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

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

 

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

 

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

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College football begins its annual transition from the best regular season in sports to a most unwieldy postseason.  Conference championship weekend kicks off with a defensive duel by the Bay and ends with a pair of mismatches.  Two locals are in action- with one school fighting for a potential FCS Title game rematch and the other attempting to reach the Pinstripe Bowl.  Hey, we all have to have dreams.  For those who already have their college hoop hats on, a primer to insert yourself into conversations this weekend:

 

Pac-12- #11 Washington (9-3) vs. #17 Utah (9-3) , 8 p.m. Friday (FOX).

At Stake:  a berth in the Rose Bowl.  Which before the BCS and then the playoff was all you hoped for.  Now with the playoff this is effectively the kid’s table at holiday functions.

Rematch?: the Huskies won the September 15th meeting 21-7 in a game where Myles Gaskin rushed for 143 yards.  Since coming back from injury, the senior is averaging 151 yards on the ground.

Who to Watch: the top two defenses in the conference boast the necessary difference makers, with Washington’s Benn Burr-Kirven leading the conference in tackles (155) and Utah’s Bradlee Anae topping the league with eight sacks.

Fun Fact: nine of the 12 schools have played for the championship in its eight-year history.

Presto’s Pick:  Huskies handle the Utes, 24-10.

 

Big 12- #5 Oklahoma (11-1) vs. Texas (9-3), noon (ABC).

At Stake:  the Sooners are playing for a potential spot in the Playoffs and should get in with a win plus a loss by Georgia or Clemson.  The Longhorns are trying to make everyone forget they began the year with a loss at FedEx Field to Maryland.

Rematch?:  Oh my Gus yes.  UT won 48-45 on a last-second field goal after OU rallied from 21 points down in the second half.  How is this game not on FOX?

Players to Watch:  Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray may not be Baker Mayfield, but the future baseball prospect did throw for 3674 yards and 37 touchdowns.  The Longhorns hope their defensive standouts Charles Omenihu (DE), Gary Johnson (LB) and freshman Caden Sterns (S) can slow Murray and company down.

Fun Fact:  this is the first time these two schools have played twice since 1903.  Although Texas did play Penn Radio School twice in 1918.

Presto’s Pick:  Sooners take another thriller, 44-34.

 

Virginia Tech (5-6) vs. Marshall (8-3), noon (ACC Network).  How did this game even happen?  Oh yes, Hurricane Florence canceled the Hokies game with East Carolina.

At Stake: a win sends the Hokies to their 26th straight bowl while a loss ends what has been a massively frustrating season.  And after the way this team played down the stretch (four losses in five games), many would rather not watch another sixty minutes of VT football this fall.

Rematch?: the two schools last met in 2013, a 29-21 Hokies victory decided in triple-overtime.

Players to Watch:  VT quarterback Ryan Willis has played admirably since taking over for the injured Josh Jackson.  Thundering Herd freshman Isaiah Green has led Marshall to three straight wins, including an upset of FIU that kept the Panthers out of the Conference USA Championship Game.

Fun Fact:  while the Hokies currently own a 15-game winning streak against instate foe Virginia, the Thundering Herd has yet to beat West Virginia in 12 tries.

Presto’s Pick:  Hokies are humbled, 39-31.

 

FCS Second Round- James Madison (9-3) at #8 Colgate (9-1), 1 p.m. (ESPN3).

At Stake: a berth in the quarterfinals, likely against defending national champ North Dakota State.

Rematch?:  the two teams met in the 2015 FCS Playoffs, with the Raiders upsetting the Dukes 44-38 in what would be Everett Withers’ final game as head coach in Harrisonburg.

Players to Watch:  Colgate’s James Holland led the Patriot League in rushing, and the Raiders defense allowed 5.7 points per game.  JMU led the CAA in scoring behind quarterback Ben DiNucci, who might not be Bryan Schor but threw for 223 yards and a touchdown in last weekend’s win over Delaware.

Fun Fact:  originally it appeared as though coach Mike Houston would be departing JMU for Charlotte, but the Conference USA school has rescinded its offer after Houston wanted to field other opportunities. One thinks Georgia Tech might come knocking…

Presto’s Pick:  Dukes advance to another date with North Dakota State, 23-10.

 

AAC- #8 UCF (11-0) vs. Memphis (8-4), 3:30 p.m. (ABC).

At Stake: a potential second straight unbeaten season for the Knights, who can declare a “national championship” for themselves while watching the Playoff take place.

Rematch?: UCF won 31-30 October 13th in Memphis. McKenzie Milton rallied the Knights back from a double-digit deficit.  This time he’s on the sidelines in streetclothes, as the junior’s season ended with a broken leg against South Florida.

