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Who’s ready for college basketball?  Opening days and weeks are kind of tricky.  Major League Baseball has it easy–the end of winter has everyone chomping at bit to get outside, and football signals the natural end of summer even though Labor Day weekend technically isn’t during the Autumnal Equinox.  But the winter sports provide a challenge:  the NHL and NBA begin their marathons in October when many minds (myself included this year) are still on baseball’s playoffs.  College hoops has been inching closer over the last couple of decades:  Georgetown and Maryland tipped off their seasons November 17th and 20th, respectively, while this year they will have played two games by November 9th.

Let the record show I love college basketball;  I’ve enjoyed covering Men’s Elite Eights and Women’s Final Fours and even wrote lyrics to the “CBS College Basketball” theme that plays throughout March.  I bask in the wall to wall basketball that is Conference Tournament week, and enjoy February as a month where schools get in position to be in position.  Nothing fills the football void better than conference play in January where you discover how good your team really is or was it a byproduct of a soft schedule.  I’m even all-in on December’s inter-sectional and non-conference affairs, as well as the holiday tournaments.  But early November is where I just have to say, “please”.

Have you ever eaten an Eggs Benedict?  Savored the poached eggs with hollandaise and ham (or, if you’re adventurous, try the Eggs Norwegian with smoked salmon instead)?  Imagine you’re eating one with incredibly crispy home fries.  And then somebody hands you a cheeseburger.  For those of us who cover, follow and love college football, that’s what these early men’s and women’s college basketball games are like.  It’s not that we don’t love college hoops–we do–but give us a chance to enjoy football’s most meaningful month of the regular season (some schools have four games-a third of their regular season-remaining) before giving us double helpings of early-season basketball.  They just released the first College Football Playoff rankings this week!  It’s akin to college football starting its regular season in February.  Is it too much to ask for a little synergy between college athletics’ two biggest sports?

November basketball at its best is rather nebulous.  Many matchups are tune-ups for conference play as well as stocking stuffers, and there’s nothing wrong with Georgetown-Central Arkansas or Maryland-Oakland.  Other showdowns receive the natural spotlight, but you know in March everyone will be saying how the “November” Michigan State team that lost to Kentucky is nothing like the Spartans they’re trying to seed higher than those same Wildcats on Selection Sunday.

That said, I’m watching.  I’m figuring out Maryland’s rookie rotation and wondering if Georgetown’s commitment to defense is practical or still in theory. I’m curious to see how Virginia performs now that “next year” happened last spring and what sort of buzz a Buzz Williams-less Virginia Tech will generate.  Will the George’s be relevant in the Atlantic 10 Race and will VCU/Richmond become the showdown to spotlight?  Can American or Navy contend in the Patriot League?  And will Howard’s streak of non-winning seasons continue (if their loss to Washington Adventist tells us anything, another season of discontent has already begun for the Bison).  In the immortal lyrics of yours truly, “CBS College Basketball–who do you think will win? Let’s tip off!”

Cruising the Commonwealth- Virginia defends its National Championship with a different cast, as Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter have moved on to the NBA. But even without their top three scorers from last year the Cavaliers are ranked No. 11 to start the new season.  The question will be can Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key make the transition from supporting roles to lead players.  They’ll have help in the form of highly-touted freshman Casey Morsell.  Virginia Tech began the post-Buzz Williams era Tuesday with a win at Clemson (I’m assuming the Tiger faithful were more focused on being No. 5 in the first College Football Playoff rankings), a game where freshman Landers Nolley II scored 30 points.  As a guy who never really got behind the “conference games in December” theory, you can only imagine how I feel about league play in November.

The Two Georges- George Mason enters its fifth year under head coach Dave Paulsen, and the Patriots have slowly moved up the Atlantic 10 ladder in his tenure (from 12th to 7th to tied for 5th to sole possession of 5th).  Otis Livingston II is gone, but sophomore Jamal Hartwell II keeps the suffix tradition alive in Fairfax.  He also scored 12 points in the season-opening win against Navy.  George Washington has a new coach in Jamion Christian, who led Mount St. Mary’s to a pair of NCAA Tournament berths over six seasons at the school before spending last winter coaching Siena.  When the Colonials are good, there’s no better place to catch a game inside the beltway than the tightly packed bandbox that is GW’s Smith Center.  Hopefully those days will come sooner rather than later.

The True Commonwealth Clash- say what you will about Virginia-Virginia Tech, they have nothing on VCU-Richmond.  Two schools that share a city as well as plenty of disregard.  The Rams begin the year ranked 25th nationally and return just about everybody from last year’s 25-win team that made the NCAA Tournament, while the Spiders are dealing with consecutive 20-loss seasons.  Winchester, VA’s Grant Golden was the bright spot last winter and the junior looks to be the primary weapon again this season.

