Archives for posts with tag: Alabama

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

The past six years have seen six different schools represent the Coastal in the ACC Championship Game, and it only seemed comical to pump up Virginia (the lone holdout) as the natural successor this fall.  Thankfully the softest Power Five Conference division with multiple schools in rebuild or revamp mode provides the Cavaliers with the perfect avenue to complete what would be one crazy seven-year run for the Coastal.  But to do so they have to get past their nemesis-if you haven’t heard or read before, Virginia has not beaten Virginia Tech in football since the Hokies entered the ACC in 2004.   The Hokies also once ruled the Coastal with an iron fist, taking the division five times over a seven-year span.  Virginia Tech still has to play their way into position over the next two weeks, but I’m marking November 29 on my calendar.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Saturday’s Games-

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

Last Week: 6-4.

Overall: 63-28.

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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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Some say timing is everything, and if it isn’t it certainly remains a pretty big factor.  College Football’s Power Five slate kicks off at 12 p.m. Saturdays with more chaff than wheat while its prime matchups are usually offered up to ABC, CBS, and ESPN in the coveted 3:30 p.m. window.  The late games kick off from 6 to 7:30 p.m., with a prime time showdown and the customary Pac-12 After Dark duel wrapping up the day’s action.  It should be easy to have everybody play at a reasonable time.

Except with dreaded noon eastern games in the Central Time Zone.  This Saturday there are four games involving ranked teams that begin at 11 a.m. local time:  Oklahoma-West Virginia, Wisconsin-Illinois, Auburn-Arkansas and Purdue-Iowa.  Earlier this fall to fit into the ACC Network’s grid, Pitt played Ohio at 11 a.m. EDT.

Last month Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban complained about a 12 p.m. EDT game against Southern Miss, which would kick off at 11 a.m. local time.  Saban was pounced on by some as being elitist, but I completely understand his thinking.  In a sport where empty seats are a pox and the final days of summer can be toasty, late-morning is the last time you want to gather 75,000 people outside in the sun.  On weekends the last thing many want to do is have to be anywhere by 11 a.m.; even though noon is just an hour later it feels a world away from late-morning.  College students waking up and getting anywhere on a Saturday morning by 11?  Right.  And even though college athletics is not always about the actual student athletes, a player’s body-clock can’t benefit from the morning start.

Leagues blame TV; one wants to show as many games to as many people as possible.  But if the SEC and Big Ten have their own networks, can’t they move the 11 a.m. Central games to noon/aka 1 p.m. Eastern?  It’s not like these channels don’t have pregame and highlight shows that could fill those slots.  So your SEC mid-afternoon game kicks off at 4:30 instead of 3:30…or the seven o’clock game starts at eight.  People will still watch–because it’s football.  Unless it’s Rutgers.

 

Alma Mater Update- major gut-check time for the Orange, who need three wins to become bowl-eligible.  First up is 4-2 Pitt, who’s coming off of three straight wins by a combined seven points.   But at least it’s at home–even if it’s on Friday night.  The offensive line that allowed eight sacks against NC State needs to find itself, and Tommy DeVito needs to put up quality yards instead of simply a quantity of yards.  I’m not confident that will happen this year.

 

Maryland ( 3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) vs. Indiana (4-2, 1-2), 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network). 

Speaking of early starts, how is this game not beginning at 12?  I thought “Maryland-Indiana” was French for “noon kickoff”.  Both schools suffer from the “Rutgers Inflation Effect”.  The Terps torched the Scarlet Knights by 41 points while the Hoosiers won by 35 against RU.  They’ve each been humbled by Big Ten foes not residing the state of New Jersey, Maryland getting outscored 99-14 while IU’s been pasted 91-41.  Indiana brings the Big Ten’s second-best passing game into College Park Saturday, and the Terps passing defense allows the most yards per game in the conference.  Hoosiers quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (69.5% completion rate) has the necessary counter-punch in running back Stevie Scott III (5.0 yards per carry) to keep opponents honest; sadly he lacks a “IV” on the roster.  Tyrrell Pigrome starts for the second week at quarterback as Josh Jackson’s ankle still isn’t right, and running back Anthony McFarland’s high ankle sprain looks to limit the sparkplug that gained over 1,000 yards last fall further (he notched four yards at Purdue and dropped a pass in the end zone).

