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Maryland received a rude awakening in December when they lost again at Penn State. Now the eastern wing of the Big Ten neighborhood could be even dicier.  I said it here last week in this space, and I’m going to say it again. Rutgers is actually good this year.  The Scarlet Knights are 14-4 and are currently ranked by the AP for the first time since 1979: when the Top 25 was a Top 20, the shot clock was years away from being used in the college game, and the three-pointer wasn’t even used in the NBA. The Big East hadn’t even been formed and the NCAA Tournament was going from 32 to 40 schools, with the Final Four broadcast on NBC and ESPN not even created yet to broadcast the first two days.  The ensuing 40-plus years have not been kind to a school that’s logged time in five different conferences, as they’ve not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1991 (that was three leagues ago when they were an Atlantic 10 member).  But coach Steve Pikiell in his fourth year at the helm as built the Scarlet Knights into a defensive dynamo: they allow a Big Ten-low 58.7 points per game while ranking second in steals and fourth in rebounding margin.  We’ll know how far they’ve come Wednesday night when they visit No. 19 Iowa.

 

Alma Mater Update- back to back to back wins for the Orange have SU over .500 in the ACC for the first time all winter.  Saturday’s 71-69 win at Virginia Tech avenged a loss from the week before in the Dome as Buddy Boeheim tied a career high with 26 points.  The Buddy Watch has the sophomore at 511 career points with 13 games remaining; if he keeps up his current average of 16.2 points per game he’ll enter the ACC Tournament with 721.  His dad scored 745 career points before going on to win over 1,000 games with his alma mater.

 

Wow of the Week- Richmond (14-4, 4-1 Atlantic 10) has already surpassed last winter’s win total, and the Spiders did so by triumphing twice on the road.  Wagner transfer Blake Francis has settled in to spearhead the offense (18 points per game), allowing big man Grant Golden to focus inside and guard Jacob Gilyard to worry more about running the offense.  Coach Chris Mooney is in his 15th season at the helm, and after consecutive 20-loss campaigns appears to have the Spiders set back on a familiar course that will have them contending in the A-10.

 

Player to Watch- Virginia gave us four years of the unintentional comedy that was big man Jack Salt:  the six-foot-ten center from New Zealand, despite shooting 59% from the field during his career, notched more personal fouls than made baskets in each of his four seasons with the Cavaliers.  Salt’s exit means more run for seven-foot-one Jay Huff, who after averaging under ten minutes per game in his first two seasons has turned into a major force this winter.  He’s averaging 24.5 minutes and recorded 17 points with 8 rebounds in a win against Georgia Tech that ended a three game slide.  But Huff was back to single digits in Monday’s loss to NC State, and UVa finds itself at .500 in league play.

 

League Look- one game separates the top five teams in the Patriot League as preseason favorite Colgate (14-5, 5-1) is being chased by American and Navy, along with Boston University and Bucknell.  The Raiders won at Navy earlier this month; Jordan Burns and company visit AU Saturday.

 

Ballot Battles- this week I moved Baylor into the top spot after two more wins; I very well could have moved them there last week after the win over Kansas but I try to be less knee-jerk when it comes to number one.  This week I received grief for having Colorado in the top 20 while keeping Arizona out despite the Wildcats win over the Buffaloes at home Saturday.

 

This Week’s Starting Five (games of local interest)-

Tuesday: No. 17 Maryland at Northwestern. The Terps may be 0-3 on the road in the Big Ten, but that’s the rule as opposed to the exception in the conference this winter.  Home teams are 40-7 so far this season, but the last-place Wildcats have two of those defeats.  If the Terrapins want to stay in the top half of a very good Big Ten (ten schools in Ken Pomeroy’s top 40), they need every road win they can get.

Wednesday:  Georgetown at Xavier.  The Hoyas are also 0-3 on the road in Big East play, but home court dominance isn’t as great in a conference where road teams are 11-17 this winter.  Both teams find themselves in the bottom half of that league, with the Musketeers coming off of three straight double digit defeats.  They also have trouble scoring (seventh in shooting and ninth from three point range), making things a little easier on the Hoyas who allow the most points per game in conference.

Also Wednesday: George Washington at Fordham.  The Colonials have won consecutive Atlantic 10 games for the first time since February 2018.  Armel Potter was a big reason why, as the senior guard averaged 24 points with 6 assists in those victories.  The run can continue for first-year coach Jamion Christian, as they play their next two games against schools winless in the A-10.  First is a Rams team that ranks 345th in the nation in shooting and 348th in scoring.

Saturday: Navy vs. Army.  It’s not the football spectacular, but this Patriot League matinee is not without relevance.  The Midshipmen have won three of four while the Black Knights have won two straight.  Army also is led in scoring by Tommy Funk, which on name value has to count for something.

Sunday: Virginia at Wake Forest.  The defending national champs knew they’d have growing pains with the bulk of last year’s producers departing, but the Cavaliers have lost four of five and are slowly slipping towards the NCAA Tournament bubble.  The Demon Deacons are to the ACC what Rutgers used to be to the Big Ten:  a school with distant Final Four history and often a tough out but a team you need to beat if you want to stay in contention.

