Archives for posts with tag: Clemson

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Welcome to Conference Championship Week, where the winners advance to the College Football Playoff–sometimes.  Sorry, Virginia-your reward if somehow you pull off an upset of defending national champ Clemson in the ACC Championship Game likely won’t even be a trip to New Year’s Day (due to an accounting move, the Orange Bowl will be played December 30 this year).  I know that’s not how it works in men’s basketball or lacrosse, or even in football at EVERY OTHER LEVEL (good luck James Madison against Monmouth).

The sport with the best regular season and most unwieldy postseason enters its cocoon stage.  Don’t worry-you loved the three month caterpillar and you’re going to enjoy the Championship Game butterfly next month. Bear with them.  First we get a slate of exhibitions that will determine which school gets into the New Orleans (Sun Belt Conference) or the Las Vegas (Mountain West Conference) Bowls.  Conference USA’s winner gets to pick from a group of games if they’re not the “Group of Five” team, while the MAC and AAC send schools to bowls based partially on geography (meaning the schools competing may already know their destination regardless of Saturday’s result).

Then the curtains close and the 13-member committee determines which four schools advance, and the dust settles on the rest of the 41 bowls (really-41??).  To take even more air out of the ball, Ohio State and LSU are expected to make the playoff even if they lose their respective title tilts.  There are those that want an eight-team playoff (I am one of them), and with five schools in the “Power Five” it almost makes too much sense.  But just like we had to sit through 20 years of the Bowl Coalition, Bowl Alliance and Bowl Championship Series, we’ve got the current system for a few years more.  You can always do fantasy fields of eight-team brackets like I do on cocktail napkins.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange just happen to reside in the “tough” ACC division, the Atlantic. While the Clemson juggernaut is dominating the league at this moment, don’t forget the dormant monster that is Florida State (2013 BCS winners).  It’s going to be tough to return to an era when SU won or shared five Big East titles from 1996 to 2012.

 

Friday’s Game-

Pac 12 : No. 5 Utah vs. No. 13 Oregon, 8 p.m., Santa Clara, CA. (ABC).

What’s at stake:  a potential playoff berth for the Utes if things drop right, or further proof that this league eats its own if the Ducks prevail.

Rematch?: the two schools didn’t play this year, although the Utes won the 2018 matchup in Salt Lake City 32-25.

Players to watch:  Utah defensive end Bradley Anae brings 12.5 sacks to the Bay Area, and his goal is to disrupt Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert (67% completion rate, 3,140 passing yards with at 31-5 touchdown to interception ratio).

Fun Fact:  the South Division is 1-7, with the lone victory coming when the South representative is the higher ranked team.  That’s the case this year.

Presto’s Pick: Utes make their case with a 35-30 win.  Will it fall on deaf ears?

 

Saturday’s Games-

Big 12: No 6. Oklahoma vs. No. 7 Baylor, noon, Arlington, TX (ABC).

What’s at stake: in theory this should be for an automatic berth in a six or eight team field, instead the winner won’t even have a headstart against Utah for “who’s number four?” if the Utes win the night before.  And heaven forbid if Georgia somehow wins…

Rematch: OU trailed 28-3 in Waco November 16 before dialing up a rally for the ages, storming back for a 34-31 win where Baylor threw a last-minute interception.

Players to watch: Sooners quarterback Jalen Hurts picked up where Kyler Murray left off, one year after Murray picked up where Baker Mayfield left off.  In other news, I am seriously thinking about transferring to Oklahoma in the offseason.  The Bears rely on the pass as well, but when they run John Lovett and JaMycal Hasty average over six yards per carry.

Fun Fact:  Oklahoma is 9-1 in this game, with their only defeat coming in 2003 when as the top-ranked team in the nation they were blasted 35-7 by Kansas State.  Ell Robertston is not walking through that door.

Presto’s Pick:  Sooners stir up the pot with a 41-22 whipping.

