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Only 28.2 miles stands between Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis and Maryland Stadium in College Park, but Saturday saw two seasons continue in opposite paths a world away.  Navy’s 35-28 win over No. 21 SMU continued the turnaround from last fall’s 3-10 disaster;  in the grand scheme of things amidst an era of bowl bids, conference contention and Commander-in-Chief’s Trophies 2018 will be regarded as an isolated incident.  That’s what you get with the sturdy foundation of a program that’s been in place for a decade-plus.  The Midshipmen still have bigger games:  the trip to Houston has AAC West implications and the annual game with Army means dealing with their recent slide in the rivalry, but head coach Ken Niumatalolo’s offseason mission- modify the program while embracing its culture-has been a successful one that has shown immediate results.

The road to recovery at Maryland is only just underway for head coach Mike Locksley, and despite a 2-0 start in September the reality is that this program is in a serious rebuild.  Saturday’s 54-7 loss to a slumping Nebraska fighting for bowl eligibility shined the spotlight on many deficiencies, the most apparent the turnovers and penalties that crop up at the most inopportune times. “You don’t win games when you beat yourself,” Locksley said. “And I’ll keep saying this: when we learn to not beat ourselves first that’s when we’ll start turning the corner, and get back to the winning football that we need to play.”  Winning football has been the isolated incident this decade, with the team not finishing over .500 in conference play since 2010.  And for the 16 seniors who played their last game in College Park Saturday, the culture has been one of upheaval.  A fifth-year senior has played for three head coaches and two interim coaches.  Nobody said it was going to be easy, and the road ahead for Mike Locksley will certainly have many more bumps, twists and turns before he has the program where he wants it.

 

National Notebook:  “You love her, and she loves him. He loves somebody else, you just can’t win.”  The Pac-12 completed its version of the J. Geils Band’s “Love Stinks” with No. 6 Oregon’s loss to Arizona State.  Perhaps I should have referred to Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” because the Pac-12 did not break it.  You see:  the Ducks lost to the Sun Devils, who fell to UCLA, who lost to Oregon State, who came up short against Utah, who lost at USC, who couldn’t beat Washington, who succumbed to Stanford, who came up short against Colorado, who wilted against Washington State, who fell to Cal, who lost to Oregon, who–we’ll we’re now back to square one.  Good news for Alabama, who despite not being able to play for their conference championship naturally is in the mix to play for the national one.  Bad news for the only conference that plays nine league games while also having a name that accurately refers to the amount of schools in its membership.  Utah at 10-1?  The 13-member committee snickers at the thought.  One thing’s for sure, Pac-12 love stinks.

 

Alma Mater Update- dreams of another Pinstripe Bowl banner went up flames with a 56-34 loss at Louisville.  Everything we knew about this season showed its face, from an offense that put up decent stats but converted just 6 of 15 third downs to a defense that allowed over 600 yards.  The Orange will wrap up their lost autumn by hosting Wake Forest;  the decade that saw three head coaches comes to a close the the verdict out on the Dino Babers era.

 

Virginia (8-3) came off of their bye week and took a while to find themselves before pulling away from Liberty, retaking the lead with two quick scores late in the first half to enter the locker room by ten before rolling 55-27.  The season of possibilities leaves them 60 minutes away from a Coastal Division crown.  We’ll worry about the ghosts of Octobers past later in the week.

Cavalier Congrats:  Bryce Perkins throws for two scores and runs for a third, while PK Kier nets 82 yards and a touchdown rushing.  DeVante Cross tallies two interceptions, returning the picks back for 35 and 52 yards to set up a pair of TD’s. Aaron Faumui notches a sack and a half.  Seneca Milledge shines on special teams, averaging 32.5 yards per kickoff return.

Cavalier Concerns:  the defense that began the season by holding three of its first four foes to under 20 points has allowed 29 points per game over the last month.

Next: Friday at 3:30 p.m. against Virginia Tech. Actually, it’s not to early to worry.

 

Virginia Tech (8-3, 5-2 ACC) continues to play the tortoise to UVa’s hare, setting up a showdown in Charlottesville for the Coastal Division crown with a 28-0 shutout of defending division champion Pitt.  That’s back to back shutouts for the first time since 2005, or the first year they won the Coastal.

Hokie Highlights:  can we salute retiring Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster one more time?  The defense held the Panthers to 2.2 yards er carry, 39% passing, and 3-15 on third down.  Rayshard Ashby notched 7 tackles and 1.5 sacks.  Norell Pollard returned a fumble for a touchdown.  Hendon Hooker completed 10-13 passes for 153 yards and two touchdowns while freshman sparkplug Tayvion Robinson had a 32 yard run and a 71 yard catch.

Hokie Humblings:  the running game ran aground, gaining just 110 yards on 48 tries.  Even adjusted for sacks, the ground attack averaged 3.0 yards per carry which contributed to moving the chains on 3 of 12 third downs.  Seven penalties for 54 yards certainly won’t go unnoticed by head coach Justin Fuente.

