PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Kippy & Buffy have their eyes on a non-conference white wine.  And the season of possibilities would not be complete without a trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  And that means a bottle of Antiquum Farms’ 2018 Daisy Pinot Gris.  “Focused, precise, and all about refined texture, minerality and crisp acidity.”  They had my popped collared pals at refined texture. Vibrant citrus and floral components blend seamlessly with pomme fruit, lemon curd, pear,  river stone and metallic nuance.”

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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