 

Meanwhile, the Sun Belt (UAB-Florida Atlantic), Conference USA (Louisiana-Appalachian State), MAC (Miami (OH)-Central Michigan), AAC (Cincinnati-Memphis), and Mountain West (Boise State-Hawaii) will play all of their games in the early to mid-afternoon shadows. These conference championship games have no playoff implications whatsoever, although the AAC champ and Boise State have shots at being the “group of five” team that plays in a “New Year’s six” bowl.  If the Big 12 game is a blowout, run your holiday errands at this time.

 

SEC: No. 2 LSU vs. No. 4 Georgia, 4 p.m., Atlanta (CBS).

What’s at stake: if the Bulldogs win, they’re in.  Alabama’s loss to Auburn makes LSU’s playoff inclusion a near-certainty, further cementing the college football theory that “every game matters”.

Rematch?: the two schools last met in 2018 when the Tigers tore through the Bulldogs 36-16.

Players to watch: LSU quarterback Joe Burrow (78% completion rate with 4,366 yards passing and 44 touchdowns) is the Heisman Trophy favorite.  Georgia runningback D’Andre Swift rushed for 1,203 yards but is bothered by a shoulder injury.

Fun Fact: this will be the fourth meeting in this game between these two schools, making it the second-most common matchup (Alabama & Florida have played for the title nine times).

Presto’s Pick:  Tigers triumph, 24-16.

 

ACC- No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 23 Virginia, 7:30 p.m. Charlotte, NC (ABC).

What’s at stake:  the unbeaten team nobody’s talking about looks to cement its spot after playing an underwhelming schedule, while the Cavaliers look to continue an incredible year that saw men’s basketball and lacrosse teams win national championships.  An upset would likely also pull the Tigers out of the playoff.

Rematch?: the longtime conference foes haven’t met since November of 2013, a day in Charlottesville where Clemson won 59-10. For the record, Kippy & Buffy enjoyed a pregame tailgate Chateau O’Brien Malbec that day :”a medium-bodied wine with complex aromas of plum and fig, a velvety soft texture, and remarkable fruit flavor“–or as other expert tasting notes read: “Big Boat”.

Players to watch:  Tigers runningback Travis Etienne averaged over eight yards per carry while posting seven 100-yard rushing games; he’d have better numbers but sat a lot of second-half blowouts.  While Cavaliers quarterback Bryce Perkins wore the Superman’s Cape all year, their linebacking corps deserves notice: Zane Zandier (team-high 85 tackles), Jordan Mack (7.5 sacks), Noah Taylor (6.5 sacks with two interceptions) and Charles Snowden will have one tough task Saturday.

Fun Fact: Kippy & Buffy make their way to Charlotte, and it’s not just a first-ever Coastal Division crown they’re celebrating. Fellow alums Henry & Hildy live in the Ballantyne neighborhood, and Hildy was just made partner at her law firm. So a bottle of Chateau O’Brien’s 2012 Late Harvest Tannat will be opened at the tailgate;  it’s a non-fortified Port-style wine.  “During ripening, natural sugar accumulation reaches a level beyond the capacity of a natural yeast fermentation. No wine language can eloquently articulate the elegance of this wine.” We’ll go with “Big Boat”.

Presto’s Pick:  Cavaliers are gonna need a bigger boat, getting blasted 44-17.

 

Big Ten- #1 Ohio State vs. #8 Wisconsin, 8 p.m., Indianapolis (FOX).

What’s at stake- like LSU in the SEC, the Buckeyes are likely headed to the Playoff barring a 40-point loss.  The Badgers can tie OSU with a third victory in the nine-year old  title game.

Rematch?:  you bet. The Buckeyes bludgeoned the Badgers 38-7 in Columbus October 26. J.K. Dobbins-despite sounding like a character from a Charles Dickens story-rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns in the rout.