Next: Friday at 3:30 in Charlottesville against Virginia. Many Hokies fans count this as a home game.

 

Maryland (3-8, 1-7 Big Ten) had two weeks to prepare for a slumping Nebraska team that had lost four straight while allowing 35 points per game during that slide.  But the Terps never got in gear, as two lost fumbles put 10 first quarter points on the board and the Cornhuskers would score on four of their first vie drives en route to a 54-7 rout.

Terrapin Triumphs:  Javon Leake scored the Terps’ lone touchdown on a 58-yard scamper for a score. Nick Cross kept even more Nebraska points off of the board with an interception in the end zone.  Keandre Jones led the defense with 10 tackles and Colton Spangler averaged 41.8 yards per punt.

Terrapin Tumbles:  Javon Leake lost three fumbles while freshman quarterback Lance LeGendre lost a fumble as well; the freshman QB’s drop occurred on the same play he injured his non-throwing shoulder.  Three other quarterbacks would see action, with the quartet completing 7 of 21 passes for 57 yards while getting sacked six times.  Josh Jackson also got banged up.  The defense allowed 305 yards rushing while permitting the Cornhuskers to complete 63% of their passes.  Special teams saw a fumbled kickoff and a leaping penalty during a punt;  each led to Nebraska scores.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at 5-6 Michigan State.

 

Navy (8-2, 6-1 AAC) may have finished 6-0 at home this year, but they certainly kept the home fans on the edge of their seats this fall.  While the comeback in the final minute against Air Force avenged last year’s loss in Colorado Springs and the field goal in the final seconds to top Tulane made them bowl eligible, the 35-28 win over No. 21 SMU put the Midshipmen in position to win the AAC West.  If they’re able to win at sub-500 Houston and Memphis falls to 9-1 Cincinnati, the Mids advance to their second AAC title game in four years.

Midshipman Medals:  Malcolm Perry rushes for 195 yards and two touchdowns (including the 70-yard game winning scamper) while also completing 9 of 15 passes for 162 yards and a TD.  This was the expanded passing game we were told about in August, and it picked the perfect time to show itself.  the Mids rush for 378 yards while maintaining possession for over 39 minutes.

Midshipman Miscues- a pair of big plays kept this one close:  the defense allowed a 61 yard touchdown pass while special teams surrendered a 100-yard kickoff return for a TD.  The offense converted just 6 of 17 third downs. Five penalties for 31 yards doesn’t seem like a lot, but they were flagged more than the Mustangs.

Next: Saturday at 7 p.m. on the road against 4-7 Houston. 

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What if?  It’s the saddest sentence in the English language that says so much yet nothing of substance at the same time.  Today is the 56th anniversary of the JFK assassination- if it were an actual person the assassination is now ten years older than the man was when he was killed.  Instead of wondering what the world would have been like had Kennedy lived, six ears ago I imagined a world with Lenny Bias living past that dark day of June 1986.

 

NOVEMBER 18, 2013—Len Bias turns 50.

 The University of Maryland honors its Basketball Hall of Famer with a star-studded evening…almost a “This is Your Life” at the Comcast Center (popularly called the “Driesell Dome”).

Lefty Driesell’s expected to make the trip up from Virginia Beach where he’s enjoyed retirement since stepping down in 2002.  After posting 696 wins over 32 seasons as Terps coach the longtime rival of Dean Smith left the game same time his constant nemesis did (Driesell joked that “Dean was done in ’97…but only stuck around so I wouldn’t have a crack at his record”).  Although Bias didn’t lead Lefty to the Final Four, he helped set the stage for the recruiting classes that finally did in 1991.  They’d lose to to Gary Williams’ Ohio State Buckeyes;  despite the disappointment it was something special to see Williams get the most out of top recruit Jimmy Jackson.  OSU would fall to Duke in the finals that year because the Blue Devils always got the calls then but the seeds were sown for an era of Terrapin dominance in the decade of the 90’s.  Lawrence Moten arrived on campus that fall and scored over 2,000 points (try imagine the unassuming guard with high socks pulling that act in the rough and tumble Big East)… and with Joe Smith dominating inside the Terps would reach the Final Four again in 1994 and ’95.  Smith and Moten would end their careers by beating UCLA for the championship in 1995.  This allowed Lefty to finally say that Maryland was in fact the “UCLA of the East”, to the surprise of absolutely no one.

Larry Bird’s supposed to fly in from Indianapolis…his back that gave him issues in the late 80’s after the Celtics’ third championship in a row needed more surgery this past summer.  Remember Boston coach KC Jones trademarking “Boston Three Party” and making a mint off the merchandising?  Savvy move.  Kevin McHale will be in town as well;  how about when as a rookie Bias stepped into the starting lineup so McHale could fully recover from foot surgery for the playoffs?  That not only allowed the Celtics to repeat as champs in 1987 but also kept McHale in prime shape for the ’88 and ’91 title runs.  Robert Parish may bring down the house with his deadpan wit (“the closest I came to smiling was watching Lenny play”).

