Archives for posts with tag: Cavaliers

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Thanksgiving dinner always provides that moment when everyone is full turkey and stuffing when someone decides to start the “let’s go around the table and say what we’re thankful for” chain.  For the record you should go to Thanksgiving dinner with three things (one generic and two specific) in case you’re late in the rotation; nobody likes a copycat.  What I’m thankful for is college football rivalries.

At the highest level it’s Alabama watching its probable playoff hopes go down the drain thanks to missed field goals and pick-sixes at Auburn (although for the record at 10-2 I’m sure the Crimson Tide can still find their way back into the picture).  It’s Michigan losing to Ohio State for a record eighth straight year.  It’s Ole Miss rallying for a last-minute touchdown against Mississippi State, only to miss an extra point after receiving a personal foul penalty because the player who scored the touchdown pretended to urinate in the end zone like a dog (one cannot make this up).  And it’s Virginia putting to bed a generation of mishaps and anguish to bed at long last on a Friday afternoon in Charlottesville.  Fifteen years of woe traded for “Wahoowa!”.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange ended their autumn of discontent with a 39-30 overtime win against Wake Forest.  The 5-7 finish will have those looking closer at what could have happened at NC State or against Pitt.  At least thinking about those losses is better than wondering what is up with men’s basketball; a 21-point loss to Penn State ranks with last winter’s loss to Buffalo as a “huh?”.

 

Virginia (9-3, 6-2 ACC) alums may be taking Monday and Tuesday off this week as they’re probably still celebrating after 15 years of close calls and anguish with a 39-30 win over Virginia Tech (8-4, 5-3).  The nine-point margin of victory was the fifth time in eight years the Commonwealth Cup was decided by single digits, and instead of going the Hokies way as has been the case this decade it was the Cavaliers who made the plays down the stretch this year.

Cavalier Congrats: the cape fit once again for Bryce Perkins, who passed for 311 yards and a touchdown while running for 164 yards and a score.  His top target was Hasise Dubois, who made four catches for 139 yards.  The defense posted six sacks, including the one that led to the game-sealing fumble recovery in the Hokies’ end zone.  Noah Taylor tallied a pair of interceptions while Aaron Faumui made 2.5 sacks.  Brian Delaney made game-tying and go-ahead field goals in the fourth quarter.

Cavalier Concerns: Delaney missed his first extra point attempt of the day, and the special teams failed to generate any major returns.  Seven penalties for 62 yards might not hurt you against the Hokies, but they will against Clemson.  And the defense once again was accommodating;  they’ve allowed 29 points per game in November.

Hokie Highlights: Hendon Hooker also threw for 311 yards and a touchdown, and while the sophomore didn’t pass the century mark on the ground he did rush for a TD.  Tre Turner caught seven passes for 134 yards and a score.  Divine Dablo tallied 11 tackles to pace the defense.  Oscar Bradburn averaged 45.8 yards per punt while Tayvion Robinson had a 35 yard punt return while Keshawn King recorded a 43 yard kickoff return.

Hokie Humblings:  the game was theirs in the second half to lose, and the defense that had notched consecutive shutouts allowed the Cavaliers to score on their final four possessions of the day.  The offense that had done a great job taking care of the ball since the 2-2 start turned the ball over twice in the fourth quarter, and the offensive line was ravaged for six sacks by the UVa pass rush.

Next:  for Virginia, it’s a trip to Charlotte for their first-ever ACC Championship Game.  They’ll face defending national champion Clemson at 7:30 p.m.  Virginia Tech plays the waiting game.  The Hokies could potentially appear in the Camping World or Citrus Bowl.

 

Maryland (3-9, 1-8 Big Ten) rallied on the road but came up short in its season finale, falling at Michigan State 19-16.  Head coach Mike Locksley has meetings scheduled with players and coaches over the next few days.  In any program rebuild there’s usually change after the first season, even if it’s considered by the coach as “Year Zero”.

Terrapin Triumphs: Anthony McFarland rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown (a 63-yard scamper that gave Maryland a fourth quarter lead) while also returning a kickoff 40 yards.  Dontay Demus caught seven passes for 96 yards and a 44-yard touchdown.  Fa’Najae Gotay led the defense with 15 tackles, and the unit intercepted Spartans senior quarterback Brian Lewerke twice.  Colton Spangler averaged 47 yards per punt.

Terrapin Troubles: the offense turned the ball on each of their first two possessions and a third quarter fumble jumpstarted the Spartans’ game-tying drive.  In between the Terps converted just 1-of-11 third downs.  The defense didn’t break but bent just enough to allow the game-tying and tie-breaking field goals in the fourth quarter.

Next: Saturday September 5, 2020 at home against Towson.

