Archives for posts with tag: FCS

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Finally.  After the non-conference and FCS schedule-stuffer season (also known as the apple picking & antiquing window), we’ve got a Saturday filled with showdowns.  A few are traditional matchups that have seen better days (Notre Dame-USC and Clemson-Florida State) while others carry conference and College Football Playoff implications (Penn State-Iowa, LSU-Florida).  Oklahoma-Texas checks off both boxes, while adding in the Texas State Fair for those who feared our nation’s deep-frying industry was in trouble. For example, this year’s fare includes a “Southern Fried Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo Ball” and for those who are health-conscious, the “Texas Cream Corn Casserole Fritters”.

Lost in the shuffle of rivalries, conference clashes and questionable calorie counts is a top five FCS matchup just down the road (actually two, if you take I-66 and then turn right at I-81).  Second ranked James Madison (5-1, 2-0 CAA) hosts No. 5 Villanova (5-0, 3-0) with the inside track to the conference title and a first-round bye in the upcoming FCS Playoffs up for grabs. The two teams rank 1-2 in the CAA in scoring, stopping the run, sacks and third down efficiency.  Each has been pushed to overtime on the road: JMU escaped Stony Brook last weekend while ‘Nova’s 52-45 September shootout at Towson moved the Wildcats from pretender to contender.

The program’s resurgence is especially sweet for third-year head coach Mark Ferrante;  the longtime offensive coordinator took over when Andy Talley retired after 32 seasons in 2016 and the team posted consecutive losing campaigns for the first time since the 1990’s.  But his Wildcats have yet to face the triple-back attack like the Dukes’ Percy Agyei-Obese, Solomon Vanhorse and Jawon Hamilton: the power trio combine for 1051 yards per game on 5.4 a carry.  The Dukes’ big challenge will be getting to Villanova quarterback Daniel Smith (17 touchdown passes) as the Wildcats have allowed just three sacks all season.  Kickoff in Harrisonburg is slated for 1:30 p.m., or if you’re at the Texas State Fair around the time you’ve moved on to dessert and are trying the “Deep Fried Bayou Fruit Bites”.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange drop to 3-3 with Thursday’s 16-10 loss at NC State.  Tommy DeVito got sacked eight times and averaging just over ten yards per completion.  The stat book says he threw for 300 yards, but his numbers once again feel like empty calories.  Twelve penalties didn’t help.  And now the remaining schedule is a combined 21-11, with formerly a mess Florida State looking sharp and surprising Wake Forest no longer the pushover we expected.  Can they scrape together wins against Pitt, Boston College and Louisville?

 

Friday’s Game-

No. 20 Virginia (4-1, 2-0 ACC) at Miami (2-3, 0-2), 8 p.m. (ESPN).

There was never a Hurricane warning this fall as the U got off to an 0-2 start, followed by wins over Bethune-Cookman and Central Michigan before last week’s disaster against Virginia Tech.  While the ‘Canes lead the ACC in passing yardage (315 per game), the Cavaliers boast the second best pass defense in the conference and are second best at getting to the quarterback (27 sacks in five games);  Miami has allowed a league-high 25 sacks this fall.  Head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s team has had a week to digest their loss at Notre Dame and refocus, while Manny Diaz’s eyes likely fell out while watching the game film of last Saturday’s loss to Virginia Tech.

Kippy and Buffy have their eyes on great tailgating as always, and South Florida means they’ll be serving Cuban pork sandwiches.  Nothing goes better with the pork than a bottle of 2016 Limerick Lane Russian River Zinfandel.  Aromas of “blackberry, raspberry, bramble, cocoa leaf and wet stones” (yes–an actual tasting note from the vineyard website) get the palate ready for the taste of “strawberry, black pepper and blueberry pie crust” (again, one cannot make this up), delivering a “long finish with laser-focused acidity”.

Presto’s Pick:  Cavaliers are laser-focused on a first-ever Coastal Division title, and come away with a 27-16 win.

 

Saturday’s Games-

Maryland (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) at Purdue (1-4, 0-2), noon (Big Ten Network).