Patriot League Primer- American and Navy began both of their seasons on the road this week, with the hopes a little higher in DC than Annapolis.  The Eagles were picked to finish third in the Patriot League while the Midshipmen are projected to finish ninth.  AU also boasts the Preseason Conference Player of the Year in Sa’eed Nelson (19 points and 5 assists per game last winter) while also enjoying the addition of Minnesota transfer Jamir Harris (20 points in the season-opening loss at Siena).  The Mids are two years removed from a 20-win season but need to replace two starters from last year, including leading scorer George Kiernan.  But no matter where one stands in November, come January everyone will be chasing preseason Patriot League favorite and defending conference champ Colgate.

Howard’s End- somehow these previews always end with the sad-sack, perpetually struggling Bison.  The program hasn’t had a winning season since 2002, and twice finished right at .500 during head coach Kevin Nickelberry’s nine-year tenure.  They had the nation’s leading scorer in James Daniel III on campus and still found a way to lose 20 games.  Nickelberry’s final team finished with a flourish, winning its last four regular season games, and needed to win once in the MEAC Tournament to secure a winning mark. Which they did.  Only to accept a bid in the CBI Tournament and lose at Coastal Carolina to wrap up the year 17-17.  Former DeMatha Catholic star and Duke captain Kenny Blakeney takes over a program that lost leading scorer R.J. Cole to transfer, but there is talent in the form of senior Charles Williams.  The forward scored a team-high 19 points in Wednesday’s loss to NAIA Division II Washington Adventist.  The long road to March is just underway in more ways than one.

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Georgetown men’s basketball has missed the NCAA Tournament four straight years;  that doesn’t happen too often.  There was a stretch earlier this century when the program was transitioning from Craig Esherick to John Thompson III.  And then there was the 1970’s when John Thompson Jr. was in the process of transforming the private Jesuit school into a national name and force to be reckoned with.  The pathway to what was titled “Hoya Paranoia” back then remains the route for the current team return to college hoops’ promised land:  defense.

Last year the Hoyas finished 19-14 and fell in the first round of the NIT to Harvard, and their inability to stop opponents was the major reason for their exclusion on Selection Sunday.  Georgetown allowed 78.1 points per game, the most in the Big East, despite ranking second in defending the three, third in blocked shots, and fourth in defensive field goal percentage and steals.  The whole wound up being much less than the sum it its parts for head coach Patrick Ewing.  “We have to be a much better defensive team,”. We have some new guys that will help with individual defense, but our team defense needs to be much better than it was. We’ve been working on it a lot but you won’t know how good you are until you start playing games.”

Getting better on D is much easier said than done. “A big thing with defense is will and trust,” senior guard Jagan Mosely said. “If you don’t trust your teammates to help you, you’re not going to help your teammates. I feel like it’s just more of a domino effect.”  This year’s team will be entrusted to the Marlboro, N.J. product who’s started 28 of his 93 games over the last three seasons.  “I expect for him to step up, lead, talk when talk is needed, lead by example,” Ewing said.

But make no mistake, the engine that will drive this team is the sophomore backcourt tandem of James Akinjo and Mac McClung.  The two guards started 32 and 29 games, respectively, last winter and each averaged over 13 points per game.  “They should be two of the best players in the Big East. That’s how I’m driving them,” Ewing said. “Not only to be great teammates, but also do their things individually.”  While McClung provides plenty of sizzle with highlight-reel threes, Akinjo is the steak.  The Oakland, CA product led the Hoyas in assists and is the team’s top returning three-point shooter (we’re going to count Josh LeBlanc’s 5-for-7 dabbling as a small sample size).  “He is definitely one of the hardest working players on the team. He’s always in the gym-I have to kick him out,” Ewing said. “And I expect for all the work he put in this summer to pay off.”

Akinjo and McClung know that they were more of a part of the defensive problem than the defensive solution last winter.  “Our unit was a lot of young guys last year,” McClung said. “When you come out of high school your defensive schemes are a little different than in college.  I feel like one year under our belt we’re gonna be a lot better. ”  Akinjo led the team in steals but knows defensive success is more than just putting numbers together on the stat sheet.  “This year we have to pick it up with our defensive energy and our attention to detail,” Akinjo said. “That’s something that coach  has been harping on every day.”

