’s culture Monday, it may not have been “DAMN GOOD” against the tanking Dolphins but it was good enough to eke out a one-point win against the worst team in the NFL.

The Case For Keenum- the starting quarterback of the moment threw for 166 yards and two touchdowns, and wasn’t sacked at all.  That’s what happens when you face the Dolphins defense.

Peterson’s Progress- Adrian tallied his first 100-yard rushing game of the season, a far cry from being inactive in the week one loss.  He also caught a pair of passes.

McLovin McLaurin- the rookie receiver caught 4 passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns.  He’s now on a pace to record 69 catches for 1224 yards and 15 scores.  Glad they took a flier on the Ohio State wideout to keep Dwayne Haskins company in camp.

Third and Lost- the Skins converted on 2 of 11 money downs, calling 11 pass plays.  Even on six third and shorts.  Keenum completed four of those throws for two conversions. The top target? Trey Quinn and Paul Richardson each had three.  Yardage breakdown: 2 for 6 on third and short (1-3 yards needed), 0 for 3 on third and medium (4-6 yards needed) and 0 for 2 on third and long (7+).

D earns multiple grades- how do we properly evaluate this unit?  Do we weigh more how they handled Josh Rosen or how badly they defended Ryan Fitzpatrick?  Landon Collins had the game he wished he would have posted against the Giants, notching 12 tackles with a sack.  The D posted five sacks on the afternoon, while also recording a pair of interceptions.

Special Situations- Dustin Hopkins made both extra points and connected on a 21-yard field goal while missing a 55-yarder.  Tress Way averaged 45 yards per punt.  Trey Quinn had a punt return of 15 yards.

Flying Flags- six penalties for 56 yards feels like an improvement over previous weeks (they averaged nine through the first five games of the season).  After six weeks, the habitual offenders have been 15 offensive holds, 8 false starts and 6 defensive holds. Donald Penn’s five flags leads the team at this time. Sunday’s big penalties?  Back to back plays where Fabian Moreau’s defensive hold and Ryan Anderson’s roughing the passer turned what would have been a fourth down at the Miami 42 into a first down at the Redskins 39.  The Dolphins would get their only first half points on that drive.

Dissecting the Division- losses by Dallas, Philadelphia and the New York Giants tighten things up.  Philadelphia (3-3) owns the NFC East lead and #4 seed in the conference thanks to the common games tiebreaker over Dallas, while the Cowboys have dropped three straight and are now in 10th place of the NFC.  The Giants are in third place of the division and 13th overall, while the Redskins remain in sole possession of the East Cellar and on the NFC’s bottom rung thanks to the conference tiebreaker.

North Stars- the NFC North owns the best record of the eight divisions, carving out a 14-7-1 start that’s one half game better than the NFC West.  The AFC North is at the opposite end of the spectrum at 8-16, while the NFC East is 9-15 at this point.

Interconference Contest- the NFC owns a 19-10 lead over the AFC, and that’s with the Redskins going 1-1.  They still play the Jets and Bills…so beware.