There’s a switch at quarterback-sort of. Josh Jackson was listed as the starter in the press notes, but head coach Mike Locksley said that Jackson’s ankle injury suffered at Rutgers has the junior day-to-day and Tyrrell Pigrome would start against the Boilermakers.  Pigrome may not have the passing polish Jackson possesses, but he’s a much better runner and with an offensive line that’s banged up might be just the right fit for the present.  Purdue has long been called the “Cradle of Quarterbacks” thanks to All-Americans like Bob Griese, Mike Phipps and Mark Hermann; Drew Brees was shut out by the likes of Chris Weinke, Josh Heupel and George Godsey(?).  This year’s team was no different, until quarterback Elijah Sindelar and his top target Rondale Moore were injured on the same play against Minnesota.  Neither saw the field last Saturday against Penn State.  Defensively, Purdue ranks 13th or 14th in the Big Ten in every category (except in sacks where they’re currently ninth).

Uniform note:  the Boilermakers will be wearing special uniforms commemorating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.  Not only is the late Neil Armstrong an alumnus, but the late Gene Cernan (the Apollo 17 astronaut who was the last person to leave the lunar surface) was as well.

Presto’s Pick:  the Terrapins make another small step towards bowl eligibility with a 38-14 landing.

 

Virginia Tech (3-2) vs. Rhode Island (1-4), 4 p.m. (ACC Network).

There are complaints from many in the area who don’t have the ACC Network on their local cable system, but for the Hokies this fall that might be a good thing.  Even in their wins, this team has been one tough watch.  Only this year’s team could turn a 28-0 second half lead at Miami into a fourth quarter nailbiter.  Enter a Rams team that may be 0-3 in the CAA, but one that has lost three one-possession games.  One week after coughing up 28 second half points to Miami, the Hokies will have their hands full as URI quarterback Vito Priore completes 65% of his passes.  Priore’s top two targets, Aaron Brooks and Isaiah Coulter, each average over 100 yards per game receiving and are just the kind of tandem that turns suspect secondaries into sludge.  After a September saw a torrential downpour of turnovers, the Hokies dried things up last week with redshirt sophomore quarterback Hendon Hooker.  The dual-threat (184 yards and three touchdowns passing plus 76 yards and a touchdowns rushing against Miami) didn’t throw an interception or lose a fumble, and no giveaways means Hooker stays first-string.  He’ll face a rather accomodating Ram defense, one that allowed 41 points in their other game against an FBS school.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies make it two straight, 34-24.

 

Navy (3-1, 1-1 AAC) at Tulsa (2-3, 0-1), 7:30 p.m. (ESPNU).

Last Saturday’s win over Air Force was exactly the kind of game last year’s Midshipmen would lose.  The other nightmare from 2018 involved an 0-6 road record (0-8 in games not played in Annapolis).  For those curious, Navy’s last road win was September 30, 2017 against…Tulsa.  The Golden Hurricane went 2-10 that year and have already equaled that win total in the first month of this season.  But they still can’t stop the run (11th in the AAC) and if there’s one thing that the Mids do well it’s move the ball on the ground (an FBS-best 312 yards per game).  But they also lead the conference in offensive passing efficiency as well as rushing and total defense.  Head coach Ken Niumatalolo’s team is also the least-penalized unit in the league; as fate would have it the most-flagged Golden Hurricanes commit twice as many infractions per game.

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen make it happen on the road, 28-20. 

Howard loses to Norfolk State, Georgetown gets by Fordham, James Madison beats Villanova, Richmond edges Maine, Towson tops Albany, Morgan State loses to Delaware State.

 

Last Week: 7-3. Overall: 39-14.

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This was supposed to be the season for Michigan.  Jim Harbaugh came to Ann Arbor in 2015 after the Wolverines had swung and missed with Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke. Unlike Bo Schembechler leading Michigan to a Rose Bowl in his first season on campus, this rebuild was going to take time.  And year five meant that every player in the program was one brought on campus by Harbaugh.  Not to mention that Urban Meyer’s no longer coaching at Ohio State.  The path to the playoff was there, and “was” may be the operative word.