The Hoyas do have to fill the void left by four-year starter Jessie Govan;  the big man led Georgetown in scoring each of the last two seasons.  But it isn’t as though this team won’t have size, as coach Patrick Ewing brings in three six-foot-11 centers while seven-foot Turkish center Omer Yurtseven sat out last winter after transferring from NC State.  “He still has a lot to learn- I think sitting out last year kind of hurt him,” Ewing said. “But I don’t see anyone in the country that can do the things that he can do at that position.”  Even rusty, Yurtseven was named Honorable Mention Preseason All-Big East.  With six-foot-six swingman Myron Gardner headlining the incoming class, the coach knows he has plenty of combinations at his disposal.  “There will be a lot times you’ll see a three-guard lineup, one-guard lineup, big lineup, small lineup,” Ewing said. “I think that with the depth that we have we should be able to do a lot of things.”

For the first time in his tenure at Georgetown, Patrick Ewing’s team is expected to make noise: the Hoyas received votes in both national polls and while they were picked to finish sixth in the Big East, they were just a few votes away from third.  The roster on paper is much more impressive than the one he inherited in 2017.  But that’s only one step.  “Having more talent doesn’t always equate to wins,” Ewing said. “One of the things I’ve been talking to them about is yes, we have a lot more talent. Yes, we are much deeper this year than we were last year. But we still have to play as a team.”

One major difference this year is the non-conference schedule; while it’s not the most difficult, it’s a step above last season’s slate that was ranked 248th (out of 351 Division I schools) that may have featured a pair of NCAA Tournament teams but also included five schools ranked 247th or lower by RealTimeRPI.com (Maryland-Eastern Shore took the dubious cake with a ranking of 348).  Penn State, Texas, Oklahoma State and Syracuse might not be in the Associated Presss Preseason Top 25, but they’re name brands.  That will present a double-edged opportunity a program that feasted on sub-par foes the last two winters. “It’s definitely going to sharpen us,” Ewing said. “Because if we don’t start out fast and well we’ll dig ourselves in a hole.”  The Big East will provide the usual challenges, with Villanova, Seton Hall and Xavier ranked to start the season with Providence and Creighton also receiving votes, along with Georgetown.  Another winter ahead of tough tests; another winter where defense will determine the Hoyas’ fate.

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Great expectations can be both a blessing and a curse in men’s college basketball. During the Mark Turgeon era, high hopes have more often than not led to misery in March for Maryland:  twice before they’ve been ranked in the Associated Press Preseason Top 25, and each time at the end of the season the Terps have finished below those November expectations (from third to 18th in the 2015-16 season, from 25th to unranked the following year).  This year they’re seventh in the AP;  time will tell if the AP stands for “Accurately Projected” or “Another Problem” for these Terps.

Unlike last November, head coach Mark Turgeon returns most of his talent:  seven of the eight players who averaged 10+ minutes per game last year are back, including four of his five starters.  That gives the coach a little bit of a luxury when it comes to working his talented freshman class into the mix.  “We have so much depth some guys are going to learn by sitting,” Turgeon said. “Last year we had to play guys through mistakes, turnovers, there really wasn’t an answer.  I think we’ll get better because of that.  Guys will correct things quicker because of that.”

The biggest piece added to the Terrapin puzzle is 7-foot-2 center Chol Marial; the big man comes to College Park from South Sudan through Compass Prep in Arizona.  He’s also going to have the most-delayed impact after having surgeries to correct stress fractures in both of his legs this past September.  Marial is expected to be on the shelf at least until December.  “He feels good but still has a little bit of swelling in the knees.  He’s lifting, he’s shooting, he’s doing some things on the floor,” Turgeon said. “We’ll do another appointment on November 25th. We’re hoping on that day he gets clearance.” Fans won’t have to wait long to see the other four freshmen:  6-foot-10 twin big men Makhi and Makhel Mitchell from Washington D.C. plus the Philadelphia pair of swingman Donta Scott and guard Hakim Hart are already making an impression in practice.  “Very talented (group), very physical and a good feel for the game,” Turgeon said. “They’ve fit in well-our guys really like them. What they do give us is some physicality.  Our practices are much more physical, and they need to be for us to play at the highest level.”

While freshmen contributing to a top-25 team is nothing new in 2019, a four-year senior starter is.  But look for yourself:  Anthony Cowan Jr. is back for one more winter.  And it’s not just to pursue his Masters of Professional Studies in Technology Entrepreneurship (Anthony earned his degree in Communication this past summer).  “Anthony came back to win. Anthony’s done a lot with scoring points and assists,” Turgeon said. “He wants his legacy to be winning and winning at a high level. He knows he’ll be remembered more if our team wins at a high level.”  That means not just winning 20+ games during the regular season but also making things happen in March.  Cowan’s led the team in scoring and assists the last two years;  what he hasn’t done is led them to Saturday (and the Semifinals) of the Big Ten Tournament or the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