 

Navy (9-2, 7-1 ACC) wasn’t able to win the AAC West as No. 17 Memphis clinched the division on Friday with their win over No. 18 Cincinnati, but the Midshipmen enter their annual game with arch-rival Army on the high of a 56-41 win over Houston.

Midshipman Medals:  it takes a lot to upstage the play of Malcolm Perry.   But while the senior quarterback rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown while throwing for 107 more yards, runningback Jamale Carothers ran for 188 yards and five TD’s.  The defense intercepted four passes and recovered a fumble.  Kevin Brennan led the unit with seven tackles and one of the five interceptions.

Midshipman Miscues:  the defense allowed 41 points and 527 yards, allowing pass plays of 47, 52, and 67 yards.  Clayton Tune burned them for 393 yards after managing 425 yards over his three previous games in November.

Next: against Army in Philadelphia at 3 p.m. on December 14.

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2019 has been a year to remember in Charlottesville, with Virginia winning National Championships in Men’s College Basketball as well as Men’s Lacrosse. They’ve even had a chance to bask in the Nationals’ World Series run, as Ryan Zimmerman and Sean Doolittle played their college ball for the Cavaliers.  How do you top that?  There’s only one answer–and that’s a win over Virginia Tech in football that would result in a Coastal Division crown.

The Cavaliers entered the year the lone Coastal team without an appearance in the ACC Championship Game, and with the other six schools taking turns representing the division the previous six years it almost made sense to pencil UVa in this year.  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 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.  That’s not just a small snapshot, but a tapestry of tragedy that ranges from routs (52-14 in 2005 and 52-10 in 2016) to heartbreak (17-14 in 2008 and last year’s 34-31 overtime loss).  That’s fifteen straight years of woe instead of “Wahooha!”.

At the University of Virginia, they eschew terms like “freshmen” and “seniors” for “first year” and “fourth years” because in theory you’re always learning (or at least paying tuition).  Factoring a four-year stay on “the grounds” (never “campus”), no current fourth-year student has attended the University with anyone who’s gone to school with anyone who’s been a student with anyone who’s been in classes (I hope they don’t have a special name for “classes”) with a fellow student who was at Virginia the last time they beat Virginia Tech.

Since arriving in Charlottesville in 2016, head coach Bronco Mendenhall has turned around a program that posted eight losing seasons in ten years to one that will make its third straight bowl.  He’s established stability at the quarterback position that was previously a revolving door and has the Cavaliers one step shy of a first-ever Coastal Division crown.  More than just a step, a win Friday would represent a giant leap for the program and complete a year to remember.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange wrap up the season Saturday by hosting Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons are a lot like SU: a private school fish swimming in a sea of public school sharks.  The Atlantic Division will long be the domain of Clemson and Florida State as long as those schools refrain from bad coaching hires, but there is evidence that a school like Wake Forest can be competitive.  Moving forward, the Orange need to take that cue.

 

Friday’s Game:

No. 23 Virginia Tech (8-3, 5-2 ACC) at Virginia (8-3, 5-2), noon (ABC).

Despite the streak being almost old enough to drive, close games have been the rule recently with four of the last seven games decided by one possession (with two more decided by ten points).  Two months ago this had all of the signs of being the year, but that was before the Hokies defense found its teeth and Hendon Hooker became the starting quarterback (the sophomore still has yet to throw an interception).  Since getting smacked by Duke 45-10 head coach Justin Fuente’s team has won six of seven, averaging 35 points per game.  They’ve gotten better in college football’s closing month, outscoring foes 109-17 the last three weeks.  You could say UVa peaked in their 48-14 October win over the Blue Devils;  they’ve coughed up 114 points in the four games since and have trailed in the first half of each game. Yes, even against Liberty.  Despite an inconsistent running game that ranks 13th in the ACC and an offensive line that allows over three sacks per game, Cavaliers quarterback Bryce Perkins has responded down the stretch with heroics on a weekly basis.  Can he dial it up one more time?

Kippy & Buffy try to dial up some magic from the last time UVa beat the Hokies:  this week they’ll be enjoying a bottle of 2003 Chateau Lynch Bages. “Blending power, concentration, style and charm. Forest floor, cedar wood, fennel, smoke and cherry liqueur scents start off the concentration of flavor, supple, round tannins and a sweet, finish filled with ripe cherries and crème de cassis.”  Lynch Bages is a wine for patient wine lovers, as it often needs 15-20 years in the top vintages to show its best.

Presto’s Pick: Kippy & Buffy have to be a little more patient, as the Cavaliers come up short 24-14.  Can you say “back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back”?

 

Saturday-

Maryland (3-8, 1-7 Big Ten) at Michigan State (5-6, 3-5), 3:30 p.m. (FS1). 