Michael Jordan will be on hand as well.  The duo’s rivalry defined the decade like Bird & Magic or Russell & Wilt.  Jordan’s Bulls ended the Bird era by bouncing the defending champs in 1992…and although it took a while for the “Bias Bunch” to reload they were able to keep key cogs like Rick Fox and Brian Shaw on the roster to let the new talent know what it meant to be a true Celtic.  Titles in 1996, 98 and 2000 bookended Bias’ first three championships.  The last one was especially sweet as the Celtics beat a new generation of Lakers in Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant…especially with Larry Bird in the front office.  Bias probably kept Jordan from winning five or six rings.

And even though he coached a different sport, Bobby Ross will make an appearance…probably to bask in the 25th anniversary of the National Championship team that upset Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.  When Bias left College Park, Ross was fresh off guiding the Terps to a 9-3 season (with losses to eventual #2 Michigan, #3 Penn St. and #9 Miami)…and with a supportive Athletic Department Maryland was able to take things to the next level over the next decade.  Ross finally retired after the 2000 season, handing the program to Ralph Friedgen who promptly led the Terps to another ACC Title and an Orange Bowl in his first season.

What a celebration– and what a what-if.   It’s still too soon–over 33 years later.

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The second-to-last week of the regular season delivers another three local teams playing at the same time with Maryland-Nebraska, Navy-SMU, and Virginia Tech-Pitt each taking place in the 3:30 p.m. window.  Nationally we get a few showdowns that will decide divisions, from Ohio State-Penn State in the Big Ten East to San Diego State-Hawa’ii in the Mountain West West (not a typo; just like the ACC the MWC takes its division names from the league).  Also on the menu are Pac-12 rivalry matchups like USC-UCLA and Cal-Stanford that should be the final games of the regular season (thanks, Notre Dame) but aren’t.  In the mix is the traditional SEC weekend where they play lower-tier schools, from Alabama-Western Carolina and Auburn-Samford.  Vanderbilt’s no slouch in the November cupcake department (although at 2-8 you could make the argument that the Commodores are tremendous slouches) by hosting East Tennessee State, who’s lost to both Western Carolina and Samford.  But that’s not the issue I have with the Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference by extension.

My beef is that despite each being a 14-school league they only play eight conference games.  Why does this matter?   The other conferences competing for spots in the College Football Playoff have played nine league games since 2005 (Pac-12), 2011 (Big 12), and 2016 (Big Ten).  That’s one more game against a school with similar budgets and facilities, one more chance to stumble in a world where one loss is near-deadly and two are all but fatal to College Football Playoff hopes.  By playing just eight conference games, the SEC and ACC artificially inflate its elites.  Under this format, Alabama doesn’t have to play Georgia and Florida ever in the same season.  Meanwhile, Penn State had to visit both Iowa and Minnesota this fall in crossover games (and went 1-1).  Oklahoma will likely have to beat Baylor twice to reach the playoff.  And the Oregon/Utah Pac-12 Championship Game winner (barring a pre-title tilt slide) will have to cross its fingers for inclusion in football’s final four.  All while a one-loss Alabama that didn’t win its division somehow is in the driver’s seat to another National Semifinal appearance-again.

It’s amazing how the NCAA that micromanages its athletes has very little influence in how its member conferences do their business.  If the SEC and ACC won’t go to a nine conference game schedule, I’m more than fine with the Pac-12, Big Ten, and Big 12 returning to eight games.  There’d be fewer good matchups and more non-conference schedule stuffers, but at least the Power Five Leagues would be on level playing fields.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange are two wins away from a glorious return to the Pinstripe Bowl, with rebuilding Louisville in their path this week.  The road has not been kind to SU this fall as they’re averaging under 20 points per game away from the Dome, and the Cardinals aren’t your traditional rebuilding team after wins over Virginia and NC State while also putting 62 points on the board against then-unbeaten Wake Forest.  Thank goodness for basketball.

 

Virginia (7-3) vs. Liberty (6-4), noon (ACC Network Extra).

The Cavaliers attempt to mimic the SEC elites by having a non-conference game the week before their “rivalry game” (note that I’ve used “air quotes” because UVa has lost 15 straight in this series).  They chose a beaut as the Flames do not have a great track record against Power Five Conference schools this year;  they were shut out Labor Day weekend by a Syracuse defense that would cough up 104 points in its next two games, and would later allow 44 points in a loss to a Rutgers offense that had scored a total of 30 points in its previous six games. The Cavaliers’ defense that started strong but has surrendered an average of 29 points in its last three games will have its eyes on Liberty wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden:  the senior’s 1,244 receiving yards represent 41.4% of his team’s passing offense.

