Archives for posts with tag: Air Force

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Six weeks into the college football season means the first smattering of schools become bowl eligible, as if there was a doubt about Ohio State. Florida is also 6-0 but has a pair of FCS wins so they’re not technically in the mix just yet. There is one other 6-0 team, and it’s a blast from the past:  SMU is off to its best start since the 1982 team went unbeaten behind the likes of Eric Dickerson and Craig James.  Sadly, the “Pony Express” turned into “Pony Excess” (the title of a great ESPN 30-for-30 narrated by Patrick Duffy of “Dallas”) and the cheating got so rampant at the Southwest Conference school that the NCAA had to deliver the nuclear option of the “Death Penalty” later that decade.

The effect was long term: since restarting the program in 1989, the Mustangs have had eight double-digit defeat seasons while appearing in just five bowls.  Former Louisiana Tech and Cal Head Coach Sonny Dykes brought his high-octane offense to the AAC school two years ago, and the results have been almost immediate.  They averaged 30 points while going 5-7 last fall, and with Texas transfer Shane Buechele running the offense this fall they’ve taken things to the next level.  Far from the Pony Express of yore, the 21st century Mustangs currently rank 10th in FBS in passing yardage and are averaging 44 points per game.  An upset win of No. 25 TCU last month put them on the map, and Saturday’s 43-37 triple-overtime victory against Tulsa has them bowl-bound while thinking conference contention.  SMU has yet to post a winning conference record in the AAC, and still has huge road tests at Houston, Memphis, and Navy.  But for at least one week the Mustangs share the stage with the elite…thirty years after being all by themselves in NCAA Purgatory.

 

Alma Mater Update- a week off for the 3-2 Orange gives Tommy DeVito time to get healthy with NC State on deck.  It also gives one the chance to look at the schedule ahead:  six of SU’s final seven foes boast winning records with no soft spots.  Can they generate three more wins and make their triumphant return to the Pinstripe Bowl??

 

Maryland (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) bounced back from getting blown out by Penn State, routing Rutgers 48-7 in a game that was close for much of the first half.  But just to show that no Saturday is complete without a little heartbreak for the College Park faithful, quarterback Josh Jackson went down with an ankle injury right before halftime. The fact that it took five games for the Terps’ starter to suffer a potential season-ending injury is encouraging, as in previous years the first-string QB would go down for the year in early to mid-September (or as in the case of CJ Brown in 2012, August).

Terrapin Triumphs:  the offense generated big plays of 80 yards (twice), 50 and 42 yards.  Give guys like Anthony McFarland, Javon Leake, Tavon Fleet-Davis and Dontay Demus space and they will make opponents pay.  The Terps also went turnover-free. Linebacker Ayinde Eley notched 12 tackles plus an interception returned to the Rutgers two that helped Maryland take a 20-point lead. Javon Leake returned the second-half kickoff 100 yards for a TD.  Leake also ran for two more scores.

Terrapin Troubles:  it took a while for the offense to get in gear; after scoring on an 80-yard pass on their first possession the team suffered four straight three and outs.  The offense would finish 4-13 on third down.  Penalties continue to pose problems, as the team was flagged six times this week.  The kicking game in concerning, as they had a 29-yard field goal blocked and missed an extra point. That might not cost you against Rutgers, but it did at Temple and very well could against the upcoming slate of the Big Ten’s middle class.

Next: Saturday at noon at Purdue.

 

Navy (3-1) needed a last-minute touchdown drive to pull ahead of Air Force after blowing a double-digit fourth quarter lead, and the Mids would then recover a Falcons fumble on the final play to make the 34-25 final look deceptively comfortable.  But it was anything but comfortable as Troy Calhoun and company know they had a golden chance to steal one in Annapolis (Air Force is 1-8 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium since 2001).  What’s reassuring for head coach Ken Niumatalolo is that these were the types of games last year’s team lost.

Midshipman Medals:  Malcolm Perry complete 5 of 7 passes for 144 yards while running for 111 yards and two touchdowns.  Nolan Smith ran for 82 yards and the other two Navy scores. C.J. Williams caught a game-saving 32-yard pass on the go-ahead drive.  Paul Carothers and Diego Fagot (12 tackles apiece) led a defense that held Air Force to 2.4 yards a carry, 40% passing, and 5-of-17 on third down.

Midshipman Miscues:  last week the Mids allowed 21 second-half points, and this week the D surrendered 16 in the fourth quarter.  After being held to 2-12 on third down through three quarters, the Falcons converted three big ones in the final period (scoring both of their touchdowns on third and goal).  Offensively the three drives that preceded the game-winning possession resulted in a missed field goal, a lost fumble, and a three & out.