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It’s tough to avoid who you are in men’s college basketball, especially away from home.  You can flip the script for a game or two, but once you reach January and conference play the collection of game-performance snapshots begins to become the mosaic that will be your season.  Maryland (13-4, 3-3 Big Ten) and Georgetown (11-6, 1-3 Big East) both went on the road last weekend, and each school suffered conference losses where their preseason question marks were answered, and not in a good way.  Maryland entered the year with questions surrounding its offense, and in the team’s 67-49 loss at Iowa the Terps made just 17 shots (33% rate) while turning the ball over 17 times.  They then let a late three-point lead dissolve in the Madison night air as they fell 56-54 at Wisconsin.  Georgetown after emphasizing in the offseason how much they needed to improve defensively allowed Villanova to make 15-of-29 from three-point range in an 80-66 loss to the Wildcats.It’s a long road to Selection Sunday; and an even longer one to the NIT.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange delivered a bad loss and a good win, falling at home to Virginia Tech before beating Virginia in overtime on the road.  SU scored 20 points in OT after managing just 19 points in the second half.  That is this team.  At 9-7 they need to finish 8-7 to clinch a winning record (the streak goes back to the 1969-70 season).  There are wins out there with games against Boston College, Notre Dame, and Pitt on the horizon.  They also have a return trip to Blacksburg Saturday.

Wow of the Week- Virginia Tech (13-4, 4-2 ACC) rallied from eleven points down points down to win at Syracuse 67-63 before beating NC State 72-58 Saturday.  Defense was the difference in both victories:  the Hokies went on a 21-4 run to push past the Orange and held the Wolfpack to 31% shooting.  With Hokies freshman Landers Nolley II (29 points against NC State) playing older than his class, coach Mike Young’s team isn’t leaving the room of NCAA contention just yet.  One quarter through the conference season, they’re one of nine schools either 3-2, 3-3, or 2-3 in ACC play.  But they’re not slated play a ranked team until February.

Spotlight- Howard is 2-16 under first-year coach Kenneth Blakeney, which is a shame because four-year starter Charles Williams continues to produce despite regime changes and departures (2019 MEAC Player of the Year R.J. Cole transferred to UConn in the offseason).  The six-foot-six senior reached the 2,000 career point plateau this winter and has been the one constant in a program that hasn’t posted a winning season since 2002.

League Look- the Big Ten is in its second season of playing 20 conference games, and this winter has already gotten a little muddy.  Every school has played at least five games, and two of the five schools that are currently ranked sport losing conference records (Michigan and Ohio State).  Michigan State was the last team to lose a league game, and did they ever: the 71-42 loss was the Spartans’ worst-ever defeat as a top ten team.  ESPN’S Joe Lunardi has TEN of the Big Ten’s 14 schools (I know) making the NCAA Tournament this March.  Even Rutgers (12-4, 3-2) is good this winter.  Yes, I just wrote that.

Ballot Battles- it’s muddy in the Top 25 as well, and it’s not just Big Ten schools sliding down college basketball’s elite mountain. Defending National Champion Virginia lost consecutive games and slipped out of the Top 25 for the first time since November of 2017 (that team wound up entering the NCAA Tournament number one).  Mid-majors like Duquesne and Akron snuck into this week’s rankings for me, while Gonzaga stayed No. 1 ahead of Duke and Baylor.  Toughest choice was Stanford at No. 20. The Cardinal are 14-2 and unbeaten in the Pac 12 but their SOS is 249.

Weekly Starting Five- (five games with impact for local schools)-

Wednesday- Georgetown vs. No. 25 Creighton. The Hoyas are already slipping in Big East quicksand, and the conference’s most generous defense faces a Bluejays offense that ranks second in the league in shooting and scoring.

Wednesday- George Mason at George Washington. The Orange Line Duel has the Colonials looking for their first Atlantic 10 win of the season while the Patriots are still figuring out where in the A-10 middle class they reside;  Justin Kier scored 18 points in the team’s win at La Salle after averaging nine points on 40% shooting in Mason’s three straight losses.

Wednesday- Virginia at No. 9 Florida State.  The Cavaliers have dropped out of the rankings for the first time since November 2017 after consecutive losses to Boston College and Syracuse.  The Seminoles have slowly surged up the rankings and have yet to lose at home this season.

Thursday- William & Mary at Delaware.  Could this be the year?  The Tribe are one of four original Division I members (established in 1948) that have yet to reach the NCAA Tournament.  But first-year coach Dane Fischer has W&M atop the CAA at 5-0 in league play- a stretch that includes an 11-point win over second place College of Charleston.  The Blue Hens aren’t world-beaters this year, and it’s just as important to see how the Tribe handles second-tier schools.  Especially on the road.

Saturday- No. 17 Maryland vs. Purdue.  The Boilermakers are fresh from blowing out Michigan State while the Terps come home searching for offensive consistency and fast starts.  Anthony Cowan was a freshman when the 17th ranked Terrapins hosted Purdue on a Saturday afternoon in 2017; after coming up short that day the team went into a 4-7 tailspin that was punctuated by early exits in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments.

Hindsight is 20/20, unless you’re former Redskins head coach Steve Spurrier (the ol’ ball coach said it was “50-50”, only adding to his legend while here).  As 2020 begins there’s plenty of hindsight, foresight, long and short sight regarding the local college basketball teams.

I don’t think anybody expected that Maryland’s high-profile recruits, the Mitchell twins, would be gone by New Year’s Eve.  And I hazard a guess that few would have thought that Georgetown would win six straight after losing James Akinjo and three other players.  Just like nobody saw Stephen F. Austin-Duke or Evansville-Kentucky ending the way they did; Gonzaga became the sixth school to reach number one this season during Christmas week and the Bulldogs remain atop both polls.