Players to watch:  Ohio State’s Chase Young posted four of his 16.5 sacks this season against Wisconsin during the October win; one assumes they’ll have a better plan this time. Jonathan Taylor may have led the Big Ten with 1,761 yards rushing, but he was held to 52 yards on 20 tries by the Buckeyes D in October.

Fun Fact: Michigan has appeared in as many Big Ten Football Championship Games as Maryland and Rutgers.

Presto’s Pick:  Buckeyes bring it, 31-10.

 

Last Week: 2-1.  I picked UVa the last two years and swore I wouldn’t again until they beat the Hokies. Congratulations.

Overall: 84-35.

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The problem with the mid-September schedule is that while the networks are looking for compelling matchups on a weekly basis, most schools nowadays try to build bowl eligibility insurance by bringing at least one FCS school or lower-tier FBS program to campus (and in a few cases sometimes one of each).  This means early-season matchups between ranked foes are few and far between.  Or in the case of this week, try none.  As in zero.  Blame more than the schedule-stuffers, with teams from Iowa State (Cyclones were taken to triple-overtime by Northern Iowa in week one) to Syracuse (coughed up 650 yards and 63 points at Maryland in week two) failing to live up to the preseason hype.

The Orange will face a top-ranked Clemson team that’s more than angry after almost being upset by SU last year in prime time on ABC.  I’m not saying things could get ugly, but Syracuse has allowed 60+ points to the likes of Wake Forest and Pitt in recent years.  This is Clemson.  FOX presents what used to be a great inter-sectional showdown in Oklahoma-UCLA.  While the Sooners have lived up to their No. 5 ranking, the Bruins have lost to the likes of Cincinnati and San Diego State.  Both with Chip Kelly coaching on the sidelines.  Meanwhile Lincoln Riley appears to be the quarterback whisperer as Jalen Hurts is on fire.  Gus Johnson is probably happy he drew Ohio State-Indiana instead.  At least ESPN will be showing an evening battle of unbeatens in No. 9 Florida facing Kentucky– hold on, the Wildcats are playing in the week’s ready for prime time matchup?  I’m not saying this is the week to go apple-picking or antiquing, but you guys can build major relationship cred without missing much.

 

Alma Mater Update- guess what?  The Orange may not be a Top 25 team this year.  Last Saturday’s loss at Maryland exposed multiple issues-and if there’s one team you don’t want to know about your glaring weaknesses, it’s Clemson.  As in top-ranked and defending National Champion Clemson.  As in the Tigers SU beat two years ago in the Dome and almost upset last year in Death Valley.  The bigger bummer is my Cuse buddy “Dome Doug” will be making the trip to the game so I won’t be able to watch at the “Orange Room”, the ultimate fan-cave.  Last year I drank all of his son’s root beer as I was loading up for an evening shift.  By the way, Barq’s goes great with blown double-digit second half lead.

 

No. 21 Maryland (2-0) vs. Temple (1-0), noon (CBS Sports Network). 

The Terps are ranked for the first time since joining the Big Ten and have smashed their first two foes to smithereens.  But a Terrapin’s memory is a long one, and the image of a Top 25 team going to Tallahassee in 2013 and getting torched by Florida State 63-0 remains in the back of one’s mind.  So does the school’s recent rough history with the Owls, like last year’s 35-14 loss at home.  Anthony Russo burned the Terrapin secondary for touchdown passes of 36 and 47 yards last fall and threw for 409 yards in the Owls’ Labor Day weekend win over Bucknell.  The key to Maryland’s early start has been third down dominance:  the offense ranks eighth (61%) in FBS at moving the chains while the defense (25%) is 14th best in the nation.  Coach Mike Locksley compares the season to driving cross-country, and that starting 2-0 feels like “arriving in Phoenix without a flat”.  I’m tempted to dive all-in on Glen Campbell references for the season, but his biggest hits were 40-50 years ago.  Also, the second verse in “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” refers to Albuquerque- where Locksley went 2-26 as New Mexico’s head coach.

