Archives for posts with tag: Fighting Irish

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College football loves to build up weekends around themes- from “Rivalry Week” to “Showdown Saturday” to “Rutgers isn’t scheduled at noon”.  They could have billed this past weekend as one of those “Separation Saturdays”:  previously unbeaten Minnesota and Baylor both fell for the first time this fall. The Golden Gophers were handcuffed by Iowa on the road while the Bears blew a 28-3 first half lead at home to Oklahoma.  Both schools were making cases for being in the College Football Playoff picture while rolling up either less-than-impressive wins or victories against less-than-impressive foes.  November football has a way of sorting things out.  Alabama (9-1) may have steamrolled Mississippi State, but the Crimson Tide lose quarterback Tua Tagovailoa for the rest of the season with a dislocated hip. They still have Auburn in two weeks and won’t play in the SEC Championship game unless No. 1 LSU loses to Arkansas (0-6 in the SEC) and Texas A&M.   This week’s Final Four:  LSU, Ohio State, Clemson & Georgia.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange somehow came out of the bye week on fire and roasted Duke 49-6.  This keeps the faint bowl hopes alive, with rebuilding Louisville and fading Wake Forest on the horizon.  Can you say “Pinstripe Bowl possibilities”?  I’m just happy that SU didn’t go winless in the ACC after being ranked in the preseason.  It’s like getting an order of wings and realizing you didn’t get all flats after all.

 

Navy (7-2) saw things get late early in South Bend; the 52-20 loss at Notre Dame saw the Fighting Irish take a 38-0 lead before the Mids got on the board.  Thankfully this won’t affect their status in the AAC West, but head coach Ken Niumatalolo needs to get this loss out of his team’s head pronto.  They can’t let the Fighting Irish beat them on successive Saturdays.  Easy to say when you’re not an 18-to-22 year old.

Midshipmen Medals: Malcolm Perry ran for 117 yards while Mychal Cooper caught three passes for 73 yards and a touchdown.  Jacob Springer and Diego Fagot each notched ten tackles.  Owen White averaged 41.7 yards per punt while Bijan Nichols made both of his field goal attempts.

Midshipmen Miscues: four fumbles led to 28 points for Notre Dame;  the first two helped put Navy down 21-0 with 12:32 left in the second quarter.  The passing game that was supposed to take flight this fall completed 4-13 attempts on a day when they needed to rally.  The defense allowed six touchdowns plus a field goal on their first seven possessions.  While they contained the Fighting Irish running game (3.4 yards per carry), the secondary was roasted for 305 yards on 22 attempts.

Saturday: at 3:30 p.m. against 9-1 SMU.

 

Virginia Tech (7-3, 4-2 ACC) may have been wondering in early October if this turnover-prone team with a rather accommodating defense could scrape together enough wins to keep its bowl streak intact.  As we enter the second half of November the Hokies are two wins away from returning to the ACC Championship Game (VT has won the Coastal six times in fourteen years), and their 45-0 rout of Georgia Tech puts division-leading Virginia and defending Coastal champ Pitt on notice.

Hokie Highlights: Hendon Hooker completed 9-13 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown while running for two more scores. And no fumbles or interceptions.  The running game pounded out 258 yards, with this week’s trick play involving a 49-yard scamper from freshman Tayvion Robinson.  Alan Tisdale notched a pair of sacks as the defense held the Yellow Jackets to 2-15 on third down and posted its first shutout since their 10-0 blanking of Virginia in 2017.  That Hokies D posted three shutouts en route to a 9-4 season.  Oscar Bradburn averaged 45.5 yards per punt.

Hokie Humblings:  tough to find one in as thorough a rout as this one.  The offense moved the chains on just 3-10 third downs.  I’m sure the postgame meal could have been better as well.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. vs. 7-3 Pitt.

 

 

 

Lightbulbs went off over the heads of many in Charlottesville and Blacksburg this past Tuesday night.  Could Virginia or Virginia Tech crash college football’s New Year’s Bowl party?  Like many things in and around the sport with the best regular season and worst postseason, the answer is both yes and no.