Players to Watch:  freshman Darriel Mack starts at QB.  Cause for confidence- he rushed for 120 yards in a game against East Carolina.  Cause for concern- he’s completing less than 50% of his passes this fall.  Tigers runningback Darrell Henderson rushed for 199 yards against UCF in October and finished with 1698 yards on the season (8.6 average).

Fun Fact:  UCF is coming off of a win against Alabama-on the men’s basketball court.  The Knights beat the Crimson Tide 70-64 Thursday.  Amazing how Bama can fit them on their hoops schedule.

Presto’s Pick:  Knights minus Milton see their unbeaten paradise lost, 30-20.

 

SEC Championship- #1 Alabama (12-0) vs. #4 Georgia (11-1), 4 p.m. (CBS).

At Stake:  the Bulldogs can punch their ticket to a second straight Playoff with a win, while the Crimson Tide are pretty much in the Playoff as long as they don’t lose by 50.  Makes you buy into the “every Saturday counts” mantra the college game feeds you.

Rematch?:  last year the Tide topped Georgia in overtime on a Tua Tagovailoa 41-yard TD pass in overtime of the National Championship Game.

Players to Watch:  Tagovailoa has completed 70% of his passes this year for 3189 yards plus 36 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.  The Bulldogs boast a tailback tandem in sophomore D’Andre Swift and junior Elijah Holyfield- each averaging over six yards per carry.

Fun Fact:  Nick Saban is 5-1 in SEC Championship Game appearances.

Presto’s Pick:  Tide triumph, 27-6.

 

Big Ten- #6 Ohio State (11-1) vs. #21 Northwestern (8-4), 8 p.m. (FOX).

At Stake- the Buckeyes need a win plus help to make the Playoff, while the Wildcats are one win away from their first Rose Bowl berth since 1996.

Rematch?:  the two schools last played in 2016, a 24-20 win by OSU in Columbus.

Players to Watch:  Potomac, MD native Dwayne Haskins completed 69% of his passes and threw for 42 touchdowns.  The Wildcats defense is anchored by linebacker Blake Gallagher, who finished second in the conference (behind Maryland’s Tre Watson) with 112 tackles.

Fun Fact:  Maryland and Rutgers have both been to as many Big Ten Championship games as Michigan has.

Presto’s Pick:  Buckeyes begin the waiting game by winning 23-13.

 

ACC- #2 Clemson (12-0) vs. Pitt (7-5), 8 p.m. (ABC).

At Stake- the Tigers need a win or losses by Ohio State and Oklahoma to feel safe about another berth in the College Football Playoff.  The Panthers are playing for a shot at their first prestige bowl since the 2008 Sun (no offense to the Pinstripe or the BBVA Compass).

Rematch?:  Pitt won the last meeting, a 43-42 upset at Clemson decided on a last-second field goal.  The Tigers went on to win the National Title that season.

Players to Watch:  both teams boast outstanding rushing attacks, with Clemson’s Travis Etienne gaining 1307 yards on 8.0 per carry and Pitt providing a terrific tandem in Qadree Ollison (235 yards against Virginia Tech) and Darrin Hall (229 yards against Virginia).

Fun Fact:  the Coastal Division has been won by six different schools over the last six years.  Virginia–get ready to roll in 2019!

Presto’s Pick:  Tigers pound the Panthers, 38-14.

 

Last Week: 3-2. Thanks, UVa.

Overall: 64-41.

Sometimes an NFL season can turn on a dime.  In the span of four days last week, the Redskins lost their starting quarterback for the season and fell out of sole possession of first place of the NFC East.  Instead of 8-3 with a three game lead in the division, the Burgundy and Gold are fighting for their playoff lives with a backup quarterback that hasn’t seen regular action in four years.  The 23-21 loss to Houston and 31-23 defeat at Dallas don’t have this team on the ropes, but they’re not in great shape for 2018–or beyond.

Broken Leg, Busted Dreams- the season-ending injury of Alex Smith came on the 33rd anniversary of Joe Theismann’s career-ending compound fracture against the New York Giants.  Before the injury, Smith had thrown interceptions on back to back first half possessions.  He also had his lowest completion percentage and yards per attempt of the season and was sacked three times for the third straight week.  Now the veteran stares into the face of an 8 to 10 month rehabilitation.  Will he be able to come back after this?  And if not, how does this team handle the salary cap albatross?

Colt at the Controls- while McCoy threw a touchdown pass on his first drive off the bench, he tossed three interceptions against the Cowboys.  The new starter has a 73.9 passer rating, but now has a full week of practice reps with the first string for the first time since 2014.  So there’s that.  And didn’t he have his best moment in a Monday night on the road that year?