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins reach Galveston (Oh Galveston!) without further car trouble, 34-19.

 

Virginia Tech (1-1) vs. Furman (1-1), noon (ACC Network). 

Could the Hokies be in trouble?  Their two-touchdown win over Old Dominion didn’t necessarily make one think that this fall’s edition was that much better than the team that needed to schedule a provisional game to make postseason play.  They currently rank last in FBS in turnover margin and have had issues running the ball (3.4 yards per carry after accounting for sacks).  Enter a Furman team that’s ranked 16th in FCS and is averaging 44 points per game.  Darren Grainger threw for 311 yards last week against Georgia State, but the freshman will learn rather quickly that the former Turner Field has nothing on Lane Stadium.  Or so Hokie Nation hopes as they try not to choke on their smoked turkey legs.

Presto’s Picks: Hokies have their hands full but hold on, 36-27.

 

Navy (1-0) vs. East Carolina (1-1), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network). 

After a week off, the Mids begin American Athletic Conference play looking to end a disturbing trend:  the Midshipmen went 14-3 during their first two AAC campaigns but went 6-10 in conference play the last two autumns.  Their foe can sympathize:  ECU went 4-20 in league play from 2016-18.  Enter former James Madison Coach Mike Houston, and a Pirates team that looked just as awesome in their rout of Gardner-Webb as they looked awful in their blowout loss at NC State.  If that’s comparing apples to oranges, the Mids’ week one win over Holy Cross is a pomegranate.  The game’s in Annapolis, where the current senior class is 13-3 in regular season games.  Did I mention East Carolina is 1-16 on the road since the 2016 season started?

Presto’s Pick:  Midshipmen get it done, 31-20.

 

No. 25 Virginia (2-0, 1-0 ACC) vs. Florida State (1-1), 7:30 p.m. (ACC Network). 

What’s this?  The Cavaliers are ranked and are favored against the Seminoles?  It’s been a long year the last two weeks in Tallahassee, as FSU needed a missed extra point in overtime to prevail over (gulp) Louisiana-Monroe.  The defense coughs up 40 points and 520 yards per game doesn’t even look that good.  UVa’s pass defense (under 50% completion rate and 157.5 yards per game) will be tested by James Blackman (73% and 304.5) while Cam Akers presents the perfect counter-punch (193 yards rushing last week) on the ground.  These schools actually compete for the “Jefferson-Eppes Trophy”; it’s not the Civil ConFLiCT but just about as relevant over the years as UVa is 3-15 against FSU.

Kippy and Buffy know their history, and that “Eppes” refers to Thomas Jefferson’s grandson Francis Eppes IV, a two-time Mayor of Tallahassee and Trustee at the seminary that would eventually become Florida State.  Nothing says history like tailgating with a bottle of 2013 Jefferson Vineyards Meritage“an oak driven wine with wonderful aromatics. The bright palate shows berry and black pepper flavors, finishing with lingering notes of coffee.”  Coffee is for closers- and in the season of possibilities could that be the Cavaliers?

Presto’s Picks:  Cavs come through, 27-22.

 

Georgetown tops Catholic, Howard falls to Hampton, Towson tumbles to Maine, Richmond loses to Elon, James Madison mauls Morgan State.

Last Week: 8-1. Overall: 14-4.

 

 

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Many out there, Maryland Coach Mike Locksley among them, say a college football team improves the most between weeks one and two.  This isn’t just a throw-away statement; with no preseason exhibition games to gage one’s talent against other foes, week one is often a time of surprise discovery and rude awakening.  How the team bounces back from those awakenings and maximizes its discoveries goes a long way towards how successful the team will eventually be.  Think of the season as a paragraph, and week one as the first sentence.  That said, there are statements to be made in September-especially this Saturday.