Presto’s Pick: Terps tumble, 35-20.

 

Virginia (4-2, 2-1 ACC) vs. Duke (4-2, 2-1), 3:30 p.m. (ACC Network).

Easter may be in springtime, but last Friday the Cavaliers laid a major egg in their 17-9 loss at Miami.  So much for the “Season of Possibilities” (thankfully not trademarked yet). Early issues that won’t go away begin and end with an offensive line that can’t generate a running game (a league-worst 102 yards per game) or protect Bryce Perkins (13 sacks in their last two games).  Duke has already won in the Commonwealth this fall, but after scorching Virginia Tech by 35 they allowed 33 points in a loss at home to Pitt.  Quentin Harris  is also averaging fewer than 10 yards per completion in four of six games this fall;  UVa’s defense leads the ACC in sacks and will need to make him uncomfortable all afternoon.

Kippy & Buffy are more than comfortable going with an old standby for Duke week:  the ultimate “bro” school demands a bottle from Breaux Vineyards.  This year it’s the ”
Equation Red”, a blend that is 73% merlot with dashes of Petit Verdot, Chamborcin, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.  With aromas of “ripe cherry, plum, and chocolate” plus the taste of “juicy fruit, baking spices such as clove and nutmeg” the lingering dusty tannins will go great with some sauteed mushrooms plus Bleu Cheese on toast against the Blue Devils.

Presto’s Pick:  the Cavaliers find the right equation and defeat Duke, 24-20.

 

Virginia Tech (4-2, 1-2 ACC) vs. North Carolina (3-3, 2-1), 3:30 p.m. (ACC Network).

Past is present in Chapel Hill, as Mack Brown returned to the program he led to 69 wins from 1988 to 97 (including consecutive 10-win seasons that wrapped up his tenure).  Behind freshman quarterback Sam Howell (15 touchdowns and 3 interceptions) the Tar Heels began the season with thrilling wins over South Carolina and Miami, before dropping one-possession games to Wake Forest, Appalachian State, and then-No. 1 Clemson.  While a 16-point win at 1-5 Georgia Tech doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, look at the Hokies: they led Rhode Island by seven in the fourth quarter and it was just as close in wins against Furman, Old Dominion and Miami.  Cause for confidence:  VT is 2-0 since going with turnover-free Hendon Hooker at quarterback.  What’s helped the sophomore is the presence of a running game, with Deshawn McClease emerging as the primary ground threat.

Presto’s Pick:  Hokies come up short, 26-20.

 

Navy (4-1, 2-1 AAC) vs. South Florida (3-3, 1-1), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).

The Midshipmen are coming off of their first road win in over two years, while the Bulls are .500 at midseason despite returning 15 starters.  The sizzle for the Mids is often its option offense, and quarterback Malcolm Perry is directing an attack that leads the nation in rushing.  But major strides have been made so far this year on defense:  the team leads the AAC in stopping the run as well as fewest yards and points allowed.  USF has had major issues protecting the quarterback (a league-high 24 sacks allowed) as well as moving the chains (second-worst in the conference).

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen move one step closer to bowl eligibility with a 31-17 win.

 

Georgetown beats Lafayette, James Madison wins at William & Mary, Richmond gets by Yale, Towson beats Bucknell, Morgan State slips to South Carolina State.

Last Week: 5-5.  Overall: 44-19.