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Identity is a big thing in college football.  South Carolina is an interesting school because the Gamecocks alternately refer to themselves as both “USC” and “Carolina”; when one thinks of USC I’m thinking the Trojans first, and Fleetwood Mac singing “Tusk” with the Southern Cal marching band second.  Carolina (with apologies to the NFL’s Panthers) will always make me think of Dean Smith, Michael Jordan and Michigan being out of time-outs.  Now South Carolina has made major strides this decade, reaching the Final Four in men’s basketball while winning a National Championship in women’s basketball in 2017.  And let’s not forget back to back College World Series titles in 2010 and 2011.  But in the south, football is king and for most of their history the Gamecocks have been an afterthought in the weaker of the two divisions of the nation’s best conference.  While Florida tapped up-and-coming Urban Meyer, SC rolled the dice and lost on Sparky Woods.  While Alabama turned failed NFL experiments Gene Stallings and Nick Saban into title-winning coaches, SC caught Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier during the “retirement nest egg building” phases of their careers.  Former Florida flameout Will Muschamp became the latest retread to take over in Columbia in 2016.  After three years of going 1-11 against ranked foes, Muschamp was handed one nightmare of a slate this year with games against Alabama and Clemson–not to mention traditional East Division powers Georgia and Florida.  Early losses to North Carolina (or Carolina if you prefer) and Missouri (somehow in the SEC East despite being west of the Mississippi River) plus a blowout by Alabama helped set the bar to its customary low spot in the Palmetto State.  But somewhere on the way to battling for bowl eligibility the Gamecocks went into Athens and shocked No. 3 Georgia 20-17 in double-overtime.  Not only did they beat their closest divisional neighbor, but they also kept what are shaky at best SEC hopes alive for at least one more week.  No. 7 Florida comes to Columbia next weekend.  Enjoy your moment in the sun while you can, USC/Carolina.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange are 3-3 midway through the season and their remaining six foes are a combined 23-13. The much-maligned defense only allowed 16 points last Thursday, but the offense had issues once again. That’s what happens when you give up eight sacks.

 

Virginia (4-2, 2-1 ACC) fell for the first time in conference play, losing to Miami 17-9 Friday night.  Instead of continuing its pursuit of a first-ever Coastal Division title (the previous six years saw the other six schools take turns advancing to the ACC Championship Game), the Cavaliers find themselves halfway through the season trying to figure out of their glass is half-full or half-empty.

Cavalier Congrats: Hasise Dubois caught 7 passes for 93 yards. Joey Blount led the defense with 8 tackles and added a sack.  Billy Kemp had a 19 yard punt return and Joey Blount ran a kickoff back 72 yards.  Brian Delaney made three of his four field goal attempts.

Cavalier Concerns: the offense had issues all evening, converting just 2-10 third downs. Pass protection was a problem, with five sacks allowed.  Six of their ten possessions stalled inside the Hurricanes’ 30-yards line.  A missed field goal, lost fumble and a failed fourth down each took points off the board on the night they could least afford to.  The defense allowed the Hurricanes to roll up 147 yards and 10 points the final two times they had the ball.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 against Duke.

 

Maryland (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) had reason to be optimistic when they visited Purdue.  The 1-4 Boilermakers had lost their starting quarterback and top receiver to injury two weeks ago.  Their defense also ranked near the bottom of multiple categories in the Big Ten.  But you wouldn’t know any of that if you watched the game, a 40-14 humbling that has the faithful looking at the schedule and trying to see three more wins.

Terrapin Triumphs:  Tyrrell Pigrome threw for 218 yards while running for 107 yards in his first start of the season.  Dontay Demus was the top target, grabbing 10 catches for 105 yards.  Ayinde paced the defense with 11 tackles.

Terrapin Troubles:  Nine penalties, including one that wiped out a first quarter touchdown and another that pushed them out of field goal range late in the first half.  Pigrome threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown late in the second quarter.  The defense had issues getting off of the field, allowing Purdue to move the chains on 11 of 18 third downs that included back-breaking conversions from 11, 13 and 23 yards.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 against Indiana.

 

Virginia Tech (4-2) is never going to make things easy for us this year, will they?  Despite owning a two-touchdown halftime lead the Hokies found themselves up 17-14 midway through the third quarter against Rhode Island.  The Hokies turned the jets on and routed the Rams 34-17.  Just another turn on what is becoming a rocky ride through the 2019 schedule.

Hokie Highlights: Hendon Hookier threw for 261 yards and three touchdowns while running for 43 more yards.  Deshawn McClease rushed for 124 yards and a touchdown.  No turnovers for a second straight week.  Rayshard Ashby tallied 8 sacks as the defense held URI to 24 yards rushing and notched three sacks.

Hokie Humblings:  the D took a while to spring back to life in the second half, allowing the Rams to gain 135 of their 310 total yards on their first two third quarter possessions.  For those who watched the Furman and Old Dominion games, it felt like a re-run.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 against North Carolina.