Saturday’s 35-14 loss by the No. 11 Wolverines to No. 13 Wisconsin saw the Badgers take a 28-0 halftime lead and make Michigan look like Rutgers.  Saturday’s loss puts the 21 points allowed to Middle Tennessee and Army in a different context, and the turnover-prone offense (seven lost fumbles in three games) that can’t get out of its own way looks all the more suspect.  Michigan’s only dipped its toe into one tough schedule:  three of their four October games are against ranked foes (including a non-conference tilt with Notre Dame) and November includes Michigan State and Ohio State, two schools that have had plenty of success against the Wolverines this decade-even after Harbaugh’s heralded arrival.  Once again, it looks as though Michigan end the season having gone to as many Big Ten Championship Games as Rutgers and Maryland.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange and I have an interesting relationship this autumn.  Because the game was on the ACC Network, I missed their season-opening shutout of Liberty.  I was in the press box for their painful pounding by Maryland so I got to see that defeat up close.  The following week’s loss to Clemson (homecoming?!) was on ABC and I saw the tail-end of that mess after covering the Navy-East Carolina game.  So when I caught last Saturday’s contest with Western Michigan, I was pleased to see they were up 21-0 in the second quarter.  Enter the defense that will help opposing skill position players get drafted a round or two earlier.  The lead was trimmed to 38-33 when I had to run errands and I later learned the Orange wound up winning 52-33.  So after four weeks, when I am watching or listening SU has been outscored 120-37 while they’ve handled foes 65-17 when I haven’t been able to monitor the team.  I apologize for being a hex this fall.

 

No. 21 Virginia (4-0) is off to its best start since 2004, but they certainly kept the Scott Stadium crowd on the edge of their seats as they trailed Old Dominion 17-7 at the half.  But just like they won the second halves against Pitt and Florida State, the Cavaliers were not to be denied in their 28-17 triumph. Seasons are not made in September, but as we’ve seen across the country they can definitely be ruined and while there are more than a few tough tests ahead UVa’s season of possibilities continues.

Cavalier Congrats: the legend of Bryce Perkins grows with another night where he led the team in rushing and scored a touchdown through the air and on the ground.  The offense also enjoyed a turnover-free night.  Charles Snowden notched 15 tackles with two sacks to pace a defense that handcuffed the Monarchs after halftime (66 total yards on 36 second half plays).

Cavalier Concerns: the offense had issues sustaining drives all evening, converting just 1 of 11 third downs.  Blame a running game that gained just 87 yards on 27 carries after accounting for sacks.  Special teams were not that special, as the Cavs had a field goal attempt blocked while averaging 36 yards per punt.  UVa was also whistled seven times for 70 yards.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against Notre Dame.

 

James Madison (3-1, No. 2 in FCS) was tested on the road at Chattanooga as the Moccasins put 14 points on the board in the first quarter.  But the Dukes defense dominated the rest of the way in a 37-14 rout.

Duke Do’s: Percy Agyei-Obese rushed for a season-high 114 yards while Ben DiNucci completed 19 of 25 passes for 264 yards.  Ethan Ratke connected on all three of his field goal attempts.

Duke Don’ts: a costly special teams fumble in the first quarter let Chattanooga pull even after trailing 14-0.  The pass rush generated just one sack.

Next:  Saturday at 2 p.m. against Elon.

 

Towson (3-1, 1-1 CAA) fell in overtime to Villanova (No. 18 in FCS) 52-45.  Although the Tigers will take a tumble down the rankings (they were 5th entering the game against the Wildcats), the conference race has just begun.

Tiger Triumphs: Tom Flacco passed for 304 yards while rushing for 110 more, but Yeedee Thaenrat proved to be the money man in the red zone with three rushing touchdowns.  Coby Tippett tallied 13 tackles to pace the defense.

Tiger Troubles:  the defense allowed 295 yards rushing while allowing the Wildcats to convert on 12 of 19 third downs. Third down was an issue for the Towson offense as well, as they moved the chains on 4 of 13 tries.

Next: Saturday at (gulp) Florida.