Alma Mater Update- after spending the last few winters on the NCAA Tournament bubble, the Orange need to get hot this month just to play their way onto the bubble. At 8-6 and 1-2 in the ACC, they’ve lost games against every quality non-conference foe and Saturday’s loss to Notre Dame was a great opportunity missed.  SU plays Virginia Tech and Virginia this week; two more losses and they’ll be on a different bubble. As in the one that has the bottom six ACC teams playing the first day of the Tournament.

Ballot Battles- this is the second winter I’ve voted in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll.  For the most part fans are cool even though the website collegepolltracker.com leaves me open for emails from San Diego State fans for not having the unbeaten Aztecs ranked higher.  Each week there are questions as one puts together the top 25, and this week’s deal was how the bottom third (my 16th through 25th ranked teams) didn’t lose.  It’s tough to break a new team in, although I did so with VCU.  The Rams have been in and out of my Top 25 all season.

Roster Rotations- Georgetown (10-5) may have wrapped up non-conference play with six consecutive wins, but the Hoyas are 0-2 to start Big East play not because of the December defections but Mac McClung’s eye injury suffered against American December 28.  The sophomore missed the loss at Providence and shot 7-20 from the field in the defeat at Seton Hall.  On the bright side, three of their next four games are at home.  No. 12 Maryland (12-2, 2-1 Big Ten) plays four of its next six games on the road, and the Terps are still getting adjusted to the absence of twin towers Makhi and Makhel Mitchell.  Even though the duo averaged a combined 16 minutes per game, their absence means more time in the pivot for sophomore Jalen Smith.  At least until seven-footer Chol Mariol gets in gear.

Wow of the Week- VCU (12-3, 2-0 Atlantic 10) played solid basketball in the pre-conference slate, losing games to schools (Purdue, Tennessee, Wichita State) that have all been ranked at some time this season.  The Rams made a major statement in the first week of A-10 play, with the exclamation point a 72-59 win at George Mason (11-3, 0-1) where they held the Patriots scoreless for the game’s first 4:20.  Marcus Santos-Silva scored a career-high 26 points for the Rams while Mason received a wake-up call as to what play will be like in a league where five other schools won at least ten non-conference games.

Player Spotlight- American University’s Sa’eed Nelson was the preseason pick for Patriot League Player of the Year, and the senior has not disappointed in averaging 16 points with 5 assists per game for the Eagles.  Nelson’s 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists helped AU pull past Boston University 67-63 for their first conference win of the winter. He’ll need the supporting cast to step up this week with games at Army and Lehigh.

 

Starting Five- as in games involving local schools I will keep my eyes on this week:

Tuesday at 7 p.m.- No. 12 Maryland (12-2, 2-1 Big Ten) plays No. 11 Ohio State (11-3,   1-2).  Both teams have been in the top five at times this season; each have suffered tough losses as well.  Buckeyes big man Kaleb Wesson has held to 3-12 FG last winter, but that was with Bruno Fernando on his back.  This year Jalen Smith draws that assignment.

Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.- Georgetown (10-5, 0-2 Big East) plays St. John’s (11-4, 0-2).  We can’t even play this up as the coaching matchup of legends Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin; Mike Anderson has guided the Red Storm to wins over Arizona and West Virginia, but they’ve dropped their two league games by a combined ten points.  Neither school can start 0-3 in the conference if they want to keep the dream of playing in March alive.

Thursday at 6 p.m.- Towson (7-9, 1-3 CAA) meets Drexel (9-7, 2-1).  The Tigers have looked good in spots (a victory over Tulane) and less than ideal on other nights (45 points in a loss to Northeastern).  Do they have a chance to make their way back up the league standings?  Senior Brian Fobbs is averaging 14 points in two games since being held to a combined 15 the previous two.

Saturday at 2 p.m.- George Mason (11-3, 0-1 Atlantic 10) visits La Salle (10-4, 1-1).  The Patriots go on the road for the first time in league play.   The Explorers have already matched last season’s win total.

Saturday at 2 p.m.- Virginia Tech (10-4, 1-2 ACC) hosts NC State (10-4, 1-2).  The Hokies and first-year coach Mike Young are enjoying a stellar freshman season from Landers Nolley II, but the 6-foot-7 guard could use some help as he scored 18 of the team’s 39 points in their loss at Virginia.  The Wolfpack know exactly what it’s like being the “other” state school in the conference.

 

What a year 2019 was for the University of Virginia.  The Cavaliers first expunged the ghosts of March’s past (and specifically the 2018 loss to UMBC) by winning the Men’s Basketball National Championship, trailing in every game and needing to rally in the last minute of regulation to win its final three games of the tournament.  The men’s lacrosse team won it all Memorial Day weekend, and the baseball program celebrated Ryan Zimmerman and Sean Doolittle when the Nationals won the World Series.  But somehow the football team won its first-ever Coastal Division crown and beat Virginia Tech for the first time since the Hokies joined the ACC (let’s just say it’s been a while).  We’ll forgive the loss in penalty kicks to Georgetown in the Men’s Soccer College Cup; 2019 may be the Year of the Pig in the Chinese calendar, but it’s been the Year of the Cavalier.