 

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\For all of the hype surrounding the clash of top five teams, didn’t Alabama-LSU feel a little underwhelming?  Yes, the Crimson Tide led by only 16 at the half and quarterback Tua Tagovialoa actually threw an interception for the first time all season-but the 29-0 shutout had the strange feel of a pre-determined outcome.  I’m not saying the Tide were toying with the Tigers at any time last night, but even the interception had the feel of a punt intended to pin LSU inside their own five.  In my mind’s eye I kept on seeing the cat I had as a child toying with a doomed mouse.  And this is the toughest competition in the SEC?  Thank goodness Georgia beat Kentucky yesterday to win the East, or we’d have to hide our eyes while the SEC Championship Game took place.  While Alabama still has Mississippi State and Auburn on their slate, coach Nick Saban’s team appears to be on its way to another appearance in the College Football Playoff.  The fall foliage is definitely filled with Crimson again this autumn.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange improve to 7-2, their best start since 2001.  The #13 ranking is their highest since 1998 when Donovan McNabb was quarterbacking SU to glory.  I want to call this a “soft 13”–as massive upsets last weekend created a serious vacuum.  But I’m going to enjoy this ridiculous ride as long as it lasts.  Bring on Louisville…

 

Maryland (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten) wrapped up a whirlwind week where their coach was reinstated and then fired by falling at home to Michigan State 24-3.  The Terps had a chance in the second half with consecutive possessions on the Spartans’ side of the field, only to come up empty.  How bad was the bouncing ball?  Michigan State recovered two fumbles in the end zone:  one of theirs for a touchdown and one of the Terps on an interception return that became a Spartans touchback.  Incidentally, they’d score the backbreaking touchdown on the very next play.  Terrapin Triumphs:  The defense tallied a pair of takeaways while Tre Watson’s 13 tackles paced the team.  Wade Lees averaged 45 yards per punt…and he had plenty of practice with a season-high eight kicks.

Terrapin Troubles: the offense went three-and-out the first three times they had the ball, and converted 3-of-15 third downs on the afternoon.  Kasim Hill was held to 8-of-21 passing for 74 yards while getting sacked four times.  Next:  Saturday at 4-5 Indiana (noon kickoff) in what will likely be the Terps’ best chance to become bowl eligible (they face Ohio State and Penn State to close the year).

 

Virginia (6-3, 4-2 ACC) lost control of the Coastal Division race on a rainy Friday night in Charlottesville…as Pitt emerged atop the three team scrum thanks to their 23-13 victory at Scott Stadium.  I’m sure announcers will say that “the Panthers control their own destiny”;  and while Pitt does control its road to the ACC Championship Game (win out and they take the Division) they do not control their own destiny.  Nobody controls their own destiny–that’s why it’s called “destiny”.  Cavalier Congrats:  Bryce Perkins completed 17 of 24 passes for 205 yards and UVa’s lone touchdown.  Joey Blount led the defense with 11 tackles.  Lester Coleman averaged 44.8 yards per punt.  Cavalier Concerns:  Perkins had issues staying upright all evening, getting sacked five times.  The defense held Qadree Ollison in check (24 yards rushing) but had no answers for senior Darrin Hall, who rumbled for 229 yards on 19 carries.   Ten penalties for 80 yards didn’t do the Cavs any favors.  Next:  Saturday at 3 p.m. vs. 4-4 Liberty in the final home game of the year.

 

Navy (2-7, 1-4 AAC) saw its skid reach six games–and unlike the other five losses this was a cradle to grave blowout.  While the 42-0 defeat at Cincinnati was the fourth time the Mids allowed 40+ points this fall, it’s the first time they’ve been shut out since October of 2012.  Midshipman Medals:  Not a lot to highlight on one long afternoon by the Ohio River.  Hudson Sullivan notches 10 tackles to pace an overmatched defense.  Midshipman Miscues:  Zach Abey was held to 37 yards rushing on 28 carries and the offense converted just 3-of-13 third downs.  Cincinnati reached the endzone the first five times they had the football.  Next:  Saturday at #12 UCF (noon kickoff).  The Knights are unbeaten.