Next:  Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Tulsa.

 

Virginia Tech (3-2, 1-2 ACC) saw its season flash before its eyes in the fourth quarter at Miami.  Somehow they were tied at 35 after the Hokies took a 28-0 first half lead.  But somehow VT was able to take a late lead and hold the Hurricanes shy of the goal line. (they’d get to the Hokie 10-yard line before time ran out).  The 42-35 win doesn’t cure all, but it keeps the team out of the Coastal Division cellar and also keeps the temperature down a teensy bit on their coach’s hot seat.

Hokie Highlights:  five first half takeaways helped set up short fields, and the offense played turnover free football all day.  Sophomore quarterback Hendon Hooker threw for 184 yards and three touchdowns while running for 76 and another score.  The offense moved the chains on 7 of 9 third downs in the first half, and scored touchdowns on all six red zone appearances.  Rayshard Ashby notched 11 tackles and a sack, and the pass rush generated seven sacks.  Jermaine Waller and Caleb Fraley each grabbed a pair of interceptions.  Oscar Bradburn averaged 50.4 yards per punt.

Hokie Humblings: talk about your tale of two halves.  The offense converted 2 of 7 third downs after intermission, and the defense that tallied turnovers turned into one that gave up 364 yards and four touchdowns over the final two quarters.

Next: Saturday at 4 p.m. against Rhode Island.

 

 

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Welcome to “Moving Month” in college football.  Where strong starts are often exposed as the byproduct of soft scheduling.  Where potential weakness become even more apparent as teams for the most part fully enter conference play.  Where Heisman Trophy hopefuls make miss-steps and the eventual winner starts to shine just a little bit brighter.  The four area FBS schools enter October the same way, a loss last weekend, but with different trajectories.  Virginia and Navy can write off road losses as speedbumps en route to bowl eligibility, while Maryland hopes a three game tour of the Big Ten’s underbelly (Rutgers, Indiana and Purdue are a combined 5-8 with an 0-5 league record) can get them back on the right track.  Virginia Tech?  The S.S Blacksburg is taking serious water and last Friday’s 45-10 loss to Duke saw a robot doing push-ups on the sideline after scores.  Next thing you know they’ll be microwaving those turkey legs.

National notables:

The SEC is stacked: five of the top ten teams in this week’s Associated Press Poll are in the Southeastern Conference, and only No. 7 Auburn plays multiple ranked foes this month (both on the road).  No points if you guess which school is ranked highest.

Don’t Sleep on Wake:  No. 2 Clemson is one of two unbeatens remaining in the ACC, with surprising Wake Forest being the other.  The Demon Deacons are one win away from tying last year’s total and are led by dual-threat quarterback Jamie Newman. They’re idle this weekend and could very well be unbeaten when they face the Tigers next month.

Pac-12 After Dark-Delicious but Deadly: or, the conference that feeds on its own. Everybody’s suffered at least one loss, and despite the zaniness of Washington State-UCLA, the league is once again positioned outside the College Football Playoff party.

Everybody Wins-Almost:  every Power Five school has at least one victory this year, and only three schools in FBS are winless after one month. Rice, New Mexico State and Akron, we’re looking at you. Actually, with NM State facing Incarnate Word in November our eyes are on the Owls and the Zips.

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss:  the Heisman Trophy race offers up some early front-runners, with Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts the early leader.  Just like Baker Mayfield in 2017 and Kyler Murray last year.  A school hasn’t deserved to have the Heisman winner in three consecutive years since Herschel Walker was tearing things up at Georgia from 1980-82.  Candidates to break the Sooner streak:  Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa, LSU QB Joe Burrow, Ohio State QB Justin Fields and Wisconsin running back (yes, a RB is still eligible to win this award) Jonathan Taylor.  And yes- even though I wasn’t a huge “Home Improvement” fan, I want to call him Jonathan Taylor Thomas.  Just like Maryland QB Josh Jackson makes one think of “Dawson’s Creek”.

 

Alma Mater Update- a bye week has the Orange recharging after a 3-2 start, with Pinstripe Bowl dreams still in their heads at night.  That’s the good news, as the bad news is SU doesn’t face a team with a losing record the rest of the way.  Bring on basketball…

 

Saturday’s Games :

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

Technically these two schools are competing in the Big Ten, despite being outscored 141-0 in three combined conference games played this fall.  The Scarlet Knights fired Chris Ash after three-plus years and an 8-32 record, trotting out “not a New Jersey Stereotype” Nunzio Campanille as their interim head coach.  Four years ago it was Mike Locksley who was the fill-in for the fired Randy Edsall at Maryland and the Terps came within a point of beating Penn State in his debut.  It appears as though Rutgers is the medicine Locksley’s team is looking for on multiple fronts.  The banged up offensive line has had issues protecting quarterback Josh Jackson lately, allowing eight sacks in the losses to Temple and Penn State.  The Rutgers D? Just four sacks all September.  Maryland’s defense is also looking to bounce back from a week where, by estimation of head coach Mike Locksley, they missed 17 tackles.  Rutgers ranks near the bottom of the Big Ten in most offensive categories, and are dead last in moving the chains on third down.