Two schools with early-season opportunities to make major statements reside in the Lone Star State.  Texas always has Texas-size expectations and the last two Septembers the Longhorn balloon was popped in week one by Maryland; but 2018 saw UT finish in the Top 25 for the first time since (gulp) 2012.  Saturday night under the lights Coach Tom Herman can make a major statement as they host No. 6 LSU.  The ‘Horn’s former longtime rival, Texas A&M, also ended a drought last fall when former Florida State Coach Jimbo Fisher led the Aggies to a Top 25 finish.  While guiding the Seminoles Fisher went 4-4 against Clemson, but won just once in Death Valley.  This week A&M visits the top-ranked and defending National Champion Tigers.  The money the school paid Fisher to leave the Sunshine State was for Saturday statement games like this one.

 

Alma Mater Update- much like George Louis Costanza, my worlds collide this week as the school I attended for four years plays the team I’ve covered for the last 14.  The University that was my home 20+ years ago visits the place that is my virtual home from August to March (with trips in May during the Lacrosse tournaments).  It’ll be great seeing old Orange friends before anchoring updates at 15 and 45 Saturday on WTOP.  It’ll be nice telling people what time it is before and after work tomorrow.  I’m just hoping for a good game and a better drumstick-to-wing ratio.

 

Friday-

William & Mary (1-0) at Virginia (1-0), 8 p.m. (ACC Network).

The Cavaliers opened the season of possibilities by beating defending division champ Pitt on the road thanks to a strong second half where they outscored the Panthers 17-0 and just as importantly matched Pitt’s physical play.  Enter William & Mary, coached by former UVa coach Mike London.  The Tribe run an option-based offense, exactly the kind that’s tough to prepare for on a short week.  They’re also coming off of a win over Lafayette where quarterback Hollis Mathis ran for 127 yards and a touchdown but split snaps with Kilton Anderson. Shades of London’s carousel of quarterbacks in Charlottesville; we know how that worked out.

Kippy and Buffy are working their way through their tailgating schedule for 2019, and they usually open against a non-conference foe with Conundrum White.  But in the autumn of possibilities they’re going outside the box, metaphorically of course-they’d NEVER have wine from a box.  For a matchup of two Commonwealth schools, Montifalco Vineyards 2018 Blanc rings true. A blend of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Seyval Blanc grapes provides “bright citrus, tropical notes and crisp finish”.

Presto’s Pick: the bright season continues as the Cavaliers come through, 34-16.

 

Saturday-

Maryland (1-0) vs. #21 Syracuse (1-0), noon (ESPN).

How do you top a week where you post more points than your opponent’s total yards?  By taking on a ranked opponent.  The Terps haven’t beaten a ranked foe in College Park since NC State in 2010.  The Orange opened their season with a 24-0 shutout of Liberty, a game known more for Flames coach Hugh Freeze calling plays from a hospital bed set up in a stadium suite (you cannot make this up).  SU brings a pass rush that notched eight sacks last week, but the Terps were able to counter Howard’s pressure with downfield strikes in the opener.  Syracuse also boasts a starting quarterback in Tommy DeVito, who depending on your interests will have you humming Four Seasons tunes from “Jersey Boys” or re-enacting Joe Pesci scenes from “Goodfellas”.  You think that’s funny?  Funny how?

Presto’s Pick: Terps are unable to pull off a Lufthansa Heist, slipping 27-21.

 

Virginia Tech (0-1) vs. Old Dominion (1-0), noon (ESPNU).

How do you wash away the stain of a season-opening loss where you turned the ball over five times and coughed up 35 points?  By facing the team that began your current 4-8 tailspin.  Remember the Monarchs?  The team that put 49 points on the board last fall and turned what was supposed to be an easy cross-state trip into a nightmare that would last for the rest of the season.  The good news is ODU quarterback Blake LaRussa (495 yards and 4 TD passes against the Hokies) left the program last winter to enter the Seminary and full-time Ministry.  The Monarchs also lost leading rusher Jeremy Cox (130 yards and 2 TD rushing) to the NFL.  It’s market correction week in Blacksburg.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies handle the Monarchs, 37-14.