 

Navy (4-1, 2-1 AAC) went to Tulsa and came home with its first road win in over two years.  The 45-17 rout of the Golden Hurricane helped move the Mids back into the conference race as previously unbeaten Memphis was stunned by Temple.

Midshipman Medals:  Malcolm Perry rushed for 218 yards and three touchdowns while the nation’s top ground game pounded out 388.  Michael McMorris posted eight tackles to lead a defense that notched four sacks and held Tulsa to under 50% completions.

Midshipman Miscues:  so much for airing it out more this fall-the Mids threw just five passes and one was a halfback option pass.  They also converted just 5 of 12 third downs and were outgained by the Golden Hurricane in the second half.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 against South Florida.

 

The Nationals are headed to baseball’s final four for the first time since they were the Montreal Expos and needed a strike-shortened split-season to make the playoffs.  Their thrilling 7-3 tenth inning win at the Los Angeles Dodgers sends them straight to St. Louis for Friday’s Game One of the League Championship Series.  How did they get this far?  And can they make the next leap forward into the Fall Classic?

Hot Bats: Anthony Rendon is hitting .350 in the postseason, scoring a team-high six runs over six games while driving in five.  His solo homer in the eighth inning off of Clayton Kershaw got the rally in full gear.  Juan Soto has a pair of homers and six RBI, while delivering the go-ahead hit in the Wild Card Game.  And Howie Kendrick smacked the extra-inning grandslam that gave the Nats the lead and eventually the series against the Dodgers.

Cool on the Mound:  Stephen Strasburg is 2-0 with a 2.40 ERA in the playoffs, posting 21 strikeouts over 15 innings (including his relief turn in the Wild Card Game).  Max Scherzer has been a bulldog, striking out 16 over 13 frames (including a 14-pitch tour de force in the Game Two win).  Daniel Hudson has tossed 3.2 scoreless innings over four games, while earning two saves.  Sean Doolittle nailed down the 10th inning in LA.

Stats vs. St. Louis:  Howie Kendrick went 11-22 against the Cardinals this year, while Victor Robles led the Nats with three runs and four RBI.  The table-setters? Trea Turner & Adam Eaton combined to hit 9-44 (.204), while the meat of the order Anthony Rendon & Juan Soto batted 5-29 (.172) against St. Louis this season.  The second-best bat on the team this year belonged to Yan Gomes (.429), who’s currently hitting 1-6 in the playoffs but pending on Kurt Suzuki’s wrist and face may see more action than originally intended.

Conquering Cardinals:  St. Louis used a second half surge to take the NL Central, snagging the division lead for good on August 23.  They also took five of seven from the Nats:  two of three at home in September and three of four in DC during the Nationals’ injury-ravaged April (I want to say a hot dog vendor may have pitched relief).  They’re just as resilient in the postseason as the Nats, needing an extra-inning victory to force a Game Five before blowing Atlanta out.

Birds to Beware:  the numbers might be skewed a tiny bit because of the 13 runs put on the board against the Braves Wednesday.  Paul Goldschmidt and Marcel Ozuna are both hitting .429 in the playoffs, and Ozuna drove in a team-high seven runs against the Nats during the regular season.  Adam Wainwright went 2-0 with an ERA of 1.35, while Game One starter Mike Mikolas struck out eight while allowing three runs over 12 innings against the Nationals this year.

Anibal Sanchez starts Game One;  the right-hander struck out nine over five innings of one-run ball in Game Three of the NLDS.  He lost his lone regular season start to the Cardinals, but that was in April when he was off to an 0-6 start.  That was when this team was 12 games under .500;  they’re now four wins away from the franchise’s first-ever World Series appearance.

Blame the Nationals playoff run.  Blame the ongoing college football season plus the start of mens’ and womens college basketball, plus the NHL opener and the NBA’s preseason.  Somehow on the way to documenting what went right and wrong in the Redskins’ 24-3 loss to the New York Giants the Skinsanity got lost in the shuffle.  Because how they fared on third down (both offensive and defensive units rank 31st in the NFL) and which penalties hurt them the most (45 flags over five weeks has the team as the third-most whistled unit in the league) is such a micro thing.  Those are fundamental flaws in a team, but those are bad fruits that are the byproduct of poor soil and worse gardening.