Presto’s Pick:  Terrapins Triumph, 38-19.

 

Navy (2-1) vs. Air Force (3-1), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).

Service Academy Irony Time:  despite educating their respective cadets to defend the seas and skies, the Midshipmen and Falcons rank first and second in FBS on the ground as both teams are averaging over 330 yards per game rushing.  While Navy relies primarily on quarterback Malcolm Perry (20 carries per game) to generate yardage within the context of its triple option, Air Force boasts a “thunder and lightning” backfield consisting of fullback Tavin Birdow (338 yards and 5.3 per carry) and running back Kadin Remsberg (342 yards and 5.9 per carry).  Home field has held in this series recently, with Air Force winning just once in Annapolis since 2001.  But the visitors have traveled well this fall, beating Colorado in Boulder while also taking a second half lead before falling to No. 20 Boise State on that blue field.

Presto’s Pick:  Falcons Fly High, 27-24.

 

Virginia Tech (2-2, 0-2 ACC) at Miami (2-2, 0-1), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN).

The Hurricanes have once again been downgraded to a “tropical depression” after starting 0-2, although consecutive wins over Bethune-Cookman and Central Michigan have prevented a bad dream from becoming a nightmare.  Not so in Blacksburg, where the Hokies have a pair of unimpressive wins and two bad conference losses.  They’ve never started 0-3 in ACC play.  The root cause of their issues appear to be the inability to stop the run (13th in the ACC) and hanging onto the football (at minus-8 Virginia Tech is tied for 128th in FBS in turnover margin).  If there’s one school that turns you over before shoving said takeaways in your face, it’s the U.  As in the home of the “Turnover Chain”. As in a plus-six turnover margin that leads the ACC and is tied for sixth best in the nation.  The Hurricanes have also had a week off to prepare.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies get humbled, 36-16.

 

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

 

Howard falls at Harvard, Georgetown gets by Cornell, Catholic loses to the Coast Guard, James Madison beats Stony Brook, Richmond slips at Albany, William & Mary loses to Villanova, Morgan State falls to Bethune-Cookman.

Last Week: 7-3.

Overall: 32-11. 

 

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In the highly volatile league that is the American Athletic Conference, Navy is a beacon of stability. Coach Ken Niumatalolo isn’t just the longest-tenured coach at his respective school, five other AAC schools are on their third coach since the Midshipmen joined the league.  And it’s not just coaches who are coming and going:  UConn has announced it will leave the conference to rejoin the reconfigured Big East.  But just because the coach and the team aren’t going anywhere, it doesn’t mean there aren’t changes on the Annapolis campus.

As Navy enters year five in the league it wants to turn around a disturbing trend:  after going 14-2 in regular season play with a division title in its first two seasons the Mids went 6-10 over the last two years.  Throw in what is now a three-game losing streak to Army and a 10-loss campaign, the school’s worst since Paul Johnson’s first year in 2002, and Niumatalolo knew it was a time to re-examine his entire program from the top on down.  “Well first of all I had to look at myself-you know before I started pointing any fingers I had to look at myself.  What did I need to improve,” said Niumatalolo.  “Then structurally, our staff. And then our players. Schematically. I’m excited about some of the changes.”

The initial change was off the field-and in the dining hall.  For the first time, Navy football has a nutritionist working with the players in the program.  There’s also a focus on improving the facilities moving forward.  But while those changes will be behind the curtain, the most noticeable difference will be in the air this fall on a weekly basis in Annapolis.

Yes–you heard correctly.  Navy plans to throw the football more this season.  Last year the team attempted less than ten passes per game, sixth fewest in FBS.  Now that they’re facing the same schools every year in conference play, the coach has to mix things up.  “We’re still running and aggressive, but if you’re trying to bring people up we’re going to throw the football.” Coach Ken Niumatalolo said, “People are closer to the line of scrimmage…and we can’t block everybody. So we’re going to have to throw the football and back people up.”  The vibe is contagious.  “It’s been something that coach has spoken on and he’s extremely excited about,” said senior center Ford Higgins. “He’s brought in coach Billy Ray-who’s a passing mind that might not have been in the locker room before.”  “Billy Ray” Stutzmann comes to the Academy as an Offensive Assistant after working with the wide receivers at Hawai’i last fall, helping the Rainbow Warriors passing game rank ninth in the nation in passing.