And alongside every step of the way has been Kippy & Buffy, everybody’s favorite UVa tailgating tandem.  Each week during “Presto’s Picks” on wtop.com, I check out what sort of wine and cheese experience they’ll be serving up at their Scott Stadium setup.  And during a season of possibilities my popped-collar pals did not disappoint.  Here, for your consideration, is the week-by-week lineup of Kippy & Buffy’s best bottles:

 

August 31, at Pitt:  My UVa tailgating pals Kippy & Buffy are back for another exciting season, and just like their team that’s dreaming big in 2019 my favorite couple begins big: a bottle of 2013 Joseph Phelps Insignia. “Focused and fresh, this exceptionally concentrated wine showcases elegant tannin structure and a silky mouthfeel layered with dark fruit, sweet vanilla bean, cracked black pepper and bittersweet chocolate.”  Nothing bittersweet about the season ahead.

September 6, William & Mary:  Kippy & Buffy are working their way through their tailgating schedule for 2019, and they usually open against a non-conference foe with Conundrum White.  But in the autumn of possibilities they’re going outside the box, metaphorically of course-they’d NEVER have wine from a box.  For a matchup of two Commonwealth schools, Montifalco Vineyards 2018 Blanc rings true. A blend of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Seyval Blanc grapes provides “bright citrus, tropical notes and crisp finish”.

September 14, Florida State: Kippy & Buffy know their history, and that “Eppes” refers to Thomas Jefferson’s grandson Francis Eppes IV, a two-time Mayor of Tallahassee and Trustee at the seminary that would eventually become Florida State.  Nothing says history like tailgating with a bottle of 2013 Jefferson Vineyards Meritage“an oak driven wine with wonderful aromatics. The bright palate shows berry and black pepper flavors, finishing with lingering notes of coffee.”  Coffee is for closers- and in the season of possibilities could that be the Cavaliers?

September 21, Old Dominion: Kippy & Buffy have no issues setting up their third home tailgate of the season, and how better to enjoy a showdown of Commonwealth schools than by opening a bottle of Chrysalis Vineyards Viognier (the state grape of Virginia).  “Full-bodied and fragrant with heady tropical and citrus fruits”.  During the season of possibilities that has UVa dreaming of a potential Citrus or-dare I say-Orange Bowl, they’re going all-in on a citrus fruit finish.

September 28, at Notre Dame: Kippy & Buffy realize if you can’t beat them, tailgate with them.  Knowing that Irish are stereotypically redheads, their plan is to enjoy a bottle of Mount Veeder 2017 Chardonnay: “On the nose, beautiful and delicate floral aromas of jasmine marry with sweeter notes of honeysuckle and candied ginger. A very subtle hint of vanilla creme and toffee from the oak aging emerge on the lingering finish.”  Let the record show that Kippy & Buffy are cool with redheads, as Thomas Jefferson founded the University.

October 5, Bye Week 1: No. 23 Virginia (4-1, 2-0 ACC) may be idle, but Kippy and Buffy never take a weekend off.  This weekend they’re shuttering up the cottage in the Outer Banks, and they’ll be toasting a season of possibilities with a bottle of Ruinart Brut Blanc de Blancs.  The non-vintage Champagne offers “A superb, golden yellow color with a beautiful luminosity and a fine and persistent mousse. The nose is clean and intense with warm, rich notes of brioche, French toast and roasted almonds. On the palate the wine is very supple and harmonious, with notes of honey and minerals on the long, sustained finish.”  With three road games over the next four weeks, Kippy and Buffy hope the Cavaliers can sustain what has been one solid start.

October 11, at Miami:  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”.

October 19, Duke:  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 sautéed mushrooms plus Bleu Cheese on toast against the Blue Devils.

October 26, at Louisville: Kippy & Buffy recognize that during the season of possibilities a team has make the most of its opportunities, so this week they’re seizing the day by tailgating with Carpe Diem Pinot Noir from the Anderson Valley.  The cool climate is the reason for the vivid black cherry flavors and intense rose petal and spice aromas.  Like any contender that’s more than one-dimensional, the 2015 vintage wine offers more than a nice nose:  “generous flavors of plum, blackberry and leather are uplifted with a great texture, silky tannin and crisp acidity.”

November 2, at North Carolina:  Kippy & Buffy know seasons and tailgates are made in November, and thus they enter college football’s “closing month” with a bottle of 2013 Alpha Omega Cabernet Sauvignon.   On the nose: “hints of cherry, earl grey, lavender and dry herbs lingering on black currant, white pepper and saffron.”  On the palate: “big round entrance evolving on dark fruit jam, currant and blackberry lingering on acidity and cherry.”   

November 9, Georgia Tech: Kippy & Buffy know that not all heroes wear capes; sometimes they make fantastic wines.  In honor of the Yellow Jackets’ 2014 Coastal championship, our favorite tailgating duo open a bottle of Twomey’s 2014 Soda Canyon Ranch Merlot as they pursue their “season of possibilities”.  With aromas that include “black cherry, roasted meat, wet soil, loose pipe tobacco and brioche”, the offshoot of Silver Oak Vineyards provides the palate a “velvet entry, mouthwatering, vanilla flavors and an enticing texture”.  And don’t forget the “integrated tannins, elegant, juicy with a long finish and return.”  

November 16, Bye Week 2:  Kippy & Buffy have to find something to do to pass the time.  Apple picking and antiquing are on the morning docket (who doesn’t love sipping cider while checking out a chestnut armoire?), while pumpkin patch time takes up most of the afternoon.  Once home, the evening is theirs.  And after enjoying pumpkin spice lattes on their way to apple picking, nothing’s better than post-pumpkin perusing than a glass of Chateau O’Brien Virginia Apple Wine“Made of apples grown and hand-selected from our neighboring Northpoint orchards, the wine is crisp with delineated flavors and possesses lush aromas of vibrant ripe apples. Full-bodied, elegant wine that captures the essence of apples at their peak of fall ripeness.”  During a season where the Cavaliers’ eye is on a Coastal Division Crown, it makes sense to go with the 2014 vintage that was selected by the 2015 Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition tasting panel as the “Best Sweet Fruit Wine”.