Call this the Disappointment Bowl:  both teams were ranked in September before dropping three-point games in week three.  The Spartans can still secure bowl eligibility with a win and are coming off of a shutout of Rutgers.  They also have a senior quarterback in Brian Lewerke who they’ve been able to protect (a Big Ten-low 17 sacks allowed).  The Terps rank 14th in the conference defending the pass and are second-worst at getting off of the field on third down. They’ve also been hamstrung on offense thanks to multiple injuries at quarterback (they played four in the Nebraska loss) and runningback (Anthony McFarland was never right this fall).  Head coach Mike Locksley referred to this season as “Year Zero”, and he’ll have meetings with players and coaches Sunday and Monday.  While that won’t prevent his team from putting forth maximum effort Saturday, their limitations will prevent the sendoff they desire for their seniors.

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins tumble, 38-14.

 

No. 24 Navy (8-2, 6-1 AAC) at Houston (4-7, 2-5), 7 p.m. (ESPN2). 

The Midshipmen will know by kickoff if this game is for the AAC West;  No. 18 Memphis meets No. 19 Cincinnati Friday afternoon and if the Tigers tumble there will be a window of opportunity open to the Mids for their first division title since 2016. The Cougars won the inaugural AAC Championship Game in 2015 but that was two head coaches ago:  Tom Herman bolted to Texas, and his successor Major Applewhite was fired after 2018’s 8-5 finish.  When Applewhite was hired, University President Renu Khator told faculty and staff at her annual holiday party, “The winning is defined at University of Houston as 10 and 2…we’ll fire coaches at 8 and 4”. That’s a tall order for a program that’s produced five nine-victory campaigns seasons since 1990.  Even a taller order for first-year coach Dana Holgorsen, who posted one such season in his last seven years with West Virginia.  He’s been accused of tanking his first season on campus by having his best players redshirt. This is the kind of program Navy wants to share the field with?

Presto’s Pick: Mids make it happen, 44-20.

Last Week: 5-4.

Overall: 82-34.

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Only 28.2 miles stands between Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis and Maryland Stadium in College Park, but Saturday saw two seasons continue in opposite paths a world away.  Navy’s 35-28 win over No. 21 SMU continued the turnaround from last fall’s 3-10 disaster;  in the grand scheme of things amidst an era of bowl bids, conference contention and Commander-in-Chief’s Trophies 2018 will be regarded as an isolated incident.  That’s what you get with the sturdy foundation of a program that’s been in place for a decade-plus.  The Midshipmen still have bigger games:  the trip to Houston has AAC West implications and the annual game with Army means dealing with their recent slide in the rivalry, but head coach Ken Niumatalolo’s offseason mission- modify the program while embracing its culture-has been a successful one that has shown immediate results.

The road to recovery at Maryland is only just underway for head coach Mike Locksley, and despite a 2-0 start in September the reality is that this program is in a serious rebuild.  Saturday’s 54-7 loss to a slumping Nebraska fighting for bowl eligibility shined the spotlight on many deficiencies, the most apparent the turnovers and penalties that crop up at the most inopportune times. “You don’t win games when you beat yourself,” Locksley said. “And I’ll keep saying this: when we learn to not beat ourselves first that’s when we’ll start turning the corner, and get back to the winning football that we need to play.”  Winning football has been the isolated incident this decade, with the team not finishing over .500 in conference play since 2010.  And for the 16 seniors who played their last game in College Park Saturday, the culture has been one of upheaval.  A fifth-year senior has played for three head coaches and two interim coaches.  Nobody said it was going to be easy, and the road ahead for Mike Locksley will certainly have many more bumps, twists and turns before he has the program where he wants it.

 

National Notebook:  “You love her, and she loves him. He loves somebody else, you just can’t win.”  The Pac-12 completed its version of the J. Geils Band’s “Love Stinks” with No. 6 Oregon’s loss to Arizona State.  Perhaps I should have referred to Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” because the Pac-12 did not break it.  You see:  the Ducks lost to the Sun Devils, who fell to UCLA, who lost to Oregon State, who came up short against Utah, who lost at USC, who couldn’t beat Washington, who succumbed to Stanford, who came up short against Colorado, who wilted against Washington State, who fell to Cal, who lost to Oregon, who–we’ll we’re now back to square one.  Good news for Alabama, who despite not being able to play for their conference championship naturally is in the mix to play for the national one.  Bad news for the only conference that plays nine league games while also having a name that accurately refers to the amount of schools in its membership.  Utah at 10-1?  The 13-member committee snickers at the thought.  One thing’s for sure, Pac-12 love stinks.