 

Virginia Tech (4-4, 3-2 ACC) saw it’s season take another unfortunate turn in a 31-21 loss to Boston College.  While the Hokies can still capture the Coastal Division with three straight victories, they haven’t won three in a row all season.  Meanwhile, they’re still two wins away from reaching bowl eligibility.  It could be a long winter in Blacksburg.  Hokie Highlights: Ryan Willis threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns while also leading the team with 49 yards rushing.  Rico Kearney paced the defense with 18 tackles.  Oscar Bradburn averaged 45 yards per punt.  Hokie Humblings: a tale of two halves saw the offense generate three straight 3-and-outs to start the second half (their fourth possession was an interception);  the defense that allowed seven first half points coughed up 24 after intermission.  Next:  Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against 5-4 (but 4-1 in the ACC) Pitt.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

There’s another weekend before the bowls?  Really?  Conference championships are decided Friday and Saturday with the area schools mostly idle-unlike last December when Virginia Tech was bettered by eventual national champ Clemson and Navy lost to Temple (ugh) at home (double ugh).  At least we have James Madison (unbeaten and top ranked defending champ James Madison, that is) in FCS Playoff Action.  So even though one’s school might not be in action this weekend, you can still insert yourself into the conversation.

 

Friday’s Game:

Pac-12 Championship- #10 USC (10-2) plays #12 Stanford (9-3), 8 p.m. (ESPN).

At stake: neither has a great shot at making the College Football Playoff, and with the Rose Bowl serving as one of the semifinal games the winner won’t even get a trip to Pasadena.  Plus, this game is at 5 p.m. local time…on a Friday?  Even the MAC gets a Saturday kickoff.

Rematch?:  USC won 42-24 September 10th.

Who to Watch: Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold began the year as the Heisman favorite, and Cardinal runningback Bryce Love is a strong contender for the honor.  Both have nightmares of being drafted by Cleveland.

Notable Fact: unlike the other leagues, the Pac-12 name actually reflects its membership number.

Presto’s Pick:  Trojans triumph, 31-17.

 

Saturday’s Games-

AAC Championship- #14 UCF (12-0) vs #20 Memphis (10-1), noon (ABC).  

At stake: the right to be the really angry “group of five/Mid-Major” school left out of the playoff despite a conference title and a great record.  Plus the winning coach takes a leap in the “hot coaching commodity contest”.

Rematch?: UCF won 40-13 September 30th.

Who to Watch: UCF’s McKenzie Milton sounds like a shirt from Vineyard Vines…but the dual threat quarterback is averaging 326 yards passing per game this month and has run for a TD in five straight games.  Tigers QB Riley Ferguson is just as impressive.

Notable Fact:  both teams beat Navy and the Knights routed Maryland in College Park.

Presto’s Pick: Knights tame the Tigers, 37-28.

 

Big 12 Championship- #3 Oklahoma (11-1) vs #11 TCU (10-2), 12:30 p.m. (FOX)

At Stake:  Sooners need a win or they’d likely slip behind Alabama and out of the playoffs. Horned Frogs need a win plus a measles epidemic to make the Final Four.

Rematch?:  Oklahoma won 38-20 November 11th.

Who to Watch: OU quarterback Baker Mayfield is on his way to the Heisman Trophy, while TCU defensive linemen Ben Banogu and Ross Blacklock will try to keep him off-balance.

Notable Fact:  the Big 12 is the only conference to have a championship game despite not having divisions, which is why the conference championship game was created in the first place.

Presto’s Pick:  Sooners stumble, 44-38.

 

FCS Second Round-#1 James Madison (11-0) vs #10 Stony Brook (10-2), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)

At Stake: a berth in the quarterfinals and bragging rights between conference foes that haven’t met since 2015.

Players to Watch: Bryan Schor led the Dukes to the National Championship last year and picked up where he left off this fall.  Seawolves running back Donald Liotine led the CAA in scoring.

Notable Fact: home teams went 5-3 last weekend in the first round of the tournament after going 17-5 in 2016.

Presto’s Pick:  Dukes dominate, 34-16.

 

SEC Championship- #2 Auburn (10-2) vs #6 Georgia (11-1), 4 p.m. (CBS).

What’s at Stake:  automatic berth for the winner…with the knowledge that Alabama will be sweating until Tuesday evening.  Loser knows they had a chance and blew it.

Rematch?:  Auburn won 40-17 November 11th.