For the second straight year Malcolm Perry will be the starting quarterback, but in a way 2019 will feel like his debut.  In his career, the senior has thrown just 27 passes as last year the Mids subbed Garrett Lewis and Zach Abey in passing situations while moving Perry to A-back (Navy’s option offense features one fullback and a pair of halfback-types split to each side but ahead of the fullback).  Coach Niumatalolo said that he made a mistake not going all-in on Perry as his quarterback last fall.  Even with the limited passing experience the senior learned quite a bit that will help him this year.  “My biggest focus this offseason was my decision making,” said Perry. “And that goes for the option game, the passing game. That’s all in my hands now.”  Not to mention his feet.  Tge senior’s rushed for over 1000 yards in consecutive seasons, and don’t forget that last fall Perry led the team in rushing, passing and receiving yardage in the win over Memphis.  Junior fullback Nelson Smith averaged over five yards a carry last fall while A-backs C.J. Williams and Tazh Maloy showed sparks last fall.  The need for development at wide receiver is apparent, as the two leading returning receivers from 2018 are…C.J. Williams and Malcolm Perry.

Defensively there will be more of an overhaul from 2018 as the Midshipmen began last fall by coughing up 59 points at Hawai’i and finished near the bottom of the AAC against the pass while ranking dead last in sacks.  Enter Defensive Coordinator Brian Newberry, who directed a Kennesaw State defense to a number two ranking in FCS last season.  The Owls led the Big South in rushing defense (102.1 yards per game), pass defensive efficiency (117.0) and red zone defense (76.9 percent), while standing second in sacks (31).  “We want controlled chaos, right?  That’s what we talk about-toughness and elite effort,” senior linebacker Paul Carothers said. “Just to get after people-if we know what we’re doing and we understand our job and do it with elite effort, it’s gonna be hard to stop.”  Leading the pass rush will be a pair of linebackers: senior Nizaire Cromartie and sophomore Diego Fagot.  “It’s going to be a team that attacks but there’s also structure to it,” said Niumatalolo.  “it’s not reckless where you’re playing zero coverage and blitzing seven every down.”  The defensive line boasts plenty of experience, but in order for the multiple looks shown by the back eight to work they’ll need to produce better than last year’s pass rush.

Last year’s team was the most-traveled in FBS, venturing 26,496 miles for its six road games and two neutral tilts. And not all neutral games are created equally, as the Midshipmen faced Army in Philadelphia while heading to San Diego for their game against Notre Dame).  It’s a good thing that as they try to turn around the program, this fall’s slate is front-loaded with home dates: five of their first seven games will be at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, including their annual affair with Air Force.  “I think that’s big. As a team that’s young, just getting them on our field in front of our crowd early on,” Perry said. “I think that’s gonna help us rolling on into the season.”  A new twist on a longtime era begins August 31st in Annapolis against Holy Cross.

 

Dream Scenario- the Mids take advantage of the early schedule and find the offensive balance plus defensive upgrade they need. Perry develops into a dual threat and Navy beats both Air Force and Army while contending for an AAC West crown.  After a hiatus, they’re back bowling.

Nightmare Situation- Perry proves to be better suited for A-Back and foes familiar with the option gang up even more in the box.  The defense learns all of the pre-snap shenanigans don’t mean much once the ball is snapped.  Another losing season in Annapolis is punctuated by going 0-2 against Air Force and Army, meaning the senior class went winless in the big rivalry game.

 

Saturday’s marquee matchup saw #19 Texas upset the Big 12 applecart by outscoring #7 Oklahoma 48-45 after a game filled with plenty of thrill and spills–and chills.  The notoriously slow-starting Longhorns jumped out to a 24-10 second quarter lead and led 45-24 after three periods…before the Sooners stormed back to tie things up with under three minutes left.  But Kyler Murray and company left too much time on the clock and Texas was able to kick a field goal with nine seconds left.  Calling this rollercoaster ride next to the Texas State Fair was FOX’s Gus Johnson…an announcer known for high-energy calls of big plays in clutch situations.  He might not be everybody’s cup of tea-or more appropriately given his energy, double espresso-but nobody makes the mundane plays more interesting and nobody makes the big plays more sublime.

 

Alma Mater Update- those of a certain age also recall the last time the Orange started 4-0 they dropped two straight games.  Saturday’s overtime loss at Pitt was unfortunate; while we know SU isn’t in the same class as Clemson, a win at a sub-500 ACC foe like the Panthers shouldn’t be too much to ask for.  They host North Carolina in two weeks.