While Bruno Fernando moves on to the NBA, the Terps cupboard inside is far from bare.  Jalen Smith is back for his sophomore season after ranking third on the team in scoring and second in rebounds and blocked shots.  Turgeon acknowledges that the Baltimore, Maryland product has bulked up, jokingly referring to the player commonly known as “Sticks” as “Logs”.  In all seriousness, they’ve looked to bulk up 6-foot-10 forward’s offensive game. “We really worked hard on him to score in a lot of different ways. He’s (already a) pretty good on the right block, a catch and shoot the three guy,” Turgeon said.  “We tried to a lot of different areas on the floor, played a ton of one on one since the season ended.”  There’s also the anticipation and the expectation of improvement on the other side of the floor. “His perimeter defense got so much better as the year went on last year it was all new to him— now I’m very confident in his perimeter defense and what he can do,” Turgeon said. “Post defensively he struggled when he had to guard a five last year. Hopefully the weight helps, hopefully the experience helps.”

With returning starters Eric Ayala Jr. and Darryl Morsell back in the fold along with role-players Aaron Wiggins, Serrell Smith Jr., and Ricky Lindo Jr.; the proverbial ceiling is high.  But if there’s anything his previous eight winters in College Park have taught Mark Turgeon, it’s that November is more than four months away from March–those two months are a lifetime apart for a team, no matter how talented.  Can this team be special?  “We’ll see. If they continue to be coachable and selfless. Those two things are really important,” Turgeon said. “Talent-wise and depth wise, yeah we got a chance, but if they’re coachable and they’re selfless then we’ll continue to get better and do some great things.”

 

 

 

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The Maryland Women’s basketball team is on a mission.  After six straight trips to the Sweet Sixteen that included a pair of Final Four berths, the Terps are looking to shake off consecutive first-weekend NCAA Tournament exits.  Brenda Frese’s bunch gritted its way to last winter’s Big Ten Regular Season title before flaming out in March, and all five starters return to be joined by a top-five recruiting class. The result?  A Preseason No. 4 ranking for the Big Ten favorites. “Big thing I’ll say about this team is that they’re a team of competitors,” Frese said. “Their practices in between the summer and going into the fall have been some of the most competitive practices I’ve seen in a while.”

The Terps will be led once again by Kaila Charles.  The senior has started all 103 games in her career, and has led the team in scoring the last two seasons.  “The last couple years-as she goes, we go,” Frese said. “Nothing really changes at the top. She’ll do a great job leading this talented and really young team.”  The Preseason First Team All-American  has played bigger than her 6-foot-1 frame since coming to campus, and hopes to shore up the one area where she hasn’t shined:  three point-shooting.  She’s made 7 of 25 in her career (and was just 1 for 14 last year), but vows this season will be different.  “I’ve been working on it all summer; I’ve been working on it all three years.” Charles said. “I just think it’s my mentality. I just need to shoot it. I don’t need to think ‘is it gonna go in?'”

If Charles isn’t able to improve her perimeter play, fear not.  Because sophomore sharpshooter Taylor Mikesell is back after claiming Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors last winter when she made 41% of her threes.  As the case with most who come through Brenda Frese’s program, Mikesell has become more than just an offensive force.  “She already has made a huge jump on the defensive end.  That was areas last year that would pull her off the floor,” Frese said. “This year is actually going to be easier for her-I anticipate she won’t see the box-and-one and the face-guards. She’s gonna have a lot more freedom to just shoot the ball.”

Mikesell isn’t the only sophomore who’s expected to make a pronounced leap from first-year supporting player to primary contributor.  Six-foot-five center Shakira Austin came off the bench in the early season before eventually becoming a starter as a freshman, eventually earning Honorable Mention and All-Defensive Big Ten honors.  While her skills in the post were obvious (she averaged 9.5 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game), Austin worked hard at improving her offensive skills (she hit 43% of her shots last year) in the offseason.  “I just feel like I should be able to dominate this year in the post,” Austin said. “Last year I felt I lost a lot of confidence–I wasn’t able to go up strong.”  Coach Brenda Frese has noticed a marked difference. “She is stronger, she can finish through contact,” Frese said. “She is making plays in the low post that we were hoping is where she was going to get to.”

That trio, in addition to defensive dynamo Blair Watson and point guard Channise Lewis, will be bolstered by a recruiting class ranked third in the nation by prospectsnation.com and hoopgurlz on espnW. “I think the thing you’ll see with our team first and foremost is our size. We have tremendous length both on the perimeter, point guard positions, wings, inside,” Frese said. “The talent level has really increased. We have depth at every single position.”  Even with the loss of five-star guard Zoe Young to a torn ACL for the season, the new class has made an impression. “They’re incredible-they want to work and they want to win,” Taylor Mikesell said. “So it’s just great to have them. We have four really good freshmen here.”