So over the last weeks after watching this team play that way I tried to crank out the usual analysis, but each post died amidst busy days at the ballpark and voting for All-Big Ten and Top 25 polls.  The failed flights are below; consider this a “director’s cut”…:

 

“This just in:  the Redskins are going nowhere.  The 0-4 Burgundy and Gold mess are headed to another last place finish in the NFC East, barring disasters elsewhere.  Sunday’s 24-3 loss to the New York Giants extinguished whatever remaining playoff hopes there were, and who knows how bad things will get between now and the end of the season.”

 

“For those hoping for an October surprise Sunday, you should have turned your TV off after Cam Sims’ 65-yard touchdown run. Just like you should have moved on after Vernon Davis’ 48-yard TD catch against Philadelphia and Adrian Peterson’s triumphant one-yard plunge against Dallas.  But in the NFL, they play a full 60 (sometimes more) and once again the Burgundy and Gold glass is far from half-full.  The 33-7 loss to New England results in an 0-5 start as well as a coaching change; Jay Gruden leaves having lost 11 of his last 12 games.”

 

Okay, now we’re past that.  What now?  Bill Callahan takes over on an interim basis; he’s the first to be in that post here since Terry Robiskie took over for Norv Turner.  While you could argue that the 2000 Redskins were close to contention, as all six losses were one-possession affair, this year’s team is nowhere near respectable.  Even the Eagles loss looked closer than it actually was because of a garbage-time touchdown. This team is in meltdown mode, even judged against other meltdowns this century: Jim Zorn’s 4-12 disaster started the year 2-2 and Mike Shanahan’s 3-13 farewell was 3-5 at one point.  This year’s club could have a date with 2-14 or 1-15 destiny.

Meanwhile, the failed Gruden regime gets buried under an avalanche of losses.  If one takes away his period of adustment (a 4-12 rookie season in 2014) and Gruden’s final 16 game stretch (4-12 as well-how symmetrical!), the team went 25-25-1.  And yes, I count the playoff loss to Green Bay- after all, it was the high-water mark of the era.  What was in 2016 the most stable coach-quarterback combination in the NFC East (https://wtop.com/washington-redskins/2016/09/redskins-new-identity-continuity/) didn’t take long to unravel, and the familiar coach & quarterback carousel is back.

But the quarterback & head coach are merely hood ornaments;  one wonders how long the engine of the current Redskins regime stays in Ashburn.  Bruce Allen came to the franchise almost ten years ago with promises of accountability and a rescue from the Vinny Cerrato era/error.  Just like the peasants who cheer the departure of one ruler, Redskins fans had no idea that Allen would oversee a decade where the team would get worse, as in 59-89-1.  As in currently the fourth-worst mark in the NFL this decade (during a decade dominated by Vinny, the Skins were a robust 71-92, good enough for 23rd).  As in the only franchises who have been worse this decade have been Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Cleveland.

Allen is reportedly working on getting a new stadium deal for the franchise;  as the FedEx Field fiasco is one of the factors that has turned this team from one that dominated the district into a squad that regularly plays at home in front of opposing fans-dominated stands, this is the silver bullet (Coors Light reference not intended) just like the return of Joe Gibbs in 2004 was the Burgundy and Gold bullet that undid previous miss-steps.  But he’s also in charge of the football operations, and for the last decade we’ve seen that patient suffer on the operating table.