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.”

Presto’s Pick: nuances aside, the Cavaliers continue their season of possibilities with a 38-17 win.

 

Maryland (3-7, 1-6 Big Ten) vs. Nebraska (4-6, 2-5), 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network).

If you think the Terps are questioning the football impact of leaving the ACC for the Big Ten, think about the Cornhuskers.  Since bolting the Big 12 they haven’t finished in the Top 20 and have won just one division title–and that was during the Leaders & Legends era (it gets worse:  the 2012 Legends champs allowed 70 points in the Big Ten Championship Game to a third place Wisconsin team that advanced because Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible).  Scott Frost is just 22 games into his tenure;  year one saw the Cornhuskers finish 4-2 after an 0-6 start while year two began 4-2 and before the current four-game losing streak.  Defense may take the day off in College Park; Nebraska’s allowed 35 points per game during their slide while Maryland’s coughing up an average of 47 points during their five game losing streak.

Presto’s Pick:  Terrapins tumble, 38-24.

 

Virginia Tech (7-3, 4-2 ACC) vs. Pitt (7-3, 4-2), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN2).

Doubt the Hokies at your own peril.  Just like it takes those smoked turkey legs at Lane Stadium quite a bit of time to cook properly (and quite a bit of time to consume as well), this year’s team was slow-roasting to success.  The switch from quarterback Ryan Willis to Hendon Hooker helped stop the avalanche of turnovers, and once the defense wasn’t given horrible field position the unit played like the Bud Foster defenses of old.  The school honored the soon-to-be-retiring Foster before the win over Wake Forest and then honored him during their shutout of Georgia Tech.  The Panthers bring a decent defense to Blacksburg, leading the ACC in stopping the run (only 2.8 yards per carry) and their 45 sacks are tops in the conference.  But they also bring an offense that has struggled to score (17 points against Delaware, 20 against Georgia Tech).

Presto’s Pick: Hokies set up a Coastal Divsion showdown with a 20-12 win.

 

Navy (7-2, 5-1 AAC) vs. SMU (9-1, 5-1), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).

Contrasting styles take to the field as the Mids boast the best rushing offense (349 yards per game) squares off against the seventh best air attack (328 yards per game) in FBS. There’s a contrast in quarterbacks as well: Navy senior Malcolm Perry has 32 completions over nine games this fall while Shane Buechele completed 33 and 34 passes in his two games this month.  The Texas transfer has needed to air it out:  the Mustangs have allowed 54 and 51 points this month and rank 103rd in the nation in scoring defense. They’re last in the AAC and 124th nationally in stopping the pass.  And that’s where the preseason talk of Navy airing it out more comes into play;  so far the offense that’s averaged 9.68 passes per game since 2014 has thrown the ball 75 times in nine games (8.33) this fall.  And while Perry averages 6.4 yards per carry and 128.7 per game, stopping the run is the one of the few things the SMU defense actually does well.

Presto’s Pick:  Midshipmen can’t keep up in a 40-35 loss to the Mustangs.

 

Georgetown falls at Holy Cross, Howard loses at Morgan State, James Madison mauls Rhode Island, Richmond edges William & Mary, Towson tops Elon.

 

Last Week: 7-0. Overall: 77-30.

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College football loves to build up weekends around themes- from “Rivalry Week” to “Showdown Saturday” to “Rutgers isn’t scheduled at noon”.  They could have billed this past weekend as one of those “Separation Saturdays”:  previously unbeaten Minnesota and Baylor both fell for the first time this fall. The Golden Gophers were handcuffed by Iowa on the road while the Bears blew a 28-3 first half lead at home to Oklahoma.  Both schools were making cases for being in the College Football Playoff picture while rolling up either less-than-impressive wins or victories against less-than-impressive foes.  November football has a way of sorting things out.  Alabama (9-1) may have steamrolled Mississippi State, but the Crimson Tide lose quarterback Tua Tagovailoa for the rest of the season with a dislocated hip. They still have Auburn in two weeks and won’t play in the SEC Championship game unless No. 1 LSU loses to Arkansas (0-6 in the SEC) and Texas A&M.   This week’s Final Four:  LSU, Ohio State, Clemson & Georgia.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange somehow came out of the bye week on fire and roasted Duke 49-6.  This keeps the faint bowl hopes alive, with rebuilding Louisville and fading Wake Forest on the horizon.  Can you say “Pinstripe Bowl possibilities”?  I’m just happy that SU didn’t go winless in the ACC after being ranked in the preseason.  It’s like getting an order of wings and realizing you didn’t get all flats after all.