While the future is on campus, the team got a chance to see the past as well as their potential futures earlier this fall when the Washington Mystics won the WNBA championship.  While the Mystics boasted three Maryland graduates plus two players who transferred out of the Terps program, the Connecticut Sun had two more former Terps on its roster. “Our current players currently have those dreams that now our alums are living out,” Frese said. “It’s a tremendous example for them:  if you work hard, if you come in the gym, you’re here early, you stay late-these are the things that you can possibly have if that pro career is something a goal of yours.”

The season offers up the usual tests, with one early indicator of how far this team has come and how much further they have to go.  Sunday, November 10 brings No. 8 South Carolina to Xfinity Center.  Their other big pre-conference test will be at No. 14 NC State in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. League play starts December 28 against No. 25 Michigan.  But at Maryland once again, it’s March that matters.

 

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What time is it?  Oh yes, we’re back from Daylight Saving Time (not to be confused with “daylight savings”, which I’m told is incorrect) and return to “Standard Time” which for some reason takes up only 34.7% of the year.  Why not call DST the “new standard”?  I lived in Indiana when a large part of that state didn’t observe Daylight Saving, and while it was awesome not to change my clocks twice a year it was kind of jarring for it to be bright at 5 a.m. in June yet pitch black at 8:30 a.m. in December (I might be exaggerating slightly).

College football’s elite dealt with the switch back to Standard the only way they could:  top ranked LSU, No. 2 Alabama, and No. 3 Ohio State didn’t play.  I’m sure the respective coaches had their players in cocoons to get the body ready for the clock switch, although the Tigers and Crimson Tide are both preparing for their November 9 showdown.  The Buckeyes probably don’t need an extra week to prepare for Maryland.  Those falling back on the field this weekend include No. 6 Florida, who may be unbeaten in Gainesville yet 0-2 in Baton Rouge and Jacksonville, and No. 15 SMU who sees their New Year’s Day bowl hopes take a major hit with their first loss of the season.  But at least the Mustangs entered November unbeaten;  No. 20 Appalachian State fell for the first time October 31st and doesn’t get credit for reaching “Closing Month” unblemished.  What time is it?

 

Alma Mater Update- it’s time for the defense to show up. At Syracuse the number 44 is special, as the likes of Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, and Floyd Little made those digits famous.  Even men’s basketball’s Derrick Coleman and John Wallace honored that number with great play.  But Saturday the Orange allowed 44 points in the first half to Boston College.  They wound up losing 58-27 and are now 3-6 with games remaining against Duke, Louisville and Wake Forest (a combined 16-8 on the season).  A winless ACC season is a distinct possibility after last year’s 10-3 dream season.  Bring on basketball-who probably won’t allow 44 points in a half this season.

 

Navy (7-1, 5-1 AAC) dominated UConn from the opening kickoff in their 56-10 rout of the Huskies.  The win also gives the Mids a half game lead in the AAC West over Memphis and SMU;  their lone loss is to the Tigers while the Mustangs come to Annapolis later this month.

Midshipmen Medals: Malcolm Perry rushes for 108 yards and two touchdowns while also throwing for 165 yards and a score.  The running game would average eight yards per carry while gaining 408 on the evening.  Kevin Brennan tallied 12 tackles to lead a defense that held UConn to 4-14 on third down.

Midshipmen Miscues: head coach Ken Niumatalolo won’t be pleased with the four penalties, and Owen White averaged under 40 yards per punt.  When you’re parsing penalties and punts, it’s been one heck of a week.

Next: November 16 at 6-2 Notre Dame.

 

Maryland (3-6, 1-5 Big Ten) in their first game after Halloween was haunted by big plays made by Michigan as well as missed opportunities of their own;  the 38-7 loss was one of those games that felt closer than the actual score.  Unfortunately, the result puts the Terps on the precipice of Bowl eligibility elimination.

Terrapin Triumphs:  Javon Leake returned a kickoff back for a 97-yard touchdown.  Josh Jackson in his first start back from injury remained healthy- no small feat concerning Maryland quarterbacks’ recent health history.  Isaiah Davis notched nine tackles and the defense prevailed in 8 of 15 third down situations.

Terrapin Troubles: Special teams they weren’t on a day where the Terps allowed the opening kickoff to be run back for a touchdown, missed a field goal and averaged less than 35 yards per punt while also allowing a first down on a fake punt.  They left points on the table when their best two drives of the day died in the Michigan red zone; instead of converting key third downs Jackson threw an interception and took a sack that set up a long field goal (which was missed).  Jackson was under pressure all afternoon, as Michigan sacked him four times.