 

Howard falls at Youngstown State, Georgetown beats Marist, Richmond loses at Boston College, James Madison beats St. Francis (PA), Towson tops North Carolina Central, Catholic slips to Kenyon.

Last Week: 6-2.

 

Haven’t we been here before?  December brings disappointment for 3-5 schools as has been the case since the College Football Playoff began.  I’ve written so many “eight is enough” columns over the years I’m starting to sing like Grant Goodeve.  This year it almost feels as though spots in the playoff field weren’t as much won as not lost.  Once again the Big Ten and Pac 12 champs find themselves on the outside looking in…although at least this year they have the Rose Bowl to play in.  UCF if they beat LSU in the Fiesta Bowl will likely hand out rings that say “National Champions”.  And Georgia will rue that fake punt on fourth and 11…knowing how razor-thin the margin for playoff inclusion is.  Not having an eight-team playoff field sucks.  But this is the world we live in…

If the BCS were still kicking around, Notre Dame would be arguing for inclusion instead of a Clemson team that allowed 35 points to South Carolina (the Irish allowed 54 points in four November games) after winning the ACC in a down year for the league.  Oklahoma would claim that its Big 12 title win over Texas more than erased their regular season loss to the Longhorns…to no avail.  And if the old bowl system were still in place, #1 Alabama would face #2 Clemson in the Sugar while #3 Notre Dame would face #4 Oklahoma in the Orange.  Going back further, at least they award the championships post-bowls.  Minnesota in 1960 and Alabama in 1964 kept their titles despite January defeats and Notre Dame won the 1966 title despite not even participating in a bowl.  So bear with the larvae stage of the college football postseason…and gear up for a better process in eight years.

 

Virginia Tech (6-6) salvaged its season further by beating Marshall 41-20.  The Hokies keep their postseason streak alive thanks to consecutive wins.  Hokie Highlights:  Ryan Willis threw for 312 yards and four touchdowns.  Rayshard Ashby tallied 15 tackles to lead the defense that notched two takeaways and handcuffed the Thundering Herd for the first three quarters.  Hokie Humblings:  the offense converted just 4 of 13 third downs while the defense did cough up a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns.  The sad part about finally putting together two solid efforts is one asks where this team was when they were losing four straight.  Next:  December 31st against Cincinnati at the Military Bowl in Annapolis.

 

James Madison (9-4) saw its season end with a 23-20 loss at Colgate in the second round of the FCS Playoffs.  The defeat also saw the end of the Mike Houston era:  three years and a 37-6 record before he went to East Carolina (after reportedly being bound for Charlotte).  Such is the cost of being a perennial FCS contender.  May the next coach be as successful.  Duke Do’s:  the running game gained 200 yards against a defense that allowed 5.7 points per game during the regular season.  Duke Don’ts:  Ben DiNucci threw five interceptions.  Next:  August 31, 2019 at West Virginia.

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On a weekend where Maryland and Navy were idle while Virginia and Virginia Tech were on the road, the spotlight shined on the Commonwealth’s Capital as James Madison roasted Richmond 63-10.  As September ends, the #2 team in FCS appears to be on another collision course with North Dakota State.  Concerns that Ben DiNucci wouldn’t be able to pick up where Bryan Schor left off were unfound, the junior is completing over 70% of his passes and he’s hurting teams with his feet as well.  Senior runningback Marcus Marshall is is taking his final trip through the CAA in style, averaging 8.8 yards per carry.

But what puts this year’s team on track for a fourth straight conference championship is a defense that has allowed just a pair of touchdowns since their opening-day loss at NC State.  Saturday the Dukes forced five turnovers against the Spiders.  JMU’S Jimmy Moreland returned one of the team’s three interceptions 100 yards for a touchdown…taking the highlight thunder away from Jawon Hamilton who returned the opening kickoff for a TD.  That’s right– JMU shines on special teams too:  D’Angelo Amos ran a punt back for a score against Norfolk State and averages 23.6 yards per return (foes now wisely kick out of bounds).