November 23, Liberty: Kippy & Buffy have their eyes on a non-conference white wine.  And the season of possibilities would not be complete without a trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  And that means a bottle of Antiquum Farms’ 2018 Daisy Pinot Gris.  “Focused, precise, and all about refined texture, minerality and crisp acidity.”  They had my popped collared pals at refined texture. Vibrant citrus and floral components blend seamlessly with pomme fruit, lemon curd, pear, river stone and metallic nuance.”

November 29, Virginia:  Kippy & Buffy try to dial up some magic from the last time UVa beat the Hokies:  this week they’ll be enjoying a bottle of 2003 Chateau Lynch Bages. “Blending power, concentration, style and charm. Forest floor, cedar wood, fennel, smoke and cherry liqueur scents start off the concentration of flavor, supple, round tannins and a sweet, finish filled with ripe cherries and crème de cassis.”  Lynch Bages is a wine for patient wine lovers, as it often needs 15-20 years in the top vintages to show its best.

December 7, ACC Championship vs. Clemson: Kippy & Buffy make their way to Charlotte, and it’s not just a first-ever Coastal Division crown they’re celebrating. Fellow alums Henry & Hildy live in the Ballantyne neighborhood, and Hildy was just made partner at her law firm. So a bottle of Chateau O’Brien’s 2012 Late Harvest Tannat will be opened at the tailgate; it’s a non-fortified Port-style wine.  “During ripening, natural sugar accumulation reaches a level beyond the capacity of a natural yeast fermentation. No wine language can eloquently articulate the elegance of this wine.” We’ll go with “Big Boat”.

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Welcome to Conference Championship Week, where the winners advance to the College Football Playoff–sometimes.  Sorry, Virginia-your reward if somehow you pull off an upset of defending national champ Clemson in the ACC Championship Game likely won’t even be a trip to New Year’s Day (due to an accounting move, the Orange Bowl will be played December 30 this year).  I know that’s not how it works in men’s basketball or lacrosse, or even in football at EVERY OTHER LEVEL (good luck James Madison against Monmouth).

The sport with the best regular season and most unwieldy postseason enters its cocoon stage.  Don’t worry-you loved the three month caterpillar and you’re going to enjoy the Championship Game butterfly next month. Bear with them.  First we get a slate of exhibitions that will determine which school gets into the New Orleans (Sun Belt Conference) or the Las Vegas (Mountain West Conference) Bowls.  Conference USA’s winner gets to pick from a group of games if they’re not the “Group of Five” team, while the MAC and AAC send schools to bowls based partially on geography (meaning the schools competing may already know their destination regardless of Saturday’s result).

Then the curtains close and the 13-member committee determines which four schools advance, and the dust settles on the rest of the 41 bowls (really-41??).  To take even more air out of the ball, Ohio State and LSU are expected to make the playoff even if they lose their respective title tilts.  There are those that want an eight-team playoff (I am one of them), and with five schools in the “Power Five” it almost makes too much sense.  But just like we had to sit through 20 years of the Bowl Coalition, Bowl Alliance and Bowl Championship Series, we’ve got the current system for a few years more.  You can always do fantasy fields of eight-team brackets like I do on cocktail napkins.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange just happen to reside in the “tough” ACC division, the Atlantic. While the Clemson juggernaut is dominating the league at this moment, don’t forget the dormant monster that is Florida State (2013 BCS winners).  It’s going to be tough to return to an era when SU won or shared five Big East titles from 1996 to 2012.

 

Friday’s Game-

Pac 12 : No. 5 Utah vs. No. 13 Oregon, 8 p.m., Santa Clara, CA. (ABC).

What’s at stake:  a potential playoff berth for the Utes if things drop right, or further proof that this league eats its own if the Ducks prevail.

Rematch?: the two schools didn’t play this year, although the Utes won the 2018 matchup in Salt Lake City 32-25.

Players to watch:  Utah defensive end Bradley Anae brings 12.5 sacks to the Bay Area, and his goal is to disrupt Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert (67% completion rate, 3,140 passing yards with at 31-5 touchdown to interception ratio).

Fun Fact:  the South Division is 1-7, with the lone victory coming when the South representative is the higher ranked team.  That’s the case this year.

Presto’s Pick: Utes make their case with a 35-30 win.  Will it fall on deaf ears?

 

Saturday’s Games-

Big 12: No 6. Oklahoma vs. No. 7 Baylor, noon, Arlington, TX (ABC).

What’s at stake: in theory this should be for an automatic berth in a six or eight team field, instead the winner won’t even have a headstart against Utah for “who’s number four?” if the Utes win the night before.  And heaven forbid if Georgia somehow wins…

Rematch: OU trailed 28-3 in Waco November 16 before dialing up a rally for the ages, storming back for a 34-31 win where Baylor threw a last-minute interception.

Players to watch: Sooners quarterback Jalen Hurts picked up where Kyler Murray left off, one year after Murray picked up where Baker Mayfield left off.  In other news, I am seriously thinking about transferring to Oklahoma in the offseason.  The Bears rely on the pass as well, but when they run John Lovett and JaMycal Hasty average over six yards per carry.