The weekly College Football Playoff rankings release amuse me like few other things do. First, there’s the 13-member committee in place to select and seed four teams (spots five and six are akin to being named a top seed in the NIT).  Second, there’s the short-sightedness than comes with releasing playoff rankings when there are three or four games remaining in a 13-game audition (imagine people freaking out looking at the NFL standings December 1st when there is still a month to play).  Then there’s the weekly over-reaction that this Tuesday involved high fives in Baton Rouge (LSU rightfully No. 1 after their road win at unbeaten Alabama) as well as arguments in Tuscaloosa and Athens (Georgia’s loss in overtime to a 4-5 South Carolina not as impressive as losing to the Tigers).  And that’s just the SEC.  Shrugs by the Pac-12 and Big 12 while seeing their schools on the outside of a ridiculously small playoff party are almost expected at this time every year.

This week there was nervous anticipation in Charlottesville and Blacksburg.  Not that three-loss Virginia or Virginia Tech have any shot to make college football’s version of the final four, even if they win the ACC by beating an unbeaten Clemson.  But if the Tigers make the playoff field (at 10-0 they’re currently third and won’t be anything less than a double-digit favorite in any of their remaining games), somebody else from the sad-sack ACC has to go to the Orange Bowl.

Even in today’s College Football Playoff Era, there are some vestiges of 20th Century college football that still have value.  Along with the Sugar, the Orange Bowl is the second-oldest postseason game behind the Rose.  It’s one of five games that predate World War II (Cotton and Sun complete the trivia answer).  The brand still stands amidst the flood of 39 (!?) bowls that are played nowadays;  if you ask a Maryland fan about Ralph Friedgen’s ten-year run, they’ll most likely bring up the trip to the 2002 Orange Bowl.  And let’s be honest, even with the sponsor tag the “Capital One Orange Bowl” sounds much more impressive than the “Camping World Bowl” and “Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl”.

With Virginia and Virginia Tech on track to play for the Coastal Division crown in two weeks (Pitt can still play spoiler by beating the Hokies November 23) and Wake Forest suddenly slipping (the Demon Deacons have gone from 5-0 to 7-2 and are a 34.5 point underdog at Clemson Saturday), orange could be in more than the winner’s uniforms come January 1st.  Actually, the Orange Bowl that’s referred to by the College Football Playoff as one of the “New Year’s Six” Bowl will be played December 30 this year. Stupid progress.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange are on the precipice of postseason elimination as they visit a Duke team that somehow went into Blacksburg two months ago and beat Virginia Tech by 35.  That Hokie team and all of their turnovers was a major hot mess.  The Blue Devils’ other ACC win is against last-place Georgia Tech.  Those two league wins are two more than SU has this year.  But Duke has dropped three straight.  So…you’re saying there’s still a chance at a Pinstripe Bowl berth banner?

 

Virginia Tech (6-3, 3-2 ACC) at Georgia Tech (2-7, 1-5), 3:30 p.m. (ACCN Extra).

Like the Death Star’s tractor beam slowly sucking the Millennium Falcon towards it, the Hokies have been crawling towards a Coastal Division Crown since early October.  They’ve crawled out of the early-season ashes thanks to a defense that’s hitting its stride;  they held Notre Dame in check for 59 minutes in their loss at South Bend and shut down the previously high-scoring Wake Forest offense last Saturday.  Next up:  a Yellow Jacket team that scored 28 points at Virginia last week to tie their high for the season, but one that’s still at the bottom of the ACC in passing, total yards and scoring.  More importantly, Hendon Hooker is back at quarterback and even though the redshirt sophomore lost a fumble in their win over the Demon Deacons he’s yet to throw an interception this season.  His wheels will also be a nightmare to a Georgia Tech defense that’s the worst in the conference against the run.

Presto’s Pick:  Hokies handle the Yellow Jackets, 31-19.

 

No. 21 Navy (7-1) at No. 16 Notre Dame (7-2), 2:30 p.m. (NBC).

For two programs that have enjoyed plenty of recent success (the Mids will appear in their 15th bowl this century while the Fighting Irish have played in the BCS Championship Game and the College Football playoff this decade) this is the first time these annual foes are both ranked entering their showdown since 1978.  The series has actually turned into a rivalry with respect since the Mids ended their long losing streak to the Fighting Irish in 2007;  they’ve won four of the last 12 meetings with three of the eight losses coming by single digits.  Expect the Midshipmen to try to kill the clock like they did in their 2016 victory where Notre Dame had just six possessions.  A bigger test will be how Navy’s defense will fare against Fighting Irish quarterback Ian Book; the senior is coming off of a tour de force performance at Duke where he threw four touchdown passes while also rushing for a career-high 139 yards.  The much-improved unit has also had issues after halftime this fall, allowing 19 second-half points to Air Force, 21 in their loss to Memphis, and 24 in a last-second win over Tulane.