October’s schedule features three games against teams that were ranked heading into last weekend:  #9 Elon, #14 Villanova and #17 Stony Brook…with the Wildcats game the only one on the road.  Three tough tests that will show if JMU fans should be making plans for early-January.

 

Alma Mater Update- Close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades.  Syracuse led #3 Clemson 23-13 early in the fourth quarter only to lose 27-23.  The offense grinded to a near-halt after halftime and the defense couldn’t deny the Tigers down the stretch.  Two fourth down plays loom large:  a fourth and one conversion for the offense called back because of an illegal man downfield–and a fourth and six conversion by Clemson on what would be the game-winning drive.  Instead of the school’s first 5-0 start since 1987, it’s games against Coastal Division bottom-feeders Pitt and North Carolina before tangling with NC State.  The biggest bummer about Saturday’s loss– the chances to win at a power like Clemson are few and far between, and unfortunately just like last year at Florida State (27-24 defeat), Miami (27-19 loss) and LSU (35-26 disappointment) the Orange came up short on the road.

 

Virginia (3-2, 1-1 ACC) enters its bye week on a bad note;  the 35-21 loss at NC State gives coach Bronco Mendenhall plenty to work  with before they resume conference play against the Coastal Division favorite.  Cavalier Congrats:  Olamide Zaccheaus caught nine passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns while leading the team with 39 rushing yards.  Silver Spring’s Charles Snowden paced the defense with 11 tackles.  Punter Lester Coleman averaged 48.8 yards per kick.  Cavalier Concerns:  the defense failed to generate a three and out…and allowed the Wolfpack to convert 8-of-13 third downs.  The running game managed just 3.2 yards per carry, with Jordan Ellis once again unable to produce against an ACC foe (he’s gained 98 yards on 33 tries in two conference games).  Next: October 13 against 4-1 Miami.

 

Virginia Tech (3-1, 2-0 ACC) bounced back from its loss at Old Dominion to defeat #22 Duke 31-14.  Coach Justin Fuente has to be road-wary by now, as three of his team’s four games to start the season have come away from Blacksburg.  Hokie Highlights:  Kansas-transfer Ryan Willis stepped in for the injured Josh Jackson and threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns.  Houshun Gaines tallied 2.5 sacks while Rayshard Ashby notched 15 tackles…as the defense held the Blue Devils to 4-16 on third down.  Hokie Humblings: the running game was held in check, managing 81 yards on 41 carries.  VT was fortunate to recover both of their fumbles; one was inside their own 10-yard line.  Next: Saturday at #8 Notre Dame.

 

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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 AT WTOP.COM–

There’s always that October weekend when the herd of unbeaten teams gets thinned out in the most peculiar ways.  I’m going to say very few people had a Syracuse team that had lost at home to Middle Tennessee last month beating the defending national champs…especially after Clemson crushed the Orange 54-0 last season.  The Pac-12 received a double shot with losses by previously unbeaten Washington and Washington State…making the upcoming Apple Cup a little sour.  Even non Power Five Conference schools feel the mid-October sting with San Diego State slipping…and we won’t get into Navy just yet.  Enjoy the pumpkin spice lattes.

 

The biggest October surprise in the area of course is off the field.  It’s only fitting that news of Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson’s departure came on a gameday in College Park:  news of the ACC’s expansion (Syracuse and Pitt) was bubbling the day the Terps lost to West Virginia (the beginning of the end of the Danny O’Brien era) and Maryland’s move to the Big Ten was percolating the day they lost to Florida State (that was the year they were starting a scout team linebacker at quarterback).  Anderson was not at Saturday’s game with Northwestern–and Athletic Directors are almost always attending games involving their high-profile sports.  How long was he actually absent?  The school finally got ahead of the story (or alongside it) by saying Monday he would be taking a sabbatical.