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For college football fans in the D.C. metro area, this has been one rough decade. Maryland has had multiple reboots since firing the ACC Coach of the Year, while Virginia Tech saw the sad decline from perennial Coastal Division contender to a team that needed to schedule a bonus game against Marshall in order to keep its bowl streak alive. Virginia hasn’t beaten the Hokies since “Friends” was still on the air. Even Navy wasn’t immune last fall, with a 3-10 season that included a third straight loss to Army.

Thank goodness for the FCS. Area programs annually contend for conference crowns, deliver trips to the Football Final Four, and occasionally play for or even bring home a National Championship. Once again this fall there’s plenty of anticipation involving schools in the CAA, MEAC, and Patriot League — especially when one factors in the head coaching carousel that fired up this past offseason.

 

James Madison (9-4, 6-2 CAA, FCS Second Round) is the CAA Preseason favorite and begins the fall ranked second nationally in both FCS Polls.  The Dukes lost Head Coach Mike Houston to East Carolina, but for the second time in three years hires a proven replacement from the FCS ranks.  Curt Cignetti led Elon to the tournament in both of his seasons with the school, and last fall the Phoenix beat JMU in Harrisonburg.  He comes to a program that’s loaded:  19 of 22 starters return, and of those 19 starters 12 were All-CAA last season.  Quarterback Ben DiNucci returns for his second season as a starter, and he’ll have his top two targets back in wide receivers Riley Stapleton and Kyndel Dean.  Cignetti will have to revamp a running game that lost its top three ground gainers to graduation.

But just like last season, this year’s Dukes will once again begin with D: four of the returning 10 starters from the CAA’s #1 unit in 2018 were voted first team All-Conference. That includes senior linebacker Dmitri Holloway, who finished second in the league with 81 tackles in 2018.  The secondary may have lost Jimmy Moreland to the Redskins and the NFL, but back after missing 2018 with injury is Rashad Robinson (seven interceptions in 2017).

Last year the Dukes kicked off their season with a loss at NC State.  This year’s Power Five trip is to Morgantown, where they’ll visit West Virginia in coach Neal Brown’s debut;  the Mountaineers will also have a new quarterback as Will Grier is gone to the NFL.  Of the five CAA schools in the Preseason Top 25, JMU will not play No. 7 Maine or No. 22 Delaware.  While they visit No. 21 Elon September 28, No. 11 Towson comes to Harrisonburg October 26.

 

Towson (7-5, 5-3 CAA, FCS First Round) is back, by the way.  After missing the tournament for four straight years, Rob Ambrose has the Tigers thinking title.  He’s got a senior quarterback in Tom Flacco, brother of Joe-and no, he’s not thinking about transferring to the University of Denver.  Flacco the Younger threw for 3,237 yards, 27 touchdowns and 1 interceptions while also leading the Tigers with 742 yards rushing.  He’ll lean on a pair of senior Shanes:  running back Shane Simpson (687 yards with six touchdowns rushing last fall) on the ground and wide receiver Shane Leatherbury (67 catches for 885 yards and seven TD’s) in the air.

The team’s ability to deliver on the preseason hype will rest on the shoulders of a defense that finished last against the run and overall in the CAA. New Defensive Coordinator Eric Daniels comes to the Tigers from NAIA school Briar Cliff University (Iowa), where he turned around the Chargers’ defensive woes.  Daniels has a pair of solid building blocks, beginning with senior defensive lineman Bryce Carter (6.5 sacks in 2018) and senior linebacker Robert Heyward (99 tackles plus a fumble recovery).

The schedule serves up a mixed bag.  The other two top projected teams in the CAA are James Madison and Maine, and Towson visits both schools this year.  They do draw Delaware and Elon at home in November, potentially providing coach Ambrose’s team with some necessary late-season momentum if they’re on the FCS Playoff bubble again.

 

Richmond (4-7, 2-6 CAA) did not get any favors from the schedule-makers last year, facing four ranked conference foes.  So instead of contending for an FCS Playoff berth like the previous November, the Spiders saw their first losing season since 2011.  Even with the departure of quarterback Kyle Lauletta to the NFL, coach Russ Huesman’s offense still finished second in the conference in passing.  Junior quarterback Joe Mancuso led the team in rushing while splitting time last fall with Kevin Johnson; this year he’ll be pressed by Air Force transfer Beau English.  Whoever wins the job won’t have Dejon Brissett to throw to, as last year’s top receiver transferred to Virginia. Regardless, ball security will be a priority one autumn after the Spiders lost a CAA-high 27 turnovers.