Fun Fact:  Oklahoma is 9-1 in this game, with their only defeat coming in 2003 when as the top-ranked team in the nation they were blasted 35-7 by Kansas State.  Ell Robertston is not walking through that door.

Presto’s Pick:  Sooners stir up the pot with a 41-22 whipping.

 

Meanwhile, the Sun Belt (UAB-Florida Atlantic), Conference USA (Louisiana-Appalachian State), MAC (Miami (OH)-Central Michigan), AAC (Cincinnati-Memphis), and Mountain West (Boise State-Hawaii) will play all of their games in the early to mid-afternoon shadows. These conference championship games have no playoff implications whatsoever, although the AAC champ and Boise State have shots at being the “group of five” team that plays in a “New Year’s six” bowl.  If the Big 12 game is a blowout, run your holiday errands at this time.

 

SEC: No. 2 LSU vs. No. 4 Georgia, 4 p.m., Atlanta (CBS).

What’s at stake: if the Bulldogs win, they’re in.  Alabama’s loss to Auburn makes LSU’s playoff inclusion a near-certainty, further cementing the college football theory that “every game matters”.

Rematch?: the two schools last met in 2018 when the Tigers tore through the Bulldogs 36-16.

Players to watch: LSU quarterback Joe Burrow (78% completion rate with 4,366 yards passing and 44 touchdowns) is the Heisman Trophy favorite.  Georgia runningback D’Andre Swift rushed for 1,203 yards but is bothered by a shoulder injury.

Fun Fact: this will be the fourth meeting in this game between these two schools, making it the second-most common matchup (Alabama & Florida have played for the title nine times).

Presto’s Pick:  Tigers triumph, 24-16.

 

ACC- No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 23 Virginia, 7:30 p.m. Charlotte, NC (ABC).

What’s at stake:  the unbeaten team nobody’s talking about looks to cement its spot after playing an underwhelming schedule, while the Cavaliers look to continue an incredible year that saw men’s basketball and lacrosse teams win national championships.  An upset would likely also pull the Tigers out of the playoff.

Rematch?: the longtime conference foes haven’t met since November of 2013, a day in Charlottesville where Clemson won 59-10. For the record, Kippy & Buffy enjoyed a pregame tailgate Chateau O’Brien Malbec that day :”a medium-bodied wine with complex aromas of plum and fig, a velvety soft texture, and remarkable fruit flavor“–or as other expert tasting notes read: “Big Boat”.

Players to watch:  Tigers runningback Travis Etienne averaged over eight yards per carry while posting seven 100-yard rushing games; he’d have better numbers but sat a lot of second-half blowouts.  While Cavaliers quarterback Bryce Perkins wore the Superman’s Cape all year, their linebacking corps deserves notice: Zane Zandier (team-high 85 tackles), Jordan Mack (7.5 sacks), Noah Taylor (6.5 sacks with two interceptions) and Charles Snowden will have one tough task Saturday.

Fun Fact: Kippy & Buffy make their way to Charlotte, and it’s not just a first-ever Coastal Division crown they’re celebrating. Fellow alums Henry & Hildy live in the Ballantyne neighborhood, and Hildy was just made partner at her law firm. So a bottle of Chateau O’Brien’s 2012 Late Harvest Tannat will be opened at the tailgate;  it’s a non-fortified Port-style wine.  “During ripening, natural sugar accumulation reaches a level beyond the capacity of a natural yeast fermentation. No wine language can eloquently articulate the elegance of this wine.” We’ll go with “Big Boat”.

Presto’s Pick:  Cavaliers are gonna need a bigger boat, getting blasted 44-17.

 

Big Ten- #1 Ohio State vs. #8 Wisconsin, 8 p.m., Indianapolis (FOX).

What’s at stake- like LSU in the SEC, the Buckeyes are likely headed to the Playoff barring a 40-point loss.  The Badgers can tie OSU with a third victory in the nine-year old  title game.

Rematch?:  you bet. The Buckeyes bludgeoned the Badgers 38-7 in Columbus October 26. J.K. Dobbins-despite sounding like a character from a Charles Dickens story-rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns in the rout.

Players to watch:  Ohio State’s Chase Young posted four of his 16.5 sacks this season against Wisconsin during the October win; one assumes they’ll have a better plan this time. Jonathan Taylor may have led the Big Ten with 1,761 yards rushing, but he was held to 52 yards on 20 tries by the Buckeyes D in October.

Fun Fact: Michigan has appeared in as many Big Ten Football Championship Games as Maryland and Rutgers.

Presto’s Pick:  Buckeyes bring it, 31-10.

 

Last Week: 2-1.  I picked UVa the last two years and swore I wouldn’t again until they beat the Hokies. Congratulations.

Overall: 84-35.

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Thanksgiving dinner always provides that moment when everyone is full turkey and stuffing when someone decides to start the “let’s go around the table and say what we’re thankful for” chain.  For the record you should go to Thanksgiving dinner with three things (one generic and two specific) in case you’re late in the rotation; nobody likes a copycat.  What I’m thankful for is college football rivalries.