Next: Saturday at noon on the road against No. 3 Ohio State.

 

Virginia Tech (5-3) led No. 16 Notre Dame into the final minute of play before the Fighting Irish put together an 18 play, 87 yard drive that ended with an Ian Book seven yard touchdown run.  Instead of beginning college football’s closing month with a signature victory, Tech gets 60 minutes of game tape illustrating their shortcomings.

Hokie Highlights: freshman quarterback Quincy Patterson II ran for 77 yards while throwing a touchdown pass to Damon Hazelton, who caught five passes for 63 yards to lead the team in both categories. Divine Deablo intercepted a pass and returned a fumble 98 yards back for a touchdown while Dax Hollifield intercepted a pass and notched a sack. Brian Johnson made both of his field goal attempts while John Parker Romo averaged 44.2 yards per punt.

Hokie Humblings:  Patterson the passer had issues, completing just 9 of 28 throws while tossing a game-sealing interception.  The offense converted just 4-16 third downs and began the day with four straight three and outs.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against 7-1 Wake Forest.

 

Virginia (6-3, 4-2 ACC) has had their season of possibilities turn into a season of surprises. The surprising losses at Miami and Louisville now have their counterpart, a 38-31 win at North Carolina.  Now many of my UVa friends will admit they consider the original ACC member Tar Heels more of a rival than “new money” Virginia Tech, and for good reason: they’re 11-9 this century against UNC and have lost 15 straight to the Hokies.

Cavalier Congrats:  Bryce Perkins once again puts this team on his back, throwing for 378 yards and three touchdowns while running for 112 yards and two more scores.  Yes, that’s all five touchdowns came from this kid’s arm and feet.  Terrell Jana didn’t catch a touchdown pass, but did notch 13 receptions for 146 yards.  Charles Snowden led the defense with eight tackles.  The team committed just one penalty for five yards.

Cavalier Concerns: the defense was gashed for 539 yards and was burned by multiple big plays.  Touchdown passes of 34, 42, 47 and 50 yards were allowed by a D that was supposed be the strength of this team.  They also surrendered a non-scoring 57 yard strike.  The lack of running support for Perkins didn’t cost them this week, but he did get sacked three times as well as take those hits for his 21 runs.  He’s not indestructible.

Next: Saturday at 12:30 p.m. against 2-6 Georgia Tech.

 

 

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“Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
As Camelot.”

Have you ever tried to re-heat a souffle?  It can’t be done.  And along those lines while it’s easy to go home again for visits it’s nearly impossible to recreate the magic of what once was.  For one brief shining moment last decade, the University of Connecticut was a player in big-time football.  Look it up.  A 33-19 record over a four-year span from 2007 to 2010.  Sharing the Big East Conference championship twice within a four year stretch.  A trip to the Fiesta Bowl.  Even with the qualifier “Big East Football” in the mix,  the Huskies had come a long way from competing in the Yankee Conference and being the decidedly fourth rung on the school’s sports ladder (behind men’s and women’s basketball as well as men’s soccer).

Randy Edsall had created a BCS conference contender out of a I-AA program (yes, it was classified as that during the pre-FCS days) before answering the siren call of the University of Maryland;  a position that he said was his “dream job”.  Only the reality was less ideal than the dream, and Edsall was gone after four and a half seasons with a 22-34 record.

As disappointing as his tenure in College Park may have been, things got worse in Storrs. Paul Pasqualoni was flushed out after going 10-18 and his eventual replacement, Bob Diaco, departed after an 11-26 mark that may have included a bowl berth but will forever be known for creating the infamous “Civil ConFLiCT” trophy.

So after the dust cleared it only seemed natural to bring back the man to rebuild what was once built-if anyone can make UConn work, it’s Randy Edsall.  Only things haven’t been that easy in round two:  the Huskies are 6-26 and this year have drawn fewer than 20,000 fans in three of their four home games thus far.  He addressed the challenge during one of his weekly press conferences last year.  “We did it before, and we’re working to do it again,” Edsall said. “And it’s hard. And it’s harder now than what it was then because our generation has changed, society has changed.”

Yes, society has changed. It does every year and the kids of 2019 are nothing like the kids from 2000 when he began his first run with the Huskies, but the winning coaches adapt instead of pointing fingers.  “It’s today’s generation. It’s frustrating because there’s been no accountability in a lot of households and there’s been no accountability with these kids growing up,” Edsall said at a press conference last month. “They’ve never had it tough. They’ve never known how to work. They’ve never known how to sacrifice and be disciplined. And that’s the tough thing. And we’re trying to change all those things.”