The defense had issues in 2018, allowing the most points per game in the CAA while ranking last or second to last in most categories. The 4-2-5 formation has been ditched for the 4-3 this fall; no matter how the Spiders line up it all begins with senior defensive lineman Maurice Jackson, who led the CAA with 10 sacks in 2018.

This year’s slate is back-loaded with two bye weeks in September.  How better the turnover/defense issues are will be apparent over a four-week stretch where Richmond faces Delaware, Stonybrook and James Madison.

 

William & Mary (4-6, 3-4 CAA) has a new head coach for the first time since the Carter Administration.  Jimmye Laycock’s retirement brings back a familiar face to both the Commonwealth and the CAA:  former Richmond and Virginia coach Mike London crosses the Potomac after a two-year stint with Howard where he breathed new life in a long-dormant program.  The Tribe is no where near where the Bison were two years ago, but they have posted three consecutive losing seasons and have notched just one winning conference campaign since 2010.

London will find quite a contrast in Williamsburg from the offense he left behind.  The Tribe returns junior quarterback Shon Mitchell and leading rusher Albert Funderburke, but last year W&M ranked last in the CAA in rushing, scoring, total offense, and third down conversions.  Coastal Carolina transfer Kilton Anderson originally played at Fresno State before completing 58% of his passes for 1,010 yards and 8 touchdowns while with the Chanticleers in 2018, proving two things. One-he’s a viable option at QB, and two-I like to work the word “Chanticleers” into conversation way more than one should.

The Tribe return eight starters on defense, with seniors Nate Atkins and Isaiah Laster  the top two tacklers from 2018.  Developing a pass rush (last in sacks) will be a priority for coach London.  The new regime begins August 31 against Lafayette, and the schedule is marked with games against two of London’s former employers: at Virginia September 6 and at Richmmond November 23.  What, they couldn’t add Howard?

 

Howard (4-6, 3-4) will have its fifth head coach this decade as Ron Prince takes over for Mike London. The former Kansas State coach and Michigan assistant steps into quite an offense: quarterback Caylon.  Preseason CAA Offensive Player of the Year Caylin Newton (2,629 yards passing and 504 yards rushing last year) has his top targets back in Jequez Ezzard and Kyle Anthony; Anthony led the MEAC last fall with 53 receptions while Ezzard’s 1,064 yards topped the league.  Running back Dedrick Parson (706 yards with 9 touchdowns rushing) returns to provide a nice counterpunch on the ground.

Coach Prince’s main task this fall will be shoring up a defense that ranked last in the MEAC and concluded the year by allowing 56 points to Bryant.  Bryant!?!  Leading tackler Marcellos Allison is back, as is top pass rusher Zamon Robinson.  The season begins with a bang:  trips to Maryland, Youngstown State and Delaware State plus a showdown with longtime rival Hampton dot the first month.  For some reason, they don’t play the other FCS team located in Washington, DC this year.

 

Georgetown (5-6, 4-2 Patriot League) is coming off of its best season under coach Rob Sgarlata:  their four league wins in 2018 was more than the three posted over his previous four years with the Hoyas.  And this was after being picked to finish not just last in the Patriot but by a country mile.  Heady times indeed.  The difference last fall was a defense that ranked second behind league juggernaut Colgate, and that’s where any hopes of unseating the Raiders begins.  Look no further than a pass rush that led the Patriot League in sacks and interceptions:  senior defensive lineman Kristian Tate (a conference-high 10 sacks last year) along with junior Owen Kessler (6.5) generate most of the heat from the trenches.  Linebacker Wes Bowers (4.5 sacks last season) is more than just a pass rusher, as the junior paced the team with 91 tackles and four interceptions.