At the highest level it’s Alabama watching its probable playoff hopes go down the drain thanks to missed field goals and pick-sixes at Auburn (although for the record at 10-2 I’m sure the Crimson Tide can still find their way back into the picture).  It’s Michigan losing to Ohio State for a record eighth straight year.  It’s Ole Miss rallying for a last-minute touchdown against Mississippi State, only to miss an extra point after receiving a personal foul penalty because the player who scored the touchdown pretended to urinate in the end zone like a dog (one cannot make this up).  And it’s Virginia putting to bed a generation of mishaps and anguish to bed at long last on a Friday afternoon in Charlottesville.  Fifteen years of woe traded for “Wahoowa!”.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange ended their autumn of discontent with a 39-30 overtime win against Wake Forest.  The 5-7 finish will have those looking closer at what could have happened at NC State or against Pitt.  At least thinking about those losses is better than wondering what is up with men’s basketball; a 21-point loss to Penn State ranks with last winter’s loss to Buffalo as a “huh?”.

 

Virginia (9-3, 6-2 ACC) alums may be taking Monday and Tuesday off this week as they’re probably still celebrating after 15 years of close calls and anguish with a 39-30 win over Virginia Tech (8-4, 5-3).  The nine-point margin of victory was the fifth time in eight years the Commonwealth Cup was decided by single digits, and instead of going the Hokies way as has been the case this decade it was the Cavaliers who made the plays down the stretch this year.

Cavalier Congrats: the cape fit once again for Bryce Perkins, who passed for 311 yards and a touchdown while running for 164 yards and a score.  His top target was Hasise Dubois, who made four catches for 139 yards.  The defense posted six sacks, including the one that led to the game-sealing fumble recovery in the Hokies’ end zone.  Noah Taylor tallied a pair of interceptions while Aaron Faumui made 2.5 sacks.  Brian Delaney made game-tying and go-ahead field goals in the fourth quarter.

Cavalier Concerns: Delaney missed his first extra point attempt of the day, and the special teams failed to generate any major returns.  Seven penalties for 62 yards might not hurt you against the Hokies, but they will against Clemson.  And the defense once again was accommodating;  they’ve allowed 29 points per game in November.

Hokie Highlights: Hendon Hooker also threw for 311 yards and a touchdown, and while the sophomore didn’t pass the century mark on the ground he did rush for a TD.  Tre Turner caught seven passes for 134 yards and a score.  Divine Dablo tallied 11 tackles to pace the defense.  Oscar Bradburn averaged 45.8 yards per punt while Tayvion Robinson had a 35 yard punt return while Keshawn King recorded a 43 yard kickoff return.

Hokie Humblings:  the game was theirs in the second half to lose, and the defense that had notched consecutive shutouts allowed the Cavaliers to score on their final four possessions of the day.  The offense that had done a great job taking care of the ball since the 2-2 start turned the ball over twice in the fourth quarter, and the offensive line was ravaged for six sacks by the UVa pass rush.

Next:  for Virginia, it’s a trip to Charlotte for their first-ever ACC Championship Game.  They’ll face defending national champion Clemson at 7:30 p.m.  Virginia Tech plays the waiting game.  The Hokies could potentially appear in the Camping World or Citrus Bowl.

 

Maryland (3-9, 1-8 Big Ten) rallied on the road but came up short in its season finale, falling at Michigan State 19-16.  Head coach Mike Locksley has meetings scheduled with players and coaches over the next few days.  In any program rebuild there’s usually change after the first season, even if it’s considered by the coach as “Year Zero”.

Terrapin Triumphs: Anthony McFarland rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown (a 63-yard scamper that gave Maryland a fourth quarter lead) while also returning a kickoff 40 yards.  Dontay Demus caught seven passes for 96 yards and a 44-yard touchdown.  Fa’Najae Gotay led the defense with 15 tackles, and the unit intercepted Spartans senior quarterback Brian Lewerke twice.  Colton Spangler averaged 47 yards per punt.

Terrapin Troubles: the offense turned the ball on each of their first two possessions and a third quarter fumble jumpstarted the Spartans’ game-tying drive.  In between the Terps converted just 1-of-11 third downs.  The defense didn’t break but bent just enough to allow the game-tying and tie-breaking field goals in the fourth quarter.

Next: Saturday September 5, 2020 at home against Towson.

 

Navy (9-2, 7-1 ACC) wasn’t able to win the AAC West as No. 17 Memphis clinched the division on Friday with their win over No. 18 Cincinnati, but the Midshipmen enter their annual game with arch-rival Army on the high of a 56-41 win over Houston.

Midshipman Medals:  it takes a lot to upstage the play of Malcolm Perry.   But while the senior quarterback rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown while throwing for 107 more yards, runningback Jamale Carothers ran for 188 yards and five TD’s.  The defense intercepted four passes and recovered a fumble.  Kevin Brennan led the unit with seven tackles and one of the five interceptions.

Midshipman Miscues:  the defense allowed 41 points and 527 yards, allowing pass plays of 47, 52, and 67 yards.  Clayton Tune burned them for 393 yards after managing 425 yards over his three previous games in November.

Next: against Army in Philadelphia at 3 p.m. on December 14.

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2019 has been a year to remember in Charlottesville, with Virginia winning National Championships in Men’s College Basketball as well as Men’s Lacrosse. They’ve even had a chance to bask in the Nationals’ World Series run, as Ryan Zimmerman and Sean Doolittle played their college ball for the Cavaliers.  How do you top that?  There’s only one answer–and that’s a win over Virginia Tech in football that would result in a Coastal Division crown.