Third and New- under McCoy, the Skins converted 5 of 15 third downs.  The lone running play saw Adrian Peterson gain four yards on third and one.  Colt completed 3 of 9 passes with each of his completions resulting in a conversion while getting sacked twice and scrambling twice (moving the chains once).  His top target:  Jordan Reed (two catches/conversions in four passes thrown to).

Flying Flags- six penalties for 43 yards against Houston and four infractions for 25 yards at Dallas, giving the team 64 penalties (14th most in the league) for 692 yards (5th highest).  Four on offense (three false starts and a hold), five on defense (three holds, an illegal use of the hands, and a roughing the passer) and a hold on special teams.  For the season, offensive holding (23) and false starts (17) are the biggest offenders.  Morgan Moses has the most accepted penalties (8) while Fabian Moreau (6) is gaining ground; the safety’s hold in the fourth quarter against Dallas allowed the Cowboys to hold the ball for three more minutes and help kill the clock.

Dissecting the Division- the loss drops the Skins to second place in the NFC East, as Dallas owns the division record tiebreaker.  While the Cowboys own the fourth seed in the NFC, the Redskins are sixth-taking the second wildcard thanks to a conference  record tiebreaker against Seattle and a head-to-head tiebreaker against Carolina.  Philadelphia’s rally past the New York Giants keeps the Eagles’ season from hitting the skids…the third place team is ninth overall in the conference.  The New York Giants had a chance to escape the cellar but instead stay in the basement and are 14th in the NFC.

If the playoffs began today- the NFC matchups would have the Redskins visiting Chicago and Dallas hosting Minnesota; with top seed New Orleans playing the Cowboys, Vikings or Skins and the Los Angeles Rams meeting the Bears, Dallas or the Vikes.  The AFC would have Pittsburgh hosting the Los Angeles Chargers and Baltimore at Houston, with top seed Kansas City drawing the Steelers, Chargers or Ravens and New England preparing for the Texans, Pittsburgh or LA.

Competing Quartets, and the Conference Contest- the NFC East is 20-24…tied for sixth best (or worst, depending on your perspective) with the AFC East and NFC West.  The NFC South and AFC West are the tied for first at 24-20.  The AFC currently owns a 24-23 edge over the NFC.

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Friday’s Game-

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

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

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

 

Saturday’s Games-

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

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

Midshipmen stumble, 35-30. 

 

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

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

Terrapins tumble, 34-22.

 

FCS Playoffs:

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

Towson triumphs, 33-25.

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

Dukes defeat Delaware, 31-16.

 

Last Week: 5-3.

Overall: 61-39.

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

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

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

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

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

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

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

It was brought to my attention after I praised Northwestern’s run to the Big Ten West that their division is subpar, and that’s absolutely right.  The West is far from being the best this fall, as has been the custom since the conference put “Leaders & Legends” into the trash can where it belonged.  But the Big Ten’s Division discussion is far from unique, as each of the Power Five Conferences have long boasted a Darryl Hall as well as a John Oates. (Or, depending on your age and interest: Paul Simon/Art Garfunkel, George Michael/Andrew Ridgeley, Kix Brooks/Ronnie Dunn, Big Kenny/John Rich).  Even the ten-member Big 12 had that issue, as the South won 12 of 15 championship games.

At least the Big Ten West has a ranked team in the Wildcats.  That’s not the case in the ACC’s Coastal where a 4-loss Pitt  is all but headed to Charlotte for a showdown with unbeaten Clemson (that will certainly end well).  The Atlantic Division has won seven straight and is 9-4 in a league set up for Miami and Florida State to face off for the title (and they’ve yet do do so).  Despite the imagined edge, the Atlantic and Coastal have won an equal amount of inter-divisional games this fall.

The Pac 12 division of fortune is similar, with two ranked schools in the North and just one in the South (a #19 Utah that has three league losses).  The North has won six of seven Championship Games and this year looks like more of the same, with a 5-4 South champion an extreme possibility.  The North owns a two-game edge inter-divisonally, with everyone wondering when USC and UCLA will get their respective acts in gear.

You’d expect the SEC to have a marked difference, especially with the West winning seven of eight titles this decade (although it was 5-5 the previous decade and the East dominated the 90’s).  But the East has actually taken seven of 12 inter-division games.  Even Vanderbilt is getting into the act.  Of course, everybody-in the East and West-is and will be chasing Alabama now and for some time.  My only issue is that Missouri is west of the Mississippi River yet plays in the East Division.