Will they fix this mess?  The immediate road ahead is a nightmare.  After a trip to Miami their pre-bye week foes are a combined 11-3.  After the hiatus, the Skins face just a pair of teams that currently have losing records (the New York Jets and Giants).  Back to the Dolphins- this 0-4 team isn’t just bad, they’re Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1976 bad.  The team that can’t even wear the right color of aqua or position its dolphin correctly on the helmet ranks 32nd in the NFL in scoring, points and yards allowed, rushing offense and defense, offensive and defensive passing efficiency, sacks for and third down defense.  They rank 31st in total passing and total offense as well as passing defense.  A loss would tempt many to clamor for relegating the Redskins into the CFL or something.  Hail…

 

 

 

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Finally.  After the non-conference and FCS schedule-stuffer season (also known as the apple picking & antiquing window), we’ve got a Saturday filled with showdowns.  A few are traditional matchups that have seen better days (Notre Dame-USC and Clemson-Florida State) while others carry conference and College Football Playoff implications (Penn State-Iowa, LSU-Florida).  Oklahoma-Texas checks off both boxes, while adding in the Texas State Fair for those who feared our nation’s deep-frying industry was in trouble. For example, this year’s fare includes a “Southern Fried Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo Ball” and for those who are health-conscious, the “Texas Cream Corn Casserole Fritters”.

Lost in the shuffle of rivalries, conference clashes and questionable calorie counts is a top five FCS matchup just down the road (actually two, if you take I-66 and then turn right at I-81).  Second ranked James Madison (5-1, 2-0 CAA) hosts No. 5 Villanova (5-0, 3-0) with the inside track to the conference title and a first-round bye in the upcoming FCS Playoffs up for grabs. The two teams rank 1-2 in the CAA in scoring, stopping the run, sacks and third down efficiency.  Each has been pushed to overtime on the road: JMU escaped Stony Brook last weekend while ‘Nova’s 52-45 September shootout at Towson moved the Wildcats from pretender to contender.

The program’s resurgence is especially sweet for third-year head coach Mark Ferrante;  the longtime offensive coordinator took over when Andy Talley retired after 32 seasons in 2016 and the team posted consecutive losing campaigns for the first time since the 1990’s.  But his Wildcats have yet to face the triple-back attack like the Dukes’ Percy Agyei-Obese, Solomon Vanhorse and Jawon Hamilton: the power trio combine for 1051 yards per game on 5.4 a carry.  The Dukes’ big challenge will be getting to Villanova quarterback Daniel Smith (17 touchdown passes) as the Wildcats have allowed just three sacks all season.  Kickoff in Harrisonburg is slated for 1:30 p.m., or if you’re at the Texas State Fair around the time you’ve moved on to dessert and are trying the “Deep Fried Bayou Fruit Bites”.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange drop to 3-3 with Thursday’s 16-10 loss at NC State.  Tommy DeVito got sacked eight times and averaging just over ten yards per completion.  The stat book says he threw for 300 yards, but his numbers once again feel like empty calories.  Twelve penalties didn’t help.  And now the remaining schedule is a combined 21-11, with formerly a mess Florida State looking sharp and surprising Wake Forest no longer the pushover we expected.  Can they scrape together wins against Pitt, Boston College and Louisville?

 

Friday’s Game-

No. 20 Virginia (4-1, 2-0 ACC) at Miami (2-3, 0-2), 8 p.m. (ESPN).

There was never a Hurricane warning this fall as the U got off to an 0-2 start, followed by wins over Bethune-Cookman and Central Michigan before last week’s disaster against Virginia Tech.  While the ‘Canes lead the ACC in passing yardage (315 per game), the Cavaliers boast the second best pass defense in the conference and are second best at getting to the quarterback (27 sacks in five games);  Miami has allowed a league-high 25 sacks this fall.  Head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s team has had a week to digest their loss at Notre Dame and refocus, while Manny Diaz’s eyes likely fell out while watching the game film of last Saturday’s loss to Virginia Tech.

Kippy and Buffy have their eyes on great tailgating as always, and South Florida means they’ll be serving Cuban pork sandwiches.  Nothing goes better with the pork than a bottle of 2016 Limerick Lane Russian River Zinfandel.  Aromas of “blackberry, raspberry, bramble, cocoa leaf and wet stones” (yes–an actual tasting note from the vineyard website) get the palate ready for the taste of “strawberry, black pepper and blueberry pie crust” (again, one cannot make this up), delivering a “long finish with laser-focused acidity”.