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen come up short, 34-21.

 

Virginia enjoys its second bye week of the season, meaning Kippy & Buffy have to find something to do to pass the time.  Apple picking and antiquing are on the morning docket (who doesn’t love sipping cider while checking out a chestnut armoire?), while pumpkin patch time takes up most of the afternoon.

Once home, the evening is theirs.  And after enjoying pumpkin spice lattes on their way to apple picking, nothing’s better than post-pumpkin perusing than a glass of Chateau O’Brien Virginia Apple Wine“Made of apples grown and hand-selected from our neighboring Northpoint orchards, the wine is crisp with delineated flavors and possesses lush aromas of vibrant ripe apples. Full-bodied, elegant wine that captures the essence of apples at their peak of fall ripeness.”  During a season where the Cavaliers’ eye is on a Coastal Division Crown, it makes sense to go with the 2014 vintage that was selected by the 2015 Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition tasting panel as the “Best Sweet Fruit Wine”.

 

Georgetown falls at Bucknell, Howard is humbled at Florida A& M, James Madison beats Richmond, Towson tops William & Mary, Morgan State beats Virginia Lynchburg.

 

Last week: 7-2.

Overall: 70-30.

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What time is it?  Oh yes, we’re back from Daylight Saving Time (not to be confused with “daylight savings”, which I’m told is incorrect) and return to “Standard Time” which for some reason takes up only 34.7% of the year.  Why not call DST the “new standard”?  I lived in Indiana when a large part of that state didn’t observe Daylight Saving, and while it was awesome not to change my clocks twice a year it was kind of jarring for it to be bright at 5 a.m. in June yet pitch black at 8:30 a.m. in December (I might be exaggerating slightly).

College football’s elite dealt with the switch back to Standard the only way they could:  top ranked LSU, No. 2 Alabama, and No. 3 Ohio State didn’t play.  I’m sure the respective coaches had their players in cocoons to get the body ready for the clock switch, although the Tigers and Crimson Tide are both preparing for their November 9 showdown.  The Buckeyes probably don’t need an extra week to prepare for Maryland.  Those falling back on the field this weekend include No. 6 Florida, who may be unbeaten in Gainesville yet 0-2 in Baton Rouge and Jacksonville, and No. 15 SMU who sees their New Year’s Day bowl hopes take a major hit with their first loss of the season.  But at least the Mustangs entered November unbeaten;  No. 20 Appalachian State fell for the first time October 31st and doesn’t get credit for reaching “Closing Month” unblemished.  What time is it?

 

Alma Mater Update- it’s time for the defense to show up. At Syracuse the number 44 is special, as the likes of Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, and Floyd Little made those digits famous.  Even men’s basketball’s Derrick Coleman and John Wallace honored that number with great play.  But Saturday the Orange allowed 44 points in the first half to Boston College.  They wound up losing 58-27 and are now 3-6 with games remaining against Duke, Louisville and Wake Forest (a combined 16-8 on the season).  A winless ACC season is a distinct possibility after last year’s 10-3 dream season.  Bring on basketball-who probably won’t allow 44 points in a half this season.

 

Navy (7-1, 5-1 AAC) dominated UConn from the opening kickoff in their 56-10 rout of the Huskies.  The win also gives the Mids a half game lead in the AAC West over Memphis and SMU;  their lone loss is to the Tigers while the Mustangs come to Annapolis later this month.

Midshipmen Medals: Malcolm Perry rushes for 108 yards and two touchdowns while also throwing for 165 yards and a score.  The running game would average eight yards per carry while gaining 408 on the evening.  Kevin Brennan tallied 12 tackles to lead a defense that held UConn to 4-14 on third down.

Midshipmen Miscues: head coach Ken Niumatalolo won’t be pleased with the four penalties, and Owen White averaged under 40 yards per punt.  When you’re parsing penalties and punts, it’s been one heck of a week.

Next: November 16 at 6-2 Notre Dame.

 

Maryland (3-6, 1-5 Big Ten) in their first game after Halloween was haunted by big plays made by Michigan as well as missed opportunities of their own;  the 38-7 loss was one of those games that felt closer than the actual score.  Unfortunately, the result puts the Terps on the precipice of Bowl eligibility elimination.