Who to Watch:  Kerryon Johnson ran for 167 yards against Georgia three weeks ago, while Bulldogs tailback Nick Chubb was held to 27 yards on 11 tries.

Notable Fact:  CBS announcer Brad Nessler used to call Atlanta Falcons games at their old stadium–not the Georgia Dome but Fulton County Stadium in the 1980’s.

Presto’s Pick:  Tigers by a nose, 23-20.

 

ACC Championship- #1 Clemson (11-1) vs #7 Miami (10-1), 8 p.m. (ABC).

At Stake:  the winner makes the Playoff while the loser should be cursing their loss to a sub-500 Syracuse or Pitt.

Rematch?:  No.  Although in 2015 the Tigers torched the Hurricanes 58-0 in Al Golden’s final game as coach. Enter Mark Richt.

Who to Watch: can Miami QB Malik Rosier bounce back from his subpar effort against Pitt?  Clemson DE Clelin Ferrell had 8 sacks to finish second in the ACC…and will have a say in Rosier’s play.

Notable Fact: this is Miami’s first-ever trip the ACC Championship Game–while Virginia Tech has been to the most (3-3 in six appearances).

Presto’s Pick: Tigers triumph, 30-22.

 

Big Ten Championship- #4 Wisconsin (12-0) vs #8 Ohio State (10-2), 8 p.m. (FOX).

At Stake:  a Badgers win would lock up a playoff berth as welll as quiet naysayers about their soft schedule.  A Buckeyes victory would likely send Alabama to the Playoff-making OSU fans whine about not being included despite winning their league (a criteria ignored last year when they made the playoff and Penn State was excluded).

Rematch?: they didn’t meet this year-but the Buckeyes butchered the Badgers 59-0 in 2014.

Who to Watch:  OSU QB JT Barrett led the Buckeyes to the national title as a freshman–he’ll play Saturday despite having “minor” knee surgery this week.  Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor is the league’s leading rusher, averaging 7 yards per carry and 150 yards per game.

Notable Fact:  Maryland has as many conference championship game appearances as Michigan.

Presto’s Pick:  Buckeyes blow up the bracket, 24-20.

 

Playoff Party—

#1 Clemson vs #4 Oklahoma

#2 Auburn vs #3 Alabama

 

Last Week: 2-1.

Overall: 74-25.

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

The final pre-Thanksgiving weekend had a September feel.  Not in the temperatures but in a schedule that smacked of a cupcake buffet.  Alabama-Mercer?  Clemson-The Citadel?  At a time when every game’s importance is magnified, we had just one matchup of top 20 teams (Michigan-Wisconsin).  To make things worse, the two most interesting rivalry games were on at the same time-despite both involving Pac-12 showdowns.  Hey, left-coasters, I love the whole Pac-12 After Dark deal and the like–but couldn’t you have moved USC-UCLA to the 3:30 window so I could watch Stanford-Cal without having to flip over?  The major bummer is one looks up at the calendar and realizes there’s just one weekend left in the regular season to complain about shifting start-times, FOX announcers having Wade Less punting and Lorenzo Hudson carrying the ball, and the long walk from Regent’s Garage to Maryland Stadium.  Where did the autumn go?

Fantasy Field– with no upsets in the top eight the three-round bracket stays fixed (Bama-USC winner vs Miami-Georgia victor, Oklahoma-Auburn and Clemson-Wisconsin reside in the other bracket)…so this week we’ll blow out the true FBS field of 16.  FCS does it with 24 schools on far smaller budgets.  That means the ten conference winners get automatic berths and we add six wildcards.  Hey, the MAC serves as cannon fodder for the Big Ten every autumn.  Let them send their best when it matters.  Automatic berths are in CAPS:

#1 ALABAMA (SEC) vs #16 TROY (SUN BELT)—#8 Ohio State vs #9 Notre Dame

#4 Clemson vs #13 BOISE STATE (MWC)–#5 WISCONSIN (BIG 10) vs UCF (AAC)

#3 OKLAHOMA (BIG 12) vs #14 TOLEDO (MAC)–#6 Auburn vs #11 USC (PAC 12)

#2 MIAMI (ACC) vs #15 FAU (C-USA)–#7 Georgia vs #10 TCU

Four rounds is a little excessive, so I’d settle for an eight-team field.  Although it is a novel concept to give schools that win their respective conferences a chance at winning a National Title.