 

Maryland (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) in its 42-21 loss to Michigan scored more points against the Wolverines than they had in the last three years combined, but the Terps were unable to contain the Wolverines after holding them in check for the first quarter.  Terrapin Triumphs: Tyrrell Pigrome came off the bench to lead the team with 63 rushing yards, including a 42 yard scamper and the game’s final touchown.  Tre Watson tallied 10 tackles to pace the defense.  Ty Johnson returned a kickoff 98 yards for the touchdown that gave the Terps their only lead of the day.  Terrapin Troubles: the offense stalled early and often, gaining just 47 yards in the first half.  The defense allowed the Wolverines to move the chains on 9-of-13 third downs…as Michigan scored five of the last six times they had the ball (the final possession of the day being the exception).  Penalties continue to be a problem, with 12 flags for 107 yards.  Next:  Saturday at home against 1-5 Rutgers (noon kickoff).

 

Navy (2-3) went west to face Air Force, and things went south after the Midshipmen took an early 7-0 lead.  The 35-7 loss was the their biggest defeat in the series since 2002 (Paul Johnson’s first year).  Midshipman Medals:  not a lot of good to thumb through.  Pete Tanuvsa made 11 tackles to pace the defense.  Owen White averaged 48.7 yards per punt…and he had plenty of practice with a career-high seven punts.  Midshipman Miscues:  the offense went three and out five times in seven first half possessions…and converted just 2 of 13 third downs.  Navy quarterbacks completed 3 of 12 passes.  Next:  Saturday at home against 3-3 Temple (3:30 p.m. kickoff).

 

#24 Virginia Tech (3-2) held Notre Dame to minus-three rushing yards in the first half, but on the Fighting Irish’s second offensive play of the second half Dexter Williams broke for a 97-yard touchdown that turned a one-point game at intermission into a 45-23 rout.  Hokie Highlights:  Ryan Willis threw for 309 yards while Damon Hazelton tallied 12 catches for 131 yards and a touchdown.  Reggie Floyd recorded seven tackles and an interception.  Hokie Humblings:  two turnovers-one of which was returned for a Notre Dame touchdown.  The defense gave up big plays–in addition to the 97-yard TD, the secondary coughed up passes of 40 and 56 yards.  Next:  Saturday at 1-3 North Carolina (7 p.m. gametime).

 

 

 

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If September is “Show Me Month” for individual programs and teams, it’s “Crow Me” month for conferences.  Leagues can dine out on their fat won-loss record in the season’s first month–even though many of those games are buyouts with FCS or lower-tier FBS schools.  Alabama has had two such games so far this fall-and coach Nick Saban has wondered aloud why the students haven’t been in their seats for an 11 a.m. local time kickoff with the likes of Louisiana-Lafayette.  Forgive me coach, but most 18-22 year olds are thinking about getting brunch in the dining hall at that time on Saturday-especially if there’s an omelet or waffle bar at their disposal.  Hyphenated schools aren’t going to pull them away from Monte Cristo sandwiches.  That said, the Southeastern Conference is the leader of the pack in our annual October conference call:  this week we look at the Power 5 conferences, from the contenders to the underbelly.

 

SEC: 33-5 with six of 14 schools in the AP Top 25.  Contenders:  #1 Alabama, #2 Georgia, #5 LSU & #8 Auburn.  Kentucky’s 5-0 start, after further review, is not an accounting error and Florida has half of its wins from lower-tier schools Charleston Southern & Colorado State.  Sadly, those are the only Division I schools with the initials “CS”–so Idaho will make the short flight from Moscow in November.  Underbelly:  Missouri is 3-1 and averaging over 40 points a game?  The third best Tiger team in the league is the early surprise.  Woe are the Magnolia State schools:  Ole Miss and Mississippi State are a combined 0-4 in league play.  Thank goodness for the Egg Bowl.

 

Big 12:  21-7 with four of 10 schools in the Top 25.  Contenders:  #7 Oklahoma and #9 West Virginia are unbeaten, while #19 Texas continues to kick itself for the Longhorns’ loss to Maryland and #25 Oklahoma State continues to be embarrassed by coach Mike Gundy’s mullet.  Underbelly:  TCU couldn’t hold on to leads against Texas or Ohio State…while Kansas is 2-3!?!  That’s like an 8-win season in Lawrence.

 

ACC: 32-11 with four of 14 schools in the Top 25.  Contenders: #3 Clemson needed a fourth quarter rally to beat Syracuse at home, while #17 Miami got exposed by LSU Labor Day weekend.  NC State (#23) is unbeaten, but lost a huge chance to develop street cred when their game against West Virginia was cancelled by Hurricane Florence.  Underbelly: while Duke and Syracuse are defying their “basketball school only” stigma with 4-1 starts, North Carolina is playing up to that stereotype at 1-3.