 

Alma Mater Update- dreams of another Pinstripe Bowl banner went up flames with a 56-34 loss at Louisville.  Everything we knew about this season showed its face, from an offense that put up decent stats but converted just 6 of 15 third downs to a defense that allowed over 600 yards.  The Orange will wrap up their lost autumn by hosting Wake Forest;  the decade that saw three head coaches comes to a close the the verdict out on the Dino Babers era.

 

Virginia (8-3) came off of their bye week and took a while to find themselves before pulling away from Liberty, retaking the lead with two quick scores late in the first half to enter the locker room by ten before rolling 55-27.  The season of possibilities leaves them 60 minutes away from a Coastal Division crown.  We’ll worry about the ghosts of Octobers past later in the week.

Cavalier Congrats:  Bryce Perkins throws for two scores and runs for a third, while PK Kier nets 82 yards and a touchdown rushing.  DeVante Cross tallies two interceptions, returning the picks back for 35 and 52 yards to set up a pair of TD’s. Aaron Faumui notches a sack and a half.  Seneca Milledge shines on special teams, averaging 32.5 yards per kickoff return.

Cavalier Concerns:  the defense that began the season by holding three of its first four foes to under 20 points has allowed 29 points per game over the last month.

Next: Friday at 3:30 p.m. against Virginia Tech. Actually, it’s not to early to worry.

 

Virginia Tech (8-3, 5-2 ACC) continues to play the tortoise to UVa’s hare, setting up a showdown in Charlottesville for the Coastal Division crown with a 28-0 shutout of defending division champion Pitt.  That’s back to back shutouts for the first time since 2005, or the first year they won the Coastal.

Hokie Highlights:  can we salute retiring Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster one more time?  The defense held the Panthers to 2.2 yards er carry, 39% passing, and 3-15 on third down.  Rayshard Ashby notched 7 tackles and 1.5 sacks.  Norell Pollard returned a fumble for a touchdown.  Hendon Hooker completed 10-13 passes for 153 yards and two touchdowns while freshman sparkplug Tayvion Robinson had a 32 yard run and a 71 yard catch.

Hokie Humblings:  the running game ran aground, gaining just 110 yards on 48 tries.  Even adjusted for sacks, the ground attack averaged 3.0 yards per carry which contributed to moving the chains on 3 of 12 third downs.  Seven penalties for 54 yards certainly won’t go unnoticed by head coach Justin Fuente.

Next: Friday at 3:30 in Charlottesville against Virginia. Many Hokies fans count this as a home game.

 

Maryland (3-8, 1-7 Big Ten) had two weeks to prepare for a slumping Nebraska team that had lost four straight while allowing 35 points per game during that slide.  But the Terps never got in gear, as two lost fumbles put 10 first quarter points on the board and the Cornhuskers would score on four of their first vie drives en route to a 54-7 rout.

Terrapin Triumphs:  Javon Leake scored the Terps’ lone touchdown on a 58-yard scamper for a score. Nick Cross kept even more Nebraska points off of the board with an interception in the end zone.  Keandre Jones led the defense with 10 tackles and Colton Spangler averaged 41.8 yards per punt.

Terrapin Tumbles:  Javon Leake lost three fumbles while freshman quarterback Lance LeGendre lost a fumble as well; the freshman QB’s drop occurred on the same play he injured his non-throwing shoulder.  Three other quarterbacks would see action, with the quartet completing 7 of 21 passes for 57 yards while getting sacked six times.  Josh Jackson also got banged up.  The defense allowed 305 yards rushing while permitting the Cornhuskers to complete 63% of their passes.  Special teams saw a fumbled kickoff and a leaping penalty during a punt;  each led to Nebraska scores.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at 5-6 Michigan State.

 

Navy (8-2, 6-1 AAC) may have finished 6-0 at home this year, but they certainly kept the home fans on the edge of their seats this fall.  While the comeback in the final minute against Air Force avenged last year’s loss in Colorado Springs and the field goal in the final seconds to top Tulane made them bowl eligible, the 35-28 win over No. 21 SMU put the Midshipmen in position to win the AAC West.  If they’re able to win at sub-500 Houston and Memphis falls to 9-1 Cincinnati, the Mids advance to their second AAC title game in four years.

Midshipman Medals:  Malcolm Perry rushes for 195 yards and two touchdowns (including the 70-yard game winning scamper) while also completing 9 of 15 passes for 162 yards and a TD.  This was the expanded passing game we were told about in August, and it picked the perfect time to show itself.  the Mids rush for 378 yards while maintaining possession for over 39 minutes.

Midshipman Miscues- a pair of big plays kept this one close:  the defense allowed a 61 yard touchdown pass while special teams surrendered a 100-yard kickoff return for a TD.  The offense converted just 6 of 17 third downs. Five penalties for 31 yards doesn’t seem like a lot, but they were flagged more than the Mustangs.

Next: Saturday at 7 p.m. on the road against 4-7 Houston. 

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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