 

Alma Mater Update- after three straight close games (yes, the 64-43 loss to Wake was much closer than the score indicated) the Orange get blown out in Louisville 56-10.  The thud to 4-7 is a bummer for sure, but one has to have faith that year two of the rebuild will be more like the larvae-cocoon stage.  At least that’s what you have to hope for if you’re a private school in the northeast with a stadium that seats under 50,000 fans.

 

Maryland (4-7, 2-6 Big Ten) saw its slim bowl hopes fade amidst the snow in a 17-7 loss to Michigan State that didn’t feel like a ten-point game.  Now the program has one eye on 2018 and another on sending its seniors out against (gulp) Penn State.  Terrapin Triumphs: they held Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke to 2-of-14 passing and limited MSU to 72 total yards in the second half.  Jermaine Carter led the way with 12 tackles and forced a fumble.  DJ Moore caught 8 passes, putting him within striking distance (64 grabs after 11 games) of the single-season record (Geroy Simon caught 77 passes in 1994).  Terrapin Troubles:  four of their first seven drives were three and outs, and on the other three possessions they punted after moving the chains once.  The defense also coughed up over 100 yards to Spartans tailback LJ Scott in the first half.  Next:  Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against 9-2 Penn State.

 

Virginia (6-5, 3-4 ACC) saw its upset bid of Miami come up short in a 44-28 loss to the Hurricanes.  Somehow 14-point leads are made to be coughed up–more than once.  Cavalier Congrats:  Kurt Benkert threw for 384 yards and four touchdowns with minimal help from his ground game.  Micah Kiser led the team with nine tackles wihle Quin Blanding notched eight stops and an interception.  Cavalier Concerns:  three turnovers on the road against a top ten team is not how you get things done–and Miami turned those miscues into 14 points.  The offense also gained just 52 yards on its final 22 plays from scrimmage.  Next:  Friday at 8 p.m. against 8-3 Virginia Tech.  If you haven’t heard, they haven’t beaten the Hokies since VT joined the ACC.

 

Virginia Tech (8-3, 4-3 ACC) fought through a sluggish start and held off a late Pitt drive to prevail over the Panthers 20-14.  Heading into the season finale against Virginia, one doesn’t especially feel confident-could this be the year they finally slip to the Cavaliers? Hokie Highlights:  they held Darrin Hall (486 yards rushing the last 3 weeks) to 4 yards on 15 carries and handcuffed the Panthers on the ground all day.  Cam Phillips continues to be the Blacksburg version of DJ Moore, catching 8 passes for 117 yards and the game-winning touchdown.  Brian Johnson kicked a pair of field goals, on the same weekend ACDC rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young passed away.  HIGH VOLTAGE, indeed. Hokie Humblings:  against the most porous pass defense in the ACC, Josh Jackson completed under 50% of his passes and tossed an interception.  the VT pass defense coughed up 311 yards and almost lost the game in the final minute when the Panthers completed a 74-yard pass to the Hokie 1-yard line.  Next:  Friday at 8 p.m. against 6-5 Virginia.  They can’t lose this one, can they?

 

Navy (6-4) had #8 Notre Dame on the ropes and a seven-point second half lead, before their last three drives ended with a missed field goal, an interception, and on downs in a 24-17 loss to the Fighting Irish.  Midshipmen Medals:  Zach Abey ran for 87 yards and a touchdown while passing for the Mids’ other score.  They also dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 42+ minutes.   Micah Farrar forced a fumble that set up their first touchdown of the day.  Midshipmen Miscues:  the defense allowed 5.3 yards per carry…and wound up surrendering three straight touchdown drives to the Irish.  The absence of a passing game (3 for 8 with an interception) once again limited the possibilities of the option offense.  Next: Friday at noon at 6-4 Houston.