 

Pac-12: 23-11 with four of 12 schools in the Top 25.  Contenders: #10 Washington lost a tough “neutral site” game to Auburn in Atlanta, while #21 Colorado is the league’s last remaining unbeaten.  The Buffaloes will be tested with consecutive road games at USC and the Huskies.  Underbelly:  we knew the transformation wouldn’t be immediate under coach Chip Kelly, but I don’t think anyone thought UCLA would start 0-4 while allowing 38 points in consecutive losses to Fresno and Colorado.

 

Big Ten: 27-13 with five of 14 schools in the Top 25.  Contenders:  #3 Ohio State is the league’s last unbeaten after rallying to beat #11 Penn State in Happy Valley, but the Nittany Lions, #15 Michigan and #16 Wisconsin are each 4-1 with the path to the College Football Playoff in their hands.  Does anyone think that one-loss teams like Indiana, Iowa, Maryland and Minnesota are capable of making a move?  As always, the jury is out on #20 Michigan State.  Underbelly:  Rutgers (1-4) has a better record than Nebraska (0-4).  Let that sink in for a while…as there are those who will remind you how great the Cornhuskers were last century.  Just like the Scarlet Knights dominated the first ever college football game played in 1869 (a 6-4 win against Princeton).

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange take their 4-1 record to Pitt Saturday in the ACC Network’s 12:20 p.m. Bojangles Battle.  This month will be a big barometer for how far this program has come under coach Dino Babers:  so far this year they’ve played better than the 2-3 Panthers.  SU also has home games with 1-3 North Carolina and unbeaten NC State this month…there’s a great chance that October could be a treat instead of a trick for Syracuse.

 

Saturday’s Games:

Maryland (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) at #15 Michigan (4-1, 1-0), noon (ABC).  The Terps come off the bye week by going to the Big House…and take the Big Ten’s least productive passing game into Ann Arbor to face a Wolverines defense that ranks first in the conference against the pass and overall (they may rank #3 against the run in the league but are 7th overall nationally).  Keep your eyes on Chase Winovich;  the senior defensive linemen leads the team in sacks and is second in tackles.  Maryland will go as far as its running game that has shown a propensity to make the big play (touchdown runs this season include scampers of 36, 64 and 81 yards)–but they’ll be minus the injured Lorenzo Harrison and his 8.4 yards per carry.  When Michigan has the ball, watch out for Karan Higdon (6.3 yards per carry and 119.8 per game)…a tough test for a Terps D that leads the league in getting off of the field on third down.  Terrapins tumble, 26-10.

 

Navy (2-2) at Air Force (1-3), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).  The Mids have won just once in Colorado Springs this decade, and they needed overtime to do so in 2012.  Offense is not a problem for the Falcons, who have scored 25 or more points in each of their four games.  The Midshipmen have had issues stopping everybody this year, allowing 21 or more points whether their foe was a FCS Lehigh, a Hawai’i team that’s off to a 5-1 start or an SMU squad that was 0-3 when they met.  Both teams can run the ball, as the Midshipmen lead the nation by averaging 355 yards on the ground and the Falcons rank 11th (254.8).  But Air Force also ranks 11th nationally in stopping the run, allowing 98.5 yards per game.  They won’t handcuff Navy’s option, but they’ll slow the fleet of backs just enough.  Presto’s Pick:  Midshipmen come up short, 28-24.

 

#24 Virginia Tech (3-1) vs #6 Notre Dame (5-0), 8 p.m. (ABC).  Which Hokies team will we get in Blacksburg Saturday- the one that went into Durham and defeated then-unbeaten Duke or the one that allowed 35 points in the second half at then-winless Old Dominion?  After three one-possession games to start the season, the Fighting Irish appear to have turned the corner behind quarterback Ian Book.  Pick your poison, VT defense:  the junior threw for four touchdowns against Stanford one week after running for three scores at Wake Forest.  It’s the second start for Ryan Willis, who will find the Catholic school’s defense a little less forgiving than the Blue Devils.  Life is amusing that way.  Hokies go down fighting, 27-20.

 

Virginia (3-2, 1-1 ACC) is idle, but don’t you dare think Kippy & Buffy will be taking it easy this weekend.  Bye weeks are for shuttering up the cottage in the Outer Banks-and there’s no better way to wave goodbye to summer than by enjoying a 2010 bottle of JM Gobillard et Fils Millesime Champagne.  “Straw color, lovely aromatics (violets and strawberries), persistent perlage (meaning the bubbles are evocative of pearls), and pleasant mix of fruity and pastry-like notes.”   Break out the Black Diamond Hackleback Caviar on toast points (the lighter toasted, the better).