Meanwhile, in the bad optics department, Edsall gets bonuses not just for victories but for statistical achievements.  The Hartford Courant published an article last November detailing his bonus structure, one that includes $2,000 payouts for scoring first and leading at the half.  Earlier this year when the Huskies lost 56-21 to UCF (no trophy was in play), Edsall collected $2,000 because UConn had a “better red zone scoring percentage” than the Knights.  Scoring two grand in a 35-point loss.  Now that’s accountability of a different sort.

College football is a long game when one is building a program; just look at how long it took Edsall to get things going at UConn in his previous tenure.  And recruiting classes can help things turn on a dime sometimes.  But the Huskies re-joining the Big East in their other sports places this program at a crossroads-not unlike the crossroads they were at when the school elected to make a play for the big time and hired Edsall in 1999.  Will the rain hold off until after sundown this time?

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange are actually favored this week against Boston College, and unless they beat the Eagles this will likely be the last time they’ll be favored in 2019.  SU’s currently 0-4 in the ACC, and their most recent conference win came at BC last November. That victory was a fun one for yours truly as I got to hang out with my roommate from freshman year Bob Goeldner and also run into a friend from high school Lynn Morganstern LeVeille. Her daughter now cheers for Syracuse.  The wins and losses fade but the smiles and good times endure.  Except for the excruciating losses–those stick with me forever.

 

Friday’s Game-

Navy (6-1, 4-1 AAC) at Connecticut (2-6, 0-4), 8 p.m. (ESPN).

Another aspect of Edsall’s bonus structure is a $10,000 payout if the Huskies at the end of the season rank in the top half of the AAC in major offensive categories;  there is little threat of him collecting as UConn is currently 10th in rushing and passing efficiency, 11th in scoring and 12th in yards gained and third down conversions (I know what you’re thinking-they’re too focused on pass protection that ranks 9th in the conference).  Despite a second half defensive fade against Tulane, the Midshipmen clinched bowl eligibility for the 15th time in 17 seasons with last week’s win over the Green Wave.  It’s a good thing for the academy that head coach Ken Niumatalolo doesn’t collect on similar bonuses:  the Mids are tops in the AAC in rushing offense and defense, as well as total and scoring defense.

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen move closer to a division title with a 45-13 win.

 

Saturday’s Games-

Maryland (3-5, 1-4 Big Ten) at No. 14 Michigan (6-2, 3-2), noon (ABC).

Somehow this is Homecoming; excuse me?  Aren’t homecomings reserved for the likes of Indiana/Illinois/Rutgers/Purdue?  Taking the Rutgers win out of the equation, the Terps are allowing 46 points per game in conference play.  The Wolverines come to College Park fresh off of a season-salvaging 45-14 rout of then-top ten Notre Dame.  They also bring a defense that ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 25 sacks and is third best in the conference at getting off of the field on third down.  That’s bad news for a quarterback carousel that includes one player who’s day-to-day with a leg injury, another who’s still recovering from an ankle injury, and a third who’s a true freshman.

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins tumble, 41-17.

 

Virginia Tech (5-2) at No. 15 Notre Dame (5-2), 2:30 p.m. (NBC).

The Hokies are coming off of their bye week; they probably needed more time after the six-overtime triumph over North Carolina.  They probably also could have used an opponent less angry than a Fighting Irish team that saw its playoff hopes go up in smoke when they got manhandled by Michigan last weekend.  It was Ian Book’s worst game statistically since he became a full-time starter;  but something happens when he suits up in South Bend this fall.  The senior is completing 64% of his passes for 317 yards per game at home with an 11-0 touchdown to interception ratio at Notre Dame Stadium.  Good news for the Hokies:  redshirt sophomore quarterback Hendon Hooker is healed up from the leg injury suffered against the Tar Heels.  Bad news for the Hokies:  there’s no way one can heal a defense that allows 33 points per game in regulation to FBS foes.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies can’t handle the Hulk, falling 34-24.

 

Virginia (5-3, 3-2 ACC) at North Carolina (4-4, 3-2), 7:30 p.m. (ACC Network).

The ACC’s Coastal Division is on a collision course where all seven schools could finish 4-4;  while that’s not likely given Georgia Tech’s issues it’s completely conceivable the division winner goes 5-3 in the conference and advances to the Championship Game thanks to a tiebreaker or two.  UVa’s season of possibilities took a major hit last week with a seven-point loss at rebuilding Louisville-their closest game of the season.  This week’s foe is no stranger to tight games:  UNC has seen seven of their eight games decided by a touchdown or less, including a six-overtime extravaganza in Blacksburg.  The Tar Heels have issues getting to the quarterback and stopping the run, good news for a Cavaliers offensive line that remains a work in progress.

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.”   

Presto’s Pick: on the field- another offensive effort on offense. Cavaliers come up short, 20-16.