While the defense might help them catch Colgate, they only way they’ll pass the Raiders will be if the offense improves from the unit that averaged just 15 points per game in 2018.  Starting quarterback Gunther Johnson returns for his senior season and the Hoyas also get their leading rusher in sophomore running back Herman Moultrie) and top receiver in senior Michael Dereus.

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College football will have more games with higher stakes, from the conference championship games on tap next weekend to the College Football Playoff in early January.  But it almost feels anticlimactic after the weekend that was.  High scoring affairs included a 74-72 seven-overtime (septuple-OT for those grading at home) game between Texas A&M and LSU as well as a 59-56 regulation runaway between Oklahoma and West Virginia (or, just another night in the Big 12).  Rivalries with ill feelings included fights during the Ole Miss-Mississippi State (they’ll have their eggs over easy for the next year) and North Carolina-North Carolina State (goodbye Raycom Sports) games.

Once again, and with apologies to Alabama-Auburn and Washington-Washington State, the centerpiece to the weekend began at high noon Saturday in the Big Ten.  And once again, Ohio State was the effective roadblock standing between Michigan and a shot at a Big Ten (as well as a potential national) championship.  Just like the Wolverines kept John Cooper’s title-contending teams out of the Rose Bowl in the 90’s, the current Buckeyes appear to be the bane of Jim Harbaugh’s team this decade.  And this time is was even more painful for the school up north:  a 62-39 thumping that turned the maize and blue red-faced.  That makes the man in khakis 0-4 against Urban Meyer, whose school is suddenly back in the playoff conversation.  Winter never seemed so cold in Ann Arbor.

 

Alma Mater Update- it was also on the cold side in Chesnut Hill Saturday- but the Orange left alumni and faithful headed home warm after a 42-21 win at Boston College.  For me, it was a great day to meet up with my roommate from freshman year as well as friends from high school the night before in a class reunion.  For SU, it’s the best regular season since 2001 and a second-place finish in the ACC Atlantic Division.  The two league losses have come against the two division winners, while the third is against unbeaten Notre Dame.  It’s off to Orlando.  Or El Paso.  I’m just happy there’s no Pinstripe Bowl Banner in this team’s future.

 

Virginia Tech (5-6, 4-4) somehow salvaged what could have been its worst season since 1992 with a 34-31 overtime win over Virginia (7-5, 4-4).  The Cavaliers rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to take a seven point lead with under three minutes left in the fourth quarter.  But just like the Hokies have had a hex on their instate foes since joining the ACC, wouldn’t you know Ryan Willis would find Dalton Keene for a 45-yard hookup on third and 10?  And wouldn’t you know that Tech would fumble later in the drive only to have Hezekiah Grimsley recover the ball in the end zone for a game-tying touchdown?  And doesn’t it make sense somehow that Bryce Perkins—who had put the Cavaliers on his shoulders all afternoon and all season—would fumble in OT?  Now Virginia Tech has beaten Virginia 15 straight seasons.  That means that no fifth year player on the Cavaliers’ roster was on the same team as anyone who played alongside anyone who beat the Hokies.  Staggering.  Hokie Highlights: senior Steven Peoples went out in style, rushing for 96 yards as Tech tallied 254 on the ground.  The defense held the Cavaliers scoreless in the first half.  Special teams returned a blocked punt for a touchdown.  Hokie Humblings: Ryan Willis threw a pair of interceptions and the offense converted just 6-of-18 third downs.  The defense allowed touchdowns the first four times UVa had the ball in the second half.  Cavalier Congrats: Bryce Perkins threw for 259 yards and three touchdowns while running for 112 more.  Joe Reed caught four passes for 119 yards and two TD’s.  Juan Thornhill tallied 14 tackles while Jordan Mack made 10 stops while recording an interception.  Lester Coleman averaged 44.8 yards per punt.  Cavalier Concerns: in addition to his defeat-sealing fumble in OT, Perkins lost a ball at the Hokie 12-yard line on their deepest drive in the first half.  Next:  for Virginia Tech, a December first duel with Marshall at noon to see if they can become bowl eligible.  For Virginia, a long winter of discontent–until men’s basketball begins ACC play.