 

Georgetown falls at Fordham, Howard beats North Carolina Central,  James Madison beats Elon, William & Mary loses to Albany, Richmond falls to Delaware, Towson shocks Stony Brook.

Last Week: 6-1.  “Show Me Month” ends with an exclamation point…

Season: 26-14.  What will “Moving Month” bring us?

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Navy looks to bounce back from an uncharacteristic 2017– instead of competing for an AAC West title the Midshipmen finished 4-4 in league play.  After a 5-0 start the Mids were fortunate to be bowl-eligible after posting their worst regular season (6-6) in five years.  And instead of beating Army, Navy lost its second straight game to their arch-rival.

What caused a rare subpar season under coach Ken Niumatalolo?  Two things:  untucked shirts and sloppy shaves. “When you’re a disciplined person, you’re disciplined all the time.  And learning to make the right decisions over and over,” Niumatalolo said, “tucking in your shirt and being groomed the right way-we realized there’s carryover to the field. Because the teams that maybe have been a little bit lax in there… may be lax in some of the critical choices that have cost us the game.”

The lack of attention to detail regarding seemingly minor areas contributed to sloppy play:  witness the 16 turnovers that were second most in the AAC.  Witness the 53 penalties (14 more than 2016, an increase of 35%) committed by the usually sharp squad.  This year there is a commitment to doing the little things…and from those little things big things will be expected.

There will be a change at quarterback this season: it won’t be due to graduation unlike previous autumns but due to the talent of Malcolm Perry.  The junior lost the competition last year to Zach Abey, and the coaching staff moved him to slotback in order to get Perry on the field.  This year Perry takes over at QB and the team moves Abey to wide receiver and with every practice Perry makes the coaching staff feel they’ve made the right decision. “Just the work ethic-I’ve been impressed with. A very humble kid-quiet kid-who comes to work,” Niumatalolo said,”He’s gotta progress and continue to develop in the passing game…but he’s with a great coach in (Offensive Coordinator Irvin) Jasper and there’s no doubt in my mind he’ll be ready for game one.

What are the keys to being a successful quarterback in the option offense? “Small picture, I’d say just being consistent in your technique and footwork-making sure it’s second nature.” Perry said, “Macro-it’d be getting us in the right play and making sure everyone’s in the right position.”  Perry’s three starts last year included a 250-yard rushing performance against Army.  He’ll have help this fall-senior fullback Anthony Gargiulo averaged 5.6 yards per carry in 2017 while senior right tackle Andrew Wood has received pre-season all-AAC notice.

Defensively the Mids return five starters- but lose standout linebacker Micah Thomas to graduation. Safety Sean Williams ranked second in tackles behind Thomas last year and will be the key cog in 2018.  His focus? “Attitude, detail and discipline-you know?” Williams said, “In our defense we just come with a certain intensity.  We know that we’re playing for everybody on the sideline. As long as we keep the approach of caring about each other, being meticulous in our preparation and being a beast when it comes to being a beast then we’re gonna be fine.”

The second-most traveled team in FBS (only Hawaii logs more air miles this fall) starts the season at Hawaii, coach Niumatalolo’s alma mater (the Mids are 0-2 in the islands all-time).  While they play four of their next six games in Annapolis-the AAC season begins with a bang as West Division favorite Memphis drops by September 8.  The usual highlights of their slate involve going to Colorado Springs for their annual duel with Air Force, San Diego for their “home” game with Notre Dame, and Philadelphia for their annual date with Army.

Penthouse Prediction- a victory at Hawaii starts the season in fine fashion and the Mids take care of business at home against AAC and non-league foes (mightly Lehigh) alike.  Even losses to Notre Dame and UCF can’t dampen the vibe in Annapolis because they recapture the Commander-in-Chief Trophy by beating Air Force and Army.

Outhouse- the defense can’t contain Hawaii and Memphis is too much for the Mids in their home opener.  Losses to Houston and UCF make the Mids a non-factor in the AAC West and they need a win over Army to secure bowl eligibility.  They don’t get it…and what was once a 14-game winning streak is now a three game slide against their biggest foes.