Terrapin Triumphs:  Javon Leake returned a kickoff back for a 97-yard touchdown.  Josh Jackson in his first start back from injury remained healthy- no small feat concerning Maryland quarterbacks’ recent health history.  Isaiah Davis notched nine tackles and the defense prevailed in 8 of 15 third down situations.

Terrapin Troubles: Special teams they weren’t on a day where the Terps allowed the opening kickoff to be run back for a touchdown, missed a field goal and averaged less than 35 yards per punt while also allowing a first down on a fake punt.  They left points on the table when their best two drives of the day died in the Michigan red zone; instead of converting key third downs Jackson threw an interception and took a sack that set up a long field goal (which was missed).  Jackson was under pressure all afternoon, as Michigan sacked him four times.

Next: Saturday at noon on the road against No. 3 Ohio State.

 

Virginia Tech (5-3) led No. 16 Notre Dame into the final minute of play before the Fighting Irish put together an 18 play, 87 yard drive that ended with an Ian Book seven yard touchdown run.  Instead of beginning college football’s closing month with a signature victory, Tech gets 60 minutes of game tape illustrating their shortcomings.

Hokie Highlights: freshman quarterback Quincy Patterson II ran for 77 yards while throwing a touchdown pass to Damon Hazelton, who caught five passes for 63 yards to lead the team in both categories. Divine Deablo intercepted a pass and returned a fumble 98 yards back for a touchdown while Dax Hollifield intercepted a pass and notched a sack. Brian Johnson made both of his field goal attempts while John Parker Romo averaged 44.2 yards per punt.

Hokie Humblings:  Patterson the passer had issues, completing just 9 of 28 throws while tossing a game-sealing interception.  The offense converted just 4-16 third downs and began the day with four straight three and outs.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against 7-1 Wake Forest.

 

Virginia (6-3, 4-2 ACC) has had their season of possibilities turn into a season of surprises. The surprising losses at Miami and Louisville now have their counterpart, a 38-31 win at North Carolina.  Now many of my UVa friends will admit they consider the original ACC member Tar Heels more of a rival than “new money” Virginia Tech, and for good reason: they’re 11-9 this century against UNC and have lost 15 straight to the Hokies.

Cavalier Congrats:  Bryce Perkins once again puts this team on his back, throwing for 378 yards and three touchdowns while running for 112 yards and two more scores.  Yes, that’s all five touchdowns came from this kid’s arm and feet.  Terrell Jana didn’t catch a touchdown pass, but did notch 13 receptions for 146 yards.  Charles Snowden led the defense with eight tackles.  The team committed just one penalty for five yards.

Cavalier Concerns: the defense was gashed for 539 yards and was burned by multiple big plays.  Touchdown passes of 34, 42, 47 and 50 yards were allowed by a D that was supposed be the strength of this team.  They also surrendered a non-scoring 57 yard strike.  The lack of running support for Perkins didn’t cost them this week, but he did get sacked three times as well as take those hits for his 21 runs.  He’s not indestructible.

Next: Saturday at 12:30 p.m. against 2-6 Georgia Tech.

 

 

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“Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
As Camelot.”

Have you ever tried to re-heat a souffle?  It can’t be done.  And along those lines while it’s easy to go home again for visits it’s nearly impossible to recreate the magic of what once was.  For one brief shining moment last decade, the University of Connecticut was a player in big-time football.  Look it up.  A 33-19 record over a four-year span from 2007 to 2010.  Sharing the Big East Conference championship twice within a four year stretch.  A trip to the Fiesta Bowl.  Even with the qualifier “Big East Football” in the mix,  the Huskies had come a long way from competing in the Yankee Conference and being the decidedly fourth rung on the school’s sports ladder (behind men’s and women’s basketball as well as men’s soccer).

Randy Edsall had created a BCS conference contender out of a I-AA program (yes, it was classified as that during the pre-FCS days) before answering the siren call of the University of Maryland;  a position that he said was his “dream job”.  Only the reality was less ideal than the dream, and Edsall was gone after four and a half seasons with a 22-34 record.

As disappointing as his tenure in College Park may have been, things got worse in Storrs. Paul Pasqualoni was flushed out after going 10-18 and his eventual replacement, Bob Diaco, departed after an 11-26 mark that may have included a bowl berth but will forever be known for creating the infamous “Civil ConFLiCT” trophy.