If this is the end of the Anderson era, it certainly hasn’t been a quiet seven years.  Within two years of taking the job in September 2010, he fired a popular football coach in Ralph Friedgen and had to replace an even more popular men’s basketball coach when Gary Williams retired.  Instead of the calm after the storm, Maryland left the ACC that the school helped found for the Big Ten in the fall of 2012–27 months into Anderson’s tenure.  Three major moves that don’t happen often all within his first three winters on campus.  If after this sabbatical Anderson returns to the university with renewed sense of purpose, great.  If he departs for the west coast (the San Francisco State graduate is from the Bay Area originally and previously served as Assistant AD at Oregon State and Cal-Berkeley), he’ll do so leaving a major footprint on the University of Maryland.  Best of luck.

 

Alma Mater Update- about the Orange.  How did that happen???? Somehow the same SU team that barely beat a bad Pitt squad the Saturday before finds itself outplaying and beating the #2 team in the nation?  Eric Dungey keeps freshman phenom Tommy DeVito in the red shirt for 2017 by waking up the echoes of Marvin Graves and Donovan McNabb…and the defense held a Clemson offense that was averaging 35 points per game to 2-of-11 on third down.  I’m stunned that the Orange are 4-3…but recognize they face Miami and Florida State on the road over the next three weeks.  The two games I’m pointing towards are Wake Forest and Boston College.  Get those…and we have dreams of another Pinstripe Bowl banner.

 

Maryland (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) couldn’t keep pace with Northwestern in a 37-21 loss to the Wildcats.  All of a sudden the road to six wins and a bowl berth appears a little cloudier. Terrapin Triumphs:  DJ Moore caught 12 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns.  Antoine Brooks tallies nine tackles and the defense snared a pair of interceptions.  Max Bortenschlager threw for three scores and was sacked just twice.  Terrapin Troubles:  the tailback tandem of Lorenzo Harrison and Ty Johnson gained just 51 yards on 19 carries.  The defense was exposed underneath multiple times as the pass rush wasn’t a factor.  The offense was also unable to take advantage of either turnover, going three and out after both picks.  Next:  Saturday at noon at #6 Wisconsin.

 

Virginia (5-1, 2-0 ACC) held off a second half surge by North Carolina to beat the Tar Heels 20-14.  Not only does this put UVa one step closer to bowl eligibility, but it’s also the school’s first win over UNC since 2009.  Cavalier Congrats:  the thunder and lightning backfield rained again:  Jordan Ellis ran for 136 yards while Olamide Zaccheaus added 100 yards receiving.  The defense held UNC to 46 passing yards and intercepted Brandon Harris three times.  Cavalier Concerns:  the offensive line allowed four sacks and Kurt Benkert lost one of his two fumbles.  UNC was able to run for 211 yards and stayed a lot closer than you’d think a 1-5 team would.  Next: Saturday at 12:30 p.m. against Boston College.

Navy (5-1, 3-1 AAC) finally saw their turnovers come back to haunt them in a 30-27 loss at Memphis.  Three fumbles and two interceptions gave the Tigers plenty of extra opportunities–and they turned those short fields into 13 points.  The West Division is still winnable, but there’s now no margin for error.  Midshipmen Medals:  Zach Abey rushed for 146 yards and three touchdowns.  DJ Palmore led the defense that held the Tigers to 4-14 on third down with nine tackles and a forced fumble.  Owen White averaged 52 yards per punt.  Midshipmen Miscues:  one can’t say enough about the five turnovers.  The passing game (1-for-8 with 2 INTS) continues to be a weakness.  The defense hasn’t shown it can contain foes for four quarters…once again allowing 30 points or more.  Next:  Saturday at 3:30 against #20 UCF.