The Cavaliers entered the year the lone Coastal team without an appearance in the ACC Championship Game, and with the other six schools taking turns representing the division the previous six years it almost made sense to pencil UVa in this year.  Thankfully the softest Power Five Conference division with multiple schools in rebuild or revamp mode provides the Cavaliers with the perfect avenue to complete what would be one crazy seven-year run for the Coastal.  But they have to get past their nemesis-if you haven’t heard or read before, Virginia has not beaten Virginia Tech in football since the Hokies entered the ACC in 2004.  That’s not just a small snapshot, but a tapestry of tragedy that ranges from routs (52-14 in 2005 and 52-10 in 2016) to heartbreak (17-14 in 2008 and last year’s 34-31 overtime loss).  That’s fifteen straight years of woe instead of “Wahooha!”.

At the University of Virginia, they eschew terms like “freshmen” and “seniors” for “first year” and “fourth years” because in theory you’re always learning (or at least paying tuition).  Factoring a four-year stay on “the grounds” (never “campus”), no current fourth-year student has attended the University with anyone who’s gone to school with anyone who’s been a student with anyone who’s been in classes (I hope they don’t have a special name for “classes”) with a fellow student who was at Virginia the last time they beat Virginia Tech.

Since arriving in Charlottesville in 2016, head coach Bronco Mendenhall has turned around a program that posted eight losing seasons in ten years to one that will make its third straight bowl.  He’s established stability at the quarterback position that was previously a revolving door and has the Cavaliers one step shy of a first-ever Coastal Division crown.  More than just a step, a win Friday would represent a giant leap for the program and complete a year to remember.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange wrap up the season Saturday by hosting Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons are a lot like SU: a private school fish swimming in a sea of public school sharks.  The Atlantic Division will long be the domain of Clemson and Florida State as long as those schools refrain from bad coaching hires, but there is evidence that a school like Wake Forest can be competitive.  Moving forward, the Orange need to take that cue.

 

Friday’s Game:

No. 23 Virginia Tech (8-3, 5-2 ACC) at Virginia (8-3, 5-2), noon (ABC).

Despite the streak being almost old enough to drive, close games have been the rule recently with four of the last seven games decided by one possession (with two more decided by ten points).  Two months ago this had all of the signs of being the year, but that was before the Hokies defense found its teeth and Hendon Hooker became the starting quarterback (the sophomore still has yet to throw an interception).  Since getting smacked by Duke 45-10 head coach Justin Fuente’s team has won six of seven, averaging 35 points per game.  They’ve gotten better in college football’s closing month, outscoring foes 109-17 the last three weeks.  You could say UVa peaked in their 48-14 October win over the Blue Devils;  they’ve coughed up 114 points in the four games since and have trailed in the first half of each game. Yes, even against Liberty.  Despite an inconsistent running game that ranks 13th in the ACC and an offensive line that allows over three sacks per game, Cavaliers quarterback Bryce Perkins has responded down the stretch with heroics on a weekly basis.  Can he dial it up one more time?

Kippy & Buffy try to dial up some magic from the last time UVa beat the Hokies:  this week they’ll be enjoying a bottle of 2003 Chateau Lynch Bages. “Blending power, concentration, style and charm. Forest floor, cedar wood, fennel, smoke and cherry liqueur scents start off the concentration of flavor, supple, round tannins and a sweet, finish filled with ripe cherries and crème de cassis.”  Lynch Bages is a wine for patient wine lovers, as it often needs 15-20 years in the top vintages to show its best.

Presto’s Pick: Kippy & Buffy have to be a little more patient, as the Cavaliers come up short 24-14.  Can you say “back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back”?

 

Saturday-

Maryland (3-8, 1-7 Big Ten) at Michigan State (5-6, 3-5), 3:30 p.m. (FS1). 

Call this the Disappointment Bowl:  both teams were ranked in September before dropping three-point games in week three.  The Spartans can still secure bowl eligibility with a win and are coming off of a shutout of Rutgers.  They also have a senior quarterback in Brian Lewerke who they’ve been able to protect (a Big Ten-low 17 sacks allowed).  The Terps rank 14th in the conference defending the pass and are second-worst at getting off of the field on third down. They’ve also been hamstrung on offense thanks to multiple injuries at quarterback (they played four in the Nebraska loss) and runningback (Anthony McFarland was never right this fall).  Head coach Mike Locksley referred to this season as “Year Zero”, and he’ll have meetings with players and coaches Sunday and Monday.  While that won’t prevent his team from putting forth maximum effort Saturday, their limitations will prevent the sendoff they desire for their seniors.

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins tumble, 38-14.

 

No. 24 Navy (8-2, 6-1 AAC) at Houston (4-7, 2-5), 7 p.m. (ESPN2). 

The Midshipmen will know by kickoff if this game is for the AAC West;  No. 18 Memphis meets No. 19 Cincinnati Friday afternoon and if the Tigers tumble there will be a window of opportunity open to the Mids for their first division title since 2016. The Cougars won the inaugural AAC Championship Game in 2015 but that was two head coaches ago:  Tom Herman bolted to Texas, and his successor Major Applewhite was fired after 2018’s 8-5 finish.  When Applewhite was hired, University President Renu Khator told faculty and staff at her annual holiday party, “The winning is defined at University of Houston as 10 and 2…we’ll fire coaches at 8 and 4”. That’s a tall order for a program that’s produced five nine-victory campaigns seasons since 1990.  Even a taller order for first-year coach Dana Holgorsen, who posted one such season in his last seven years with West Virginia.  He’s been accused of tanking his first season on campus by having his best players redshirt. This is the kind of program Navy wants to share the field with?

Presto’s Pick: Mids make it happen, 44-20.

Last Week: 5-4.

Overall: 82-34.