 

Navy (7-2) saw things get late early in South Bend; the 52-20 loss at Notre Dame saw the Fighting Irish take a 38-0 lead before the Mids got on the board.  Thankfully this won’t affect their status in the AAC West, but head coach Ken Niumatalolo needs to get this loss out of his team’s head pronto.  They can’t let the Fighting Irish beat them on successive Saturdays.  Easy to say when you’re not an 18-to-22 year old.

Midshipmen Medals: Malcolm Perry ran for 117 yards while Mychal Cooper caught three passes for 73 yards and a touchdown.  Jacob Springer and Diego Fagot each notched ten tackles.  Owen White averaged 41.7 yards per punt while Bijan Nichols made both of his field goal attempts.

Midshipmen Miscues: four fumbles led to 28 points for Notre Dame;  the first two helped put Navy down 21-0 with 12:32 left in the second quarter.  The passing game that was supposed to take flight this fall completed 4-13 attempts on a day when they needed to rally.  The defense allowed six touchdowns plus a field goal on their first seven possessions.  While they contained the Fighting Irish running game (3.4 yards per carry), the secondary was roasted for 305 yards on 22 attempts.

Saturday: at 3:30 p.m. against 9-1 SMU.

 

Virginia Tech (7-3, 4-2 ACC) may have been wondering in early October if this turnover-prone team with a rather accommodating defense could scrape together enough wins to keep its bowl streak intact.  As we enter the second half of November the Hokies are two wins away from returning to the ACC Championship Game (VT has won the Coastal six times in fourteen years), and their 45-0 rout of Georgia Tech puts division-leading Virginia and defending Coastal champ Pitt on notice.

Hokie Highlights: Hendon Hooker completed 9-13 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown while running for two more scores. And no fumbles or interceptions.  The running game pounded out 258 yards, with this week’s trick play involving a 49-yard scamper from freshman Tayvion Robinson.  Alan Tisdale notched a pair of sacks as the defense held the Yellow Jackets to 2-15 on third down and posted its first shutout since their 10-0 blanking of Virginia in 2017.  That Hokies D posted three shutouts en route to a 9-4 season.  Oscar Bradburn averaged 45.5 yards per punt.

Hokie Humblings:  tough to find one in as thorough a rout as this one.  The offense moved the chains on just 3-10 third downs.  I’m sure the postgame meal could have been better as well.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. vs. 7-3 Pitt.

 

 

 

Lightbulbs went off over the heads of many in Charlottesville and Blacksburg this past Tuesday night.  Could Virginia or Virginia Tech crash college football’s New Year’s Bowl party?  Like many things in and around the sport with the best regular season and worst postseason, the answer is both yes and no.

The weekly College Football Playoff rankings release amuse me like few other things do. First, there’s the 13-member committee in place to select and seed four teams (spots five and six are akin to being named a top seed in the NIT).  Second, there’s the short-sightedness than comes with releasing playoff rankings when there are three or four games remaining in a 13-game audition (imagine people freaking out looking at the NFL standings December 1st when there is still a month to play).  Then there’s the weekly over-reaction that this Tuesday involved high fives in Baton Rouge (LSU rightfully No. 1 after their road win at unbeaten Alabama) as well as arguments in Tuscaloosa and Athens (Georgia’s loss in overtime to a 4-5 South Carolina not as impressive as losing to the Tigers).  And that’s just the SEC.  Shrugs by the Pac-12 and Big 12 while seeing their schools on the outside of a ridiculously small playoff party are almost expected at this time every year.

This week there was nervous anticipation in Charlottesville and Blacksburg.  Not that three-loss Virginia or Virginia Tech have any shot to make college football’s version of the final four, even if they win the ACC by beating an unbeaten Clemson.  But if the Tigers make the playoff field (at 10-0 they’re currently third and won’t be anything less than a double-digit favorite in any of their remaining games), somebody else from the sad-sack ACC has to go to the Orange Bowl.

Even in today’s College Football Playoff Era, there are some vestiges of 20th Century college football that still have value.  Along with the Sugar, the Orange Bowl is the second-oldest postseason game behind the Rose.  It’s one of five games that predate World War II (Cotton and Sun complete the trivia answer).  The brand still stands amidst the flood of 39 (!?) bowls that are played nowadays;  if you ask a Maryland fan about Ralph Friedgen’s ten-year run, they’ll most likely bring up the trip to the 2002 Orange Bowl.  And let’s be honest, even with the sponsor tag the “Capital One Orange Bowl” sounds much more impressive than the “Camping World Bowl” and “Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl”.

With Virginia and Virginia Tech on track to play for the Coastal Division crown in two weeks (Pitt can still play spoiler by beating the Hokies November 23) and Wake Forest suddenly slipping (the Demon Deacons have gone from 5-0 to 7-2 and are a 34.5 point underdog at Clemson Saturday), orange could be in more than the winner’s uniforms come January 1st.  Actually, the Orange Bowl that’s referred to by the College Football Playoff as one of the “New Year’s Six” Bowl will be played December 30 this year. Stupid progress.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange are on the precipice of postseason elimination as they visit a Duke team that somehow went into Blacksburg two months ago and beat Virginia Tech by 35.  That Hokie team and all of their turnovers was a major hot mess.  The Blue Devils’ other ACC win is against last-place Georgia Tech.  Those two league wins are two more than SU has this year.  But Duke has dropped three straight.  So…you’re saying there’s still a chance at a Pinstripe Bowl berth banner?