Presto’s Pick:  Cavaliers are laser-focused on a first-ever Coastal Division title, and come away with a 27-16 win.

 

Saturday’s Games-

Maryland (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) at Purdue (1-4, 0-2), noon (Big Ten Network).

There’s a switch at quarterback-sort of. Josh Jackson was listed as the starter in the press notes, but head coach Mike Locksley said that Jackson’s ankle injury suffered at Rutgers has the junior day-to-day and Tyrrell Pigrome would start against the Boilermakers.  Pigrome may not have the passing polish Jackson possesses, but he’s a much better runner and with an offensive line that’s banged up might be just the right fit for the present.  Purdue has long been called the “Cradle of Quarterbacks” thanks to All-Americans like Bob Griese, Mike Phipps and Mark Hermann; Drew Brees was shut out by the likes of Chris Weinke, Josh Heupel and George Godsey(?).  This year’s team was no different, until quarterback Elijah Sindelar and his top target Rondale Moore were injured on the same play against Minnesota.  Neither saw the field last Saturday against Penn State.  Defensively, Purdue ranks 13th or 14th in the Big Ten in every category (except in sacks where they’re currently ninth).

Uniform note:  the Boilermakers will be wearing special uniforms commemorating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.  Not only is the late Neil Armstrong an alumnus, but the late Gene Cernan (the Apollo 17 astronaut who was the last person to leave the lunar surface) was as well.

Presto’s Pick:  the Terrapins make another small step towards bowl eligibility with a 38-14 landing.

 

Virginia Tech (3-2) vs. Rhode Island (1-4), 4 p.m. (ACC Network).

There are complaints from many in the area who don’t have the ACC Network on their local cable system, but for the Hokies this fall that might be a good thing.  Even in their wins, this team has been one tough watch.  Only this year’s team could turn a 28-0 second half lead at Miami into a fourth quarter nailbiter.  Enter a Rams team that may be 0-3 in the CAA, but one that has lost three one-possession games.  One week after coughing up 28 second half points to Miami, the Hokies will have their hands full as URI quarterback Vito Priore completes 65% of his passes.  Priore’s top two targets, Aaron Brooks and Isaiah Coulter, each average over 100 yards per game receiving and are just the kind of tandem that turns suspect secondaries into sludge.  After a September saw a torrential downpour of turnovers, the Hokies dried things up last week with redshirt sophomore quarterback Hendon Hooker.  The dual-threat (184 yards and three touchdowns passing plus 76 yards and a touchdowns rushing against Miami) didn’t throw an interception or lose a fumble, and no giveaways means Hooker stays first-string.  He’ll face a rather accomodating Ram defense, one that allowed 41 points in their other game against an FBS school.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies make it two straight, 34-24.

 

Navy (3-1, 1-1 AAC) at Tulsa (2-3, 0-1), 7:30 p.m. (ESPNU).

Last Saturday’s win over Air Force was exactly the kind of game last year’s Midshipmen would lose.  The other nightmare from 2018 involved an 0-6 road record (0-8 in games not played in Annapolis).  For those curious, Navy’s last road win was September 30, 2017 against…Tulsa.  The Golden Hurricane went 2-10 that year and have already equaled that win total in the first month of this season.  But they still can’t stop the run (11th in the AAC) and if there’s one thing that the Mids do well it’s move the ball on the ground (an FBS-best 312 yards per game).  But they also lead the conference in offensive passing efficiency as well as rushing and total defense.  Head coach Ken Niumatalolo’s team is also the least-penalized unit in the league; as fate would have it the most-flagged Golden Hurricanes commit twice as many infractions per game.

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen make it happen on the road, 28-20. 

Howard loses to Norfolk State, Georgetown gets by Fordham, James Madison beats Villanova, Richmond edges Maine, Towson tops Albany, Morgan State loses to Delaware State.

 

Last Week: 7-3. Overall: 39-14.