 

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Yes, there are blowouts in college football.  I’ve happened to watch Maryland paste each of its first two home foes by an average score of 51-10…and both games haven’t even been that close.  But on an autumn Saturday seasons are often made-or broken-on crazy plays and last-minute miracles.  Witness #25 Georgia salvaging its SEC East hopes with a 47-yard TD pass with 10 seconds left…only to cough up a 43 yard TD pass to #11 Tennessee on the game’s final play.  Witness #12 Florida State fall on a last-minute field goal to North Carolina-at home.  Witness #18 Utah stumbling to Cal after being stuffed at the one-yard line on the game’s last play.  Witness #3 Louisville rallying from 18 down at Clemson…only to lose an 8-point fourth quarter lead.  Once again, thanks to LSU and Les Miles for having their last-second heartbreak one weekend before I decide to write about that topic.  In the unforgiving college football world where one loss can make or break a season as well as a Heisman campaign and coaching career…these nailbiters never go away.  Trust me, just as there are still people chatting about Herschel Walker running over Bill Bates in 1980 on the way to the end zone…this year’s Vols-Bulldogs fantastic (or furious, depending on your loyalties) finish will live for some time.

Dave’s Dream- I know it took us almost 20 years to get from a two-team to a four-team playoff…and it took 30+ years of the jigsaw puzzle format to get there.  But one can still dream of an 8-team field that includes all Power Five Conference winners plus three wildcards.  So…going by this week’s combined Top 25 Polls for seeding and wildcard selection, your first round matchups would feature #1 Alabama-Baylor, #2 Ohio State-Louisville, #3 Clemson-Washington and #4 Michigan- Houston.  Somehow that mid-December quadruple-header sounds more intriguing than a Saturday of sub-500 in their conference teams playing in the Pinstripe Bowl.  Here’s to the dream…

Alma Mater Update- so there just may be a few defensive deficiencies on this year’s team.  Allowing 62 points to Louisville is not ideal…but 30 to Notre Dame IN THE FIRST QUARTER?  Thank goodness the Eric Dungey to Amba Etta-Tawo connection continues to pump points out on the scoreboard like a runaway gusher.  A trip to Wake Forest looms for a team that may I remind you is unbeaten on the road (Meadowlands game counts as a “home” game).  The Pinstripe Bowl dream lives…

Virginia Tech (3-1, 1-0 ACC) had the weekend off but worked its way into the top 25..just barely.  The #25 Hokies visit the new bully on the ACC Coastal Division block, #17 North Carolina, Saturday at 3:30 pm (Tar Heels fresh off that victory over Florida State).  I’ve long referred to October as “moving month”…and Saturday will be an important barometer for Justin Fuente’s team. 

Maryland (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) began Big Ten play with a 50-7 rout of Purdue.  The Terps dodged an early bullet when the Boilermakers missed a 35-yard field goal following a Perry Hills interception…and proceeded to play so well that now instead of the “can they make a bowl” conversation we have the “which bowl would they go to” talk.  Because sad-sack Rutgers , always-suspect Indiana and suddenly slumping Michigan State (0-2 in the Big Ten) remain on the slate.  Terrapin Triumphs- the running game gained 400 (YES-400!) yards on the ground as sophomore Ty Johnson had gains of 48, 56 and 77 yards.  The defense sacked David Blough six times and held the Boilermakers to 6-20 on third down. Terrapin Troubles- 11 penalties for 92 yards is not ideal…and while Perry Hills threw two touchdown passes while running for another the senior was sacked four times and threw an interception.  Next:  Saturday at 3-2 Penn State, 12 noon.

Virginia (2-3, 1-0 ACC) vanquished four years of road struggles with their first win away from Charlottesville since November of 2012, defeating Duke 34-20.  And there’s more:  UVa by being in the Coastal Division doesn’t have to play Clemson OR Florida State this fall.  Time for the downer:  they do face Louisville.  Cavalier Congrats- Kurt Benkert threw for 336 yards and 3 touchdowns as the offense converted 11 of 21 third down attempts.  Juan Thornhill and Bryce Hall each noted two interceptions…as Quin Blanding added an INT as well.  By the way, Micah Kiser tallied 18 tackles.  Cavalier Concerns- not accounting for the two sacks allowed, the running game averaged just a whisker over 3 yards a carry.  With the presence of Taquan Mizzell and Albert Reid you’d hope for a little more productivity.  But honestly-after snapping and 18 game road losing streak, concerns take a major backseat.  Next: October 15th vs 3-2 Pitt.

Navy (3-1, 2-0 AAC) went outside the conference to Colorado Springs and was ambushed by Air Force 28-14.  Something about the mountain air?  While the Mids have won 10 of the last 14 games in the series but have dropped 3 of the last 4 on the Falcons’ home field.  Midshipmen Medals- Will Worth throws for a career-high 260 yards.  Micah Thomas leads the defense with 11 tackles.  The offense converts on 3 of 5 fourth downs.  Midshipmen Miscues- how did they get to fourth down?  By converting just 5-15 third downs.  Chris High was held to a season-low 32 yards rushing (2.9 yards per carry). The offense also turned the ball over three times while the D had issues getting off the field (Air Force converted 50% of their third downs).  Next: Saturday vs #6 Houston (5-0).