 

Virginia Tech (6-3, 3-2 ACC) at Georgia Tech (2-7, 1-5), 3:30 p.m. (ACCN Extra).

Like the Death Star’s tractor beam slowly sucking the Millennium Falcon towards it, the Hokies have been crawling towards a Coastal Division Crown since early October.  They’ve crawled out of the early-season ashes thanks to a defense that’s hitting its stride;  they held Notre Dame in check for 59 minutes in their loss at South Bend and shut down the previously high-scoring Wake Forest offense last Saturday.  Next up:  a Yellow Jacket team that scored 28 points at Virginia last week to tie their high for the season, but one that’s still at the bottom of the ACC in passing, total yards and scoring.  More importantly, Hendon Hooker is back at quarterback and even though the redshirt sophomore lost a fumble in their win over the Demon Deacons he’s yet to throw an interception this season.  His wheels will also be a nightmare to a Georgia Tech defense that’s the worst in the conference against the run.

Presto’s Pick:  Hokies handle the Yellow Jackets, 31-19.

 

No. 21 Navy (7-1) at No. 16 Notre Dame (7-2), 2:30 p.m. (NBC).

For two programs that have enjoyed plenty of recent success (the Mids will appear in their 15th bowl this century while the Fighting Irish have played in the BCS Championship Game and the College Football playoff this decade) this is the first time these annual foes are both ranked entering their showdown since 1978.  The series has actually turned into a rivalry with respect since the Mids ended their long losing streak to the Fighting Irish in 2007;  they’ve won four of the last 12 meetings with three of the eight losses coming by single digits.  Expect the Midshipmen to try to kill the clock like they did in their 2016 victory where Notre Dame had just six possessions.  A bigger test will be how Navy’s defense will fare against Fighting Irish quarterback Ian Book; the senior is coming off of a tour de force performance at Duke where he threw four touchdown passes while also rushing for a career-high 139 yards.  The much-improved unit has also had issues after halftime this fall, allowing 19 second-half points to Air Force, 21 in their loss to Memphis, and 24 in a last-second win over Tulane.

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen come up short, 34-21.

 

Virginia enjoys its second bye week of the season, meaning 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”.

 

Georgetown falls at Bucknell, Howard is humbled at Florida A& M, James Madison beats Richmond, Towson tops William & Mary, Morgan State beats Virginia Lynchburg.

 

Last week: 7-2.

Overall: 70-30.

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You just knew this was going to happen.  On a Saturday where No. 1 LSU outscored No. 2 Alabama and No. 5 Penn State would fall at unbeaten Minnesota despite a fourth quarter rally, two schools in the Commonwealth have placed themselves on track for an epic Thanksgiving weekend showdown.  Blame an ACC that divided its schools 15 years ago anticipating a much better showing from Miami.  Blame programs that are in full or semi-rebuild.  Blame a setup where three of your seven schools (Duke, UNC, UVa) value their standing more in basketball than football. In a world where most Power Five Conference divisions have one or two dominant programs (Alabama in the SEC West and Ohio State in the Big Ten East, for example), everybody wins in the ACC Coastal.

The past six years have seen six different schools represent the Coastal in the ACC Championship Game, and it only seemed comical to pump up Virginia (the lone holdout) as the natural successor this fall.  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 to do so 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.   The Hokies also once ruled the Coastal with an iron fist, taking the division five times over a seven-year span.  Virginia Tech still has to play their way into position over the next two weeks, but I’m marking November 29 on my calendar.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange had the weekend off and at 3-6 are still technically in contention for that Pinstripe Bowl berth, but 1- does anyone think this team can win even one more game? and 2- do we even want to see this team play another 60 minutes after the end of November?

 

Maryland (3-7, 1-6 Big Ten) was never in their game at No. 3 Ohio State; the Buckeyes would score on their first six possessions en route to a 73-14 rout that wasn’t as close as the score would suggest.  Perfect time to go on a bye week;  the team’s other week off came against a loss at Temple that set the season’s ceiling.  This defeat established the floor.  There is hope:  the team closes with consecutive games against teams that are currently 4-5.

Terrapin Triumphs: Javon Leake continues to shine on special teams with a 70-yard kickoff return. Keandre Jones tallied eight tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble against his former teammates (the senior transfer played in 34 games with the Buckeyes before coming to College Park).  The men’s basketball team bounced back from an early 12-point deficit to beat Rhode Island Saturday night,  allowing those who made the flight the chance to see the Terps score 73 points in a different sport.