 

Navy (3-9, 2-6 AAC) fell behind Tulane 21-3 before rallying to take a fourth quarter lead over the Green Wave.  Unfortunately, the Mids’ defense allowed the Green Wave to drive 71 yards on seven plays to retake the lead for good in a 29-28 Navy loss.  Midshipman Medals: Zach Abey threw for 167 yards and a touchdown.  Taylor Heflin led the defense with nine tackles.  Owen White averaged 51 yards per punt.  Midshipman Miscues:  the offense went three and out in four of six first half possessions and finished 2-for-15 on third down.  The defense was gashed early and then couldn’t stop the Green Wave when it counted in the fourth quarter.  Next:  December 8th against 9-2 Army.

 

Maryland (5-7, 3-6 Big Ten) after losing by two points two weeks ago and then falling by one last Saturday were never close in a 38-3 loss at #15 Penn State.  A season that showed plenty of promise amidst plenty of tragedy comes to a close with questions surrounding the future of the current coaching staff and the athletic program in general.  Terrapin Triumphs: Tyrrell Pigrome threw for a career-high 185 yards on a day the run was bottled up.  Isaiah Davis paced the defense with nine tackles while graduate transfer Tre Watson closed out his Terps career with four stops to finish the season leading as the Big Ten leader.  Wade Lees booted a 50-yard punt and placed five of eight kicks inside the Penn State 20.  Terrapin Troubles: the running game never got in gear, with the tailback triumvirate being held to 53 yards on 19 carries with a long of seven.  The offensive line also allowed five sacks.  The defense coughed up 310 yards rushing (7.0 yards per carry).  Next:  August 31, 2019 at home against Howard.  After the offseason press conference that wraps up a third coaching search in eight years.

 

James Madison (9-3) was one of five CAA schools to see action in the first round of the FCS Playoffs, and the only one to advance.  The 20-6 win over Delaware sends coach Mike Houston’s team to the round of 16 for the third straight December.  Duke Do’s: Ben DiNucci threw for 223 yards and a touchdown while the offense held the ball for over 37 minutes.  The defense held the Blue Hens to 2-of-14 on third down and kept the Blue Hens out of the endzone.  Duke Don’ts: the running game had issues, generating just two yards per carry.  Eleven penalties cost JMU nearly an entire football field.  Next: Saturday at 1 p.m. against 9-1 Colgate.

 

Towson (7-5) took a 10-3 halftime lead over Duquesne in its first playoff appearance since the 2013 FCS Championship game, but the Dukes dominated the second half as the Tigers tumbled 31-10.  But coach Rob Ambrose gets quarterback Tom Flacco back for his senior season, and a program on the right track.  Tiger Takeaways: the tailback tandem of Shane Simpson and Kobe Young averaged almost six yards a carry while the team gained 230 yards on the day.  Simpson also caught a pair of passes.  The defense held the Dukes to 5-of-14 on third down.  Tiger Takedowns: Tom Flacco completed just 10-of-33 passes as the offense went scoreless after intermission.  The defense allowed 282 yards rushing.  Next: August 31, 2019 at the Citadel.

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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.

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

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

 

Friday’s Game:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Saturday’s Games-

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Presto’s Pick: Tigers triumph, 30-22.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Playoff Party—

#1 Clemson vs #4 Oklahoma

#2 Auburn vs #3 Alabama

 

Last Week: 2-1.

Overall: 74-25.

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

Miami and Notre Dame.  The series originally began as a way to give the Fighting Irish fans a warm-weather November destination on the odd-numbered years when they weren’t visiting USC.  And then to everyone’s surprise, the intersectional rivalry heated up in the 1980’s with “Catholics vs Convicts” T-shirts, Jimmy Johnson running up the score and the two schools swapping national title runs. From 1987 to 1990 the two schools went a combined 85-12, each playing in New Year’s Day bowl games every season.  And then–they stopped playing.  While the Lou Holtz era is a distant memory and the Hurricanes have dealt with multiple crippling probations since the 80’s, this matchup still raises one’s eyebrows.  Notre Dame fans still look at Miami as obnoxious “new money”, while the Hurricane faithful view the Fighting Irish as “holier than thou” front-runners.  Add into the equation that there are a lot of people who hate both schools for precisely those reasons, and you have two teams that need to play more often.  Now that the Irish are a semi-member (actually a full member in every sport but the one you’d want them to be) of the ACC, this will happen a lot more often.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange need to win two of their final three games to have any hope at reaching the Pinstripe Bowl.  The good news is that neither Wake Forest, Louisville nor Boston College have winning conference records.  Today they take on a Demon Deacons team that’s dropped four of five and has allowed an average of 39 points over its last three games.  Eric Dungey’s health will be a question.  Hopefully the team will move beyond a pair of one-possession losses in the Sunshine state that would have been sweet upsets.