Which brings us to the Big Ten.  This year there are three East Division teams in the top 14 with Northwestern repping the West at #22.  The East owns an 11-8 edge and enjoyed a 13-8 advantage last year, but the West won 11 of 21 games in 2016 and the two divisions were even the previous two years.  The East is 4-0 in the Championship Game, a small sample size to say the least.  And that span saw changes at formerly dominant programs Nebraska and Wisconsin.  How long the current divide will last between the divisions might just hinge on how long it takes for Scott Frost to get things going in Lincoln and how long it takes Paul Chryst to consolidate what he’s built in Madison.  Perhaps Urban Meyer (who’s resigned with health concerns before), Mike Dantonio (62 years old) and Jim Harbaugh (mentioned every year with NFL vacancies) won’t be on their current campuses forever.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was conference parity.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange haven’t started 9-2 since 1992, when Marvin Graves was at the peak of his powers.  SU heads to New York City to face #3 Notre Dame, and after the Fighting Irish won their first three games by single digits they’ve been on a roll.  The last time these two teams played, the Orange allowed 50 points.  While I’m hoping its not that bad, it can’t get worse than men’s basketball’s  loss to UConn at Madison Square Garden where somebody spelled a player’s name wrong on the back of their jersey.  Granted, it was only a freshman who played just six minutes.  But the kid’s name was-and is-Buddy Boeheim.  As in the son of the man who has been our head coach for the last 42 years–and has been on campus in one way or another since 1962.  I’m looking forward to buying a game replica Buddy Boheim jersey at Manny’s online.

Saturday’s Games-

Maryland (5-5, 3-4 Big Ten) vs. #9 Ohio State (9-1, 6-1), noon (ABC).  The Buckeyes happen to be the only team in the East Division the Terps haven’t beaten since joining the league, and it hasn’t been close:  the average score has been 56-17.  This year OSU owns the number one offense in the Big Ten thanks to the arm of Dwayne Haskins, who has 33 touchdown passes in ten games.  With Kasim Hill done for the year due to a torn ACL, the Terps will start redshirt sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome (who has thrown all of 31 passes this fall).  Expect Anthony McFarland (210 yards rushing against Indiana) to receive the lion’s share of attention, and while the Buckeyes aren’t as sharp on that side of the ball their defense is second-best at getting off of the field in the Big Ten.  Terrapins tumble, 44-14.

Virginia Tech (4-5, 3-3 ACC) vs. Miami (5-5, 2-4), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN).  The last two Coastal Division champs expected to be playing for another spot in the ACC Championship Game this weekend as recently as one month ago.  Instead, it’s a question of which team can salvage its sinking season. While the Hokies have dropped three in a row, the Hurricanes have lost four straight.  But not all slides into oblivion are created equally, as Miami has three one-possession losses in its tumble and Virginia Tech has dropped its three by an average of 20 points.  Tech’s slump can be traced to a defense that’s surrendered 30 or more points five times this fall;  the Cane’s decline can be traced to an offense that ranks 12th in the ACC in passing and a starting quarterback in N’Kosi Perry who hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in over a month.  Cover your eyes.  Hokies hurt a little more, 27-21.

Virginia (7-3, 4-2 ACC) at Georgia Tech (6-4, 3-3), 3:30 p.m. (ACC Network).  The Cavaliers can still win the Coastal Division, but only with two wins and two losses by Pitt.  The Yellowjackets may be out of the running for the division, but Coach Paul Johnson’s option offense will be running all afternoon- they lead the nation with 362 yards per game on the ground.  UVa just coughed up 205 yards rushing– to Liberty.  The home team has also prevailed in seven of eight meetings this decade.   Kippy & Buffy hit the road with a bottle of Cain Five.  The 2014 vintage is 51% Cabernet Sauvignon and 26% Merlot (remaining grapes used are split between Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot).  “The aromas are discrete: fruity—floral—herbal—spicy—and pure. On the palate, the wine has a certain density, but now the tannins have melted and this wine just flows.”  Cavaliers come up short, 33-26.

Navy (2-8, 1-5 AAC) vs. Tulsa (2-8, 1-5), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).  For just the second time all season, the Mids will face a team with a losing record -their October 6th trip to 1-3 Air Force being the other time.  The Golden Hurricane have lost eight of nine (the one win coming against one-win UConn) and rank tenth in the AAC at stopping the run while allowing 5.0 yards per carry.  Now that Zach Abey is back at the controls of the option offense, one can expect more of the 21-point second half they had against UCF and less of the 3-point first half they scraped together against the Knights last week.  The defense has to put together a solid sixty minutes together against Tulsa offense that ranks 11th in passing, total offense and points per game while allowing the most sacks this fall.  Midshipmen celebrate Senior Day in Annapolis with a 31-19 victory.

Howard beats Bryant, Georgetown gets by Holy Cross, James Madison tops Towson, William & Mary beats Richmond to send Jimmye Laycock out a winner.

Last Week: 6-4.

Overall: 56-36.