 

Georgetown gets by Colgate, Howard falls to North Carolina Central, William & Mary falls to Elon, Richmond beats Stony Brook, Towson tumbles to Delaware, Morgan State slips to Norfolk State.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

College football gives us plenty of thrills on a weekly basis, and there’s nothing like the surprise of an upset percolating and then happening.  Especially when it involves an unbeaten or a conference leader falling to an unranked foe.  October saw top ten teams Georgia, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma get surprised by league foes;  very few had any falling-that’s why they’re called surprises.  But while the SEC and Big Ten brass simply moved on to the next week the Big 12 higher-ups were likely punching holes in their hats.  Because until we live in a world where there’s an eight-team playoff that gives all Power Five Conference champs automatic berths into the College Football Playoff, the last thing a league wants is to see its last unbeaten lose before November.  Just ask the Pac-12, a conference that’s eaten its own with a nine-game league schedule.  Saturday night No. 11 Oregon needed a last-second field goal to avoid upset against Washington State, and I’m sure the league office was holding its breath as one of its two one-loss teams drove the length of the field with under a minute to play.  As long as the 13-member committee is looking for “intangibles” when it puts together a four-team field, one of the best things the game has to offer is actually the worst that can happen for the conferences that have their eyes on the playoff participation payout (six million dollars for each team selected to the playoff).

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange continue their collision course with under .500 by losing at Florida State 35-17.  SU’s moving month turned into several steps backwards as the 0-3 October likely sentences the team to an early offseason.  The Ghosts of Seasons Past thinks of 1986, when the Orange finished 5-6 after reaching a bowl the previous fall.

 

Maryland (3-5, 1-4 Big Ten) went to No. 17 Minnesota with hopes that having running back Anthony McFarland and quarterback Josh Jackson healthy again could turn the tide of a season that was slipping away.  Unfortunately, the Golden Gophers lived up to their 7-0 record and torched the Terps 52-10.  Adding injury to insult, quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome left the game with a leg injury.  The quarterback carousel continues in College Park.

Terrapin Triumphs:  this team may be sub-.500, but they make big plays.  Javon Leake had a 59-yard catch and a 41-yard kick return, Tayon Fleet-Davis added a 33-yard run, and Marcus Lewis had a 40-yard interception return.

Terrapin Troubles: the passing game earned a failing grade, as the combination of Pigrome, Josh Jackson, and freshman Tyler DeSue combined to complete 10 of 23 passes for 131 yards and two interceptions.  The first INT set up the Golden Gopher’s first touchdown the other was returned for a score.  The defense allowed 321 yards rushing at 5.9 yards per carry.

Next: Saturday at noon against 6-2 Michigan.

 

Virginia (5-3, 3-2 ACC) continues to confound as the Cavaliers followed up an unexpected blowout of Coastal contender Duke with a 28-21 loss at rebuilding Louisville.  After taking a 14-7 lead, UVa went into an offensive funk that included 43 yards on its first 16 plays in the second half.  Thank goodness the Coastal is a quagmire-it’s the only division in FBS where the leader has two losses.

Cavalier Congrats: Hasise Dubois caught 7 passes for 93 yards, while Wayne Taulapapa ran for 55 yards and two touchdowns.  Eli Hanback had two sacks in his six tackles to power the pass rush that finished with four sacks.

Cavalier Concerns:  just 22 called runs, including only three carries for Taulapapa after halftime.  Bryce Perkins threw for 233 yards, but averaged under 10 yards per completion (and 5.5 per attempt).  The defense allowed 5.0 yards per carry and 227 on the afternoon.  Eight penalties for 70 yards made life that much tougher on the road.

Next:  Saturday at 7:30 against 4-4 North Carolina.

 

Navy (6-1,4-1 AAC) looked like it was in control against Tulane, only to let a 24-point first half lead evaporate after intermission.  They were able to prevail on a last-second field goal by freshman Bijan Nichols, but the 41-38 win will give head coach Ken Niumatalolo more questions than answers as his team focuses on the AAC West race in November and the Commander in Chief’s trophy in December.

Midshipmen Medals:  Jamole Carothers ran for 154 yards and three touchdowns while Malcolm Perry ran for 142 yards.  Diego Fagot notched eight tackles and returned an interception for a touchdown. Owen White averaged 47.3 yards per punt.

Midshipmen Miscues: the offense converted just 5 of 14 third downs as Perry completed 2 of 7 passes and was intercepted.  The defense had no solutions for Green Wave quarterback Justin McMillan in the second half and allowed the Green Wave to score the last four times they had the ball.

Next: Friday at 8 p.m. at 2-6 UConn.