 

#17 Virginia Tech (7-2, 3-2 ACC) at Georgia Tech (4-4, 3-3), 12:20 p.m. (ACC Network).  What is it with this new “12:20” window?  Can’t the ACC Network begin its early games at noon like the rest of us?  If the Big Ten can start games at 11 a.m. local time in Madison and Minneapolis, what’s the delay?  Makes me yearn for the good old days on Jefferson-Pilot.  Despite last week’s loss to unbeaten Miami, the Hokies defense leads the conference against the run and overall while allowing the fewest points per game.  The Yellowjackets lead the ACC in rushing offense and commit the fewest penalties in the league, but have trouble rushing the passer (13th in the league) and are 109th nationally in turnover margin.  Sounds like Annapolis South.  Hokies handle things, 27-13.

 

Maryland (4-5, 2-4 Big Ten) vs #21 Michigan (7-2, 4-2), 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network).  Terps quarterback Max Bortenschlager may have a concussion or a shoulder injury–when asked which it was coach DJ Durkin said, “it was a third down- he was trying to get the first down and took a pretty good hit right there” and “I think he was just competing trying to get the first down-he took a hit there”.  So much for clarity.  If Max can’t go, walk-on Ryan Brand will be the fourth starting quarterback of the 2017 season…and he’ll face a Wolverine defense whose 32 sacks lead the Big Ten.  Michigan runningback Karan Higdon has rushed for 200 yards twice in league play…bad news for a Terps defense that allows the most yards and points in the conference:  Terrapins tumble, 31-16.

 

Navy (5-3, 3-3 AAC) vs SMU (6-3, 3-2), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).  The Midshipmen are free-falling after three straight conference losses.  They’ve gone from the “can they contend for a West Division title?” to the “they’re going to qualify for a bowl, right?” conversation thanks to a turnover-prone offense and a soft pass rush.  The Pony Express isn’t walking through that door for the Mustangs, but they do boast the AAC’s leading receiver in Trey Quinn (90 catches for 921 yards and 7 TD).  They’re also more of a match defensively for the option offense, lead the AAC in red zone defense and own a +12 turnover margin.  Midshipmen fall, 31-24.

 

Virginia (6-3, 3-2 ACC) at Louisville (5-4, 2-4), 3:30 p.m. (ESPNU).  Expect plenty of points as the Cardinals lead the conference in passing, total yardage and scoring.  They’re also near the bottom of the league in most defensive categories and have coughed up 28 or more points in four straight games.  Meanwhile, the Cavaliers have reverted to last fall’s “break but don’t bend” defense that coughed up big plays, allowing 30+ points the last three Saturdays.  Defending Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson might not be on track to claim another statue, but the junior is completing passes at a higher rate and gaining more yards per carry this fall.  UVa is also coming off its sixth win of the year, and might just be exhaling now that they’ve clinched bowl eligibility for the first time since 2011.  Kippy & Buffy plan on exhaling at the tailgate with a bottle of Carlisle Winery 2011 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel:  “drop-dead gorgeous aromas of cherry, herbs, and spice box spill from the glass. Full bodied with an explosion of red cherry fruit. Suave tannins build through the long finish.”  Unfortunately one does not see a happy finish at Papa John’s Stadium.  Cavaliers come up short, 43-31.

 

Howard beats Norfolk State, Georgetown falls at Bucknell, Towson tops William & Mary, James Madison tops Richmond.

Last Week: 5-4.

Overall: 58-21.