Terrapin Troubles:  seven sacks allowed by an offensive line that remains a work in progress but remains the key for future teams if they want to compete in the Big Ten East.  The offense converted just 2 of 11 third downs while the defense let Ohio State move the chains on 9 of 14 attempts.

Next: November 23 at home at 3:30 p.m. against 4-5 Nebraska.

 

Virginia (7-3, 5-2 ACC) moved within one victory of a first-ever Coastal Division crown, but as has been the case this fall it wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination.  The 33-28 win over Georgia Tech saw the previously hapless Yellow Jackets lead for most of the first half before Bryce Perkins donned his Superman’s cape yet again and led the Cavaliers to victory.  All that stands between UVa and the ACC Championship Game is Virginia Tech.  How have they fared against the Hokies lately?

Cavalier Congrats: Bryce Perkins is my choice for ACC Player of the Year;  once again the quarterback shines in the air (258 yards and a touchdown passing) while making plays on the ground (106 yards and a touchdown rushing).  His top target Saturday was Terrell Jana, who made 9 catches for 108 yards.  Joey Blount’s first quarter interception not only set up a short field for a game-tying TD, but it also stopped Tech’s early success (the visitors drove 75 yards on each of their first two possessions for scores).

Cavalier Concerns: the defense had some serious hiccups early, allowing Georgia Tech 21 first-half points (it could have been worse; GT missed a 30-yard field goal) after the Yellow Jackets entered the day last in the ACC in passing, total and scoring offense.  One week after allowing a number of big plays to North Carolina, the D surrendered passes of 37, 38, and 59 yards.  They also have a bye week coming up, meaning they’ve chosen to take extra time to prepare for the juggernaut that is Liberty.

Next: November 23 at home at noon against the aforementioned 6-4 Liberty.   

 

Virginia Tech (6-3, 3-2 ACC) honored longtime and soon to be retiring Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster Saturday before their game against Wake Forest, and his unit put its best 60-minute effort together in a 36-17 win over the Demon Deacons.  The team that was teetering at 2-2 all of a sudden controls its path to the ACC Championship Game:  three more wins and the Hokies take the Coastal Division.

Hokie Highlights: Hendon Hooker isn’t Bryce Perkins just yet, but give him time. The redshirt sophomore threw for 242 yards while rushing for 69 in his return from injury.  Ja’Cquez recorded 11 tackles while the defense held Wake to season-lows in yards and points.  Special Teams was just that:  Brian Johnson converted all three field goal attempts, Oscar Bradburn averaged 51.2 yards per punt, and Tayvion Robinson delivered a 33-yard punt return.

Hokie Humblings: the offense had issues early and often, converting just 3 of 14 third downs while losing two of three fumbles.  Seven penalties (two of which resulted in Demon Deacon first downs) for 55 yards didn’t hurt this week, but the Hokies have minimal room for error if they want to stay on the road to Charlotte and the ACC Championship Game.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on the road against 2-7 Georgia Tech.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

The second Saturday of November represents a major upgrade in matchups.  No offense to Florida-Georgia, but a pair of one-loss teams in The Swamp pales in comparison to not only two games involving unbeatens but the first No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the regular season since 2011.  That game was LSU-Alabama played in Tuscaloosa, and that’s exactly the same matchup served up this weekend.  But on the undercard at noon is Penn State-Minnesota.  While both 8-0 teams hung over 50 points on Maryland, one serves as a model for Terps head coach Mike Locksley as he builds his program in the shadow of the Big Ten East’s blueblood programs.

Minnesota has a history just like Maryland; both schools have National Championships to their credit while not enjoying a ton of success in the 21st century.  Each has appeared in more Quick Lane Bowls than Big Ten Championship Games.  They’re also both located in a major metropolitan area and compete for attention with multiple professional franchises.  In addition to those obstacles, while Maryland is primarily thought of as a basketball school, the University of Minnesota is a hockey school through and through; the late Herb Brooks won three NCAA championships there before directing the US team to 1980’s “Miracle on Ice”.  Just as the Terps are the red-haired stepchild in a division dominated by Ohio State and Penn State, the Golden Gophers aren’t even the “other school” in the West, standing in line behind Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska.

But somehow after going 5-7 and 7-6 in head coach P.under head coach P.J. Fleck the Golden Gophers have scraped through a light September schedule before turning into a steamroller:  their first four wins have come by a combined 20 points, and their four most recent victories have come by an average of 32 points.  Even if they stumble against Penn State, Wisconsin, and Iowa, this has been an incredible season.  Can Maryland follow the Minnesota model?

The first key should be finding the right quarterback and keeping him healthy. Just twice in the last 15 years have the Terps started the same quarterback in every game of the season:  both years have been special (2006 and 2014) relative to the other seasons over that stretch.  But the key is keeping him healthy; and that starts with an offensive line.  Maryland’s front five averages 305 pounds.  That’s how much the lightest lineman for the Golden Gophers weighs;  the unit averages 340 points-and they have a 6-foot-9 400 pounder on the roster.  Until Maryland’s offensive and defensive lines mirror the likes of Minnesota’s, the Terps will be a team with splashy skill guys that have trouble overcoming limited lines.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange have this week off, but that didn’t stop another underwhelming night in the Dome from happening.  But instead of the defense allowing 40+ points it was the offense that scored fewer than 40 points.  The 48-34 loss to Virginia was an agonizing way to begin the men’s basketball season; usually November hoops is the necessary salve for the wounds one gets during the first two months of SU football.  It looks like I picked the wrong week to stop drinking bleu cheese dressing.

 

Saturday’s Games-

Maryland (3-6, 1-5 Big Ten) at No. 3 Ohio State (8-0, 5-0), noon (FOX).

The Terps were an incomplete two-point conversion away from upsetting the Buckeyes last year in overtime.  This year’s team is once again on a downward spiral towards being home for the holidays, while the Buckeyes have a two-game semi-preseason (they face Rutgers next week) before battling unbeaten Penn State and arch-rival Michigan.  Like they need a tune-up: OSU  leads the Big Ten in scoring offense and defense, rushing offense and passing defense. Their pass rush has a conference-high 34 sacks while the attack converts third downs at a mind-numbing 57.3%.  If you’re the Maryland defense that allows the second most points and yards in the Big Ten (thank you Rutgers for being in the conference), who do you stop?  Quarterback Justin Fields, who’s posting a better passer rating than Dwayne Haskins did while throwing 50 TD passes last year?  Or runningback J.K. Dobbins, who’s averaging 7.2 yards per carry when not sounding like he belongs in a Charles Dickens story?  The best Buckeye is actually on the other side of the ball, as defensive end Chase Young has 13.5 sacks on the season.  Good luck to an overmatched and oft-injured offensive line group. FRIDAY UPDATE: OSU is holding the DeMatha Catholic product and Hyattsville MD native out of Saturday’s game due to a potential 2018 NCAA violation.  But the Buckeyes still boast a unit that includes the likes of Malik Taylor (41 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and Baron Browning (2.5 sacks).

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins tumble, 45-10.

 

Virginia (6-3, 4-2 ACC) vs. Georgia Tech (2-6, 1-4), 12:30 p.m. (ACC Network Extra).  November in the ACC usually brings three questions to the forefront: 1- can Clemson get back in the Playoff, 2- who emerges from the quagmire that is the Coastal Division, and 3-should we make Duke or UNC the men’s basketball favorite?  Actually, the Blue Devils/Tar Heels question is more 1A than 3 there–and let’s be honest, UVa is wondering why the defending National Champs aren’t getting more respect despite losing multiple starters to the NBA.  The Cavaliers can take comfort in the fact that they are two wins away from a first-ever Coastal division title, while the Yellowjackets are the lone division team no longer in contention.  They’re in the first year under head coach Geoff Collins and look like a rebuild from central casting:  last in the ACC in passing, total and scoring offense while also bringing up the rear in stopping the run.  Bryce Perkins prepares to don his Superman’s cape one more time after tallying 490 total yards and five touchdowns against North Carolina.

Kippy & Buffy know that not all heroes wear capes; sometimes they make fantastic wines.  In honor of the Yellowjackets’ 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.”  

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers continue to follow their Coastal compass in a 34-16 win.

 

Virginia Tech (5-3, 2-2 ACC) vs. No. 22 Wake Forest (7-1, 3-1), 3:30 p.m. (ACC Net).

The Hokies and Demon Deacons get together a few weeks before the fifth year anniversary of the last time they met on the football field.  Remember that dark day in Winston-Salem?  The 6-3 double-overtime win by Wake that was even more as soul-sucking as it sounds and was the metaphorical beginning of the end of the Frank Beamer era as he was captured on video celebrating a missed field goal at the end of regulation but with the 0-0 score in graphics to frame the shot.  The Demon Deacons bring a much better offense into Blacksburg this time, leading the ACC in passing while ranking second in scoring. Even in their lone loss, quarterback Jamie Newman and company put 59 points on the board against Louisville.  The Hokies are coming off of a tough loss at Notre Dame where the offense completed 32% of their passes and gained 2.8 yards per rush.  Wake’s no Fighting Irish on defense, but they lead the conference in turnover margin and are third best at getting off of the field on third down.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies come up short, 27-20.

 

Howard loses to South Carolina State, James Madison beats New Hampshire, Richmond slips at Villanova, William & Mary tops Rhode Island, Towson tumbles at Stony Brook, Morgan State falls against North Carolina A&T.

Last Week: 6-4.

Overall: 63-28.