So after the dust cleared it only seemed natural to bring back the man to rebuild what was once built-if anyone can make UConn work, it’s Randy Edsall.  Only things haven’t been that easy in round two:  the Huskies are 6-26 and this year have drawn fewer than 20,000 fans in three of their four home games thus far.  He addressed the challenge during one of his weekly press conferences last year.  “We did it before, and we’re working to do it again,” Edsall said. “And it’s hard. And it’s harder now than what it was then because our generation has changed, society has changed.”

Yes, society has changed. It does every year and the kids of 2019 are nothing like the kids from 2000 when he began his first run with the Huskies, but the winning coaches adapt instead of pointing fingers.  “It’s today’s generation. It’s frustrating because there’s been no accountability in a lot of households and there’s been no accountability with these kids growing up,” Edsall said at a press conference last month. “They’ve never had it tough. They’ve never known how to work. They’ve never known how to sacrifice and be disciplined. And that’s the tough thing. And we’re trying to change all those things.”

Meanwhile, in the bad optics department, Edsall gets bonuses not just for victories but for statistical achievements.  The Hartford Courant published an article last November detailing his bonus structure, one that includes $2,000 payouts for scoring first and leading at the half.  Earlier this year when the Huskies lost 56-21 to UCF (no trophy was in play), Edsall collected $2,000 because UConn had a “better red zone scoring percentage” than the Knights.  Scoring two grand in a 35-point loss.  Now that’s accountability of a different sort.

College football is a long game when one is building a program; just look at how long it took Edsall to get things going at UConn in his previous tenure.  And recruiting classes can help things turn on a dime sometimes.  But the Huskies re-joining the Big East in their other sports places this program at a crossroads-not unlike the crossroads they were at when the school elected to make a play for the big time and hired Edsall in 1999.  Will the rain hold off until after sundown this time?

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange are actually favored this week against Boston College, and unless they beat the Eagles this will likely be the last time they’ll be favored in 2019.  SU’s currently 0-4 in the ACC, and their most recent conference win came at BC last November. That victory was a fun one for yours truly as I got to hang out with my roommate from freshman year Bob Goeldner and also run into a friend from high school Lynn Morganstern LeVeille. Her daughter now cheers for Syracuse.  The wins and losses fade but the smiles and good times endure.  Except for the excruciating losses–those stick with me forever.

 

Friday’s Game-

Navy (6-1, 4-1 AAC) at Connecticut (2-6, 0-4), 8 p.m. (ESPN).

Another aspect of Edsall’s bonus structure is a $10,000 payout if the Huskies at the end of the season rank in the top half of the AAC in major offensive categories;  there is little threat of him collecting as UConn is currently 10th in rushing and passing efficiency, 11th in scoring and 12th in yards gained and third down conversions (I know what you’re thinking-they’re too focused on pass protection that ranks 9th in the conference).  Despite a second half defensive fade against Tulane, the Midshipmen clinched bowl eligibility for the 15th time in 17 seasons with last week’s win over the Green Wave.  It’s a good thing for the academy that head coach Ken Niumatalolo doesn’t collect on similar bonuses:  the Mids are tops in the AAC in rushing offense and defense, as well as total and scoring defense.

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen move closer to a division title with a 45-13 win.

 

Saturday’s Games-

Maryland (3-5, 1-4 Big Ten) at No. 14 Michigan (6-2, 3-2), noon (ABC).

Somehow this is Homecoming; excuse me?  Aren’t homecomings reserved for the likes of Indiana/Illinois/Rutgers/Purdue?  Taking the Rutgers win out of the equation, the Terps are allowing 46 points per game in conference play.  The Wolverines come to College Park fresh off of a season-salvaging 45-14 rout of then-top ten Notre Dame.  They also bring a defense that ranks fourth in the Big Ten with 25 sacks and is third best in the conference at getting off of the field on third down.  That’s bad news for a quarterback carousel that includes one player who’s day-to-day with a leg injury, another who’s still recovering from an ankle injury, and a third who’s a true freshman.

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins tumble, 41-17.

 

Virginia Tech (5-2) at No. 15 Notre Dame (5-2), 2:30 p.m. (NBC).

The Hokies are coming off of their bye week; they probably needed more time after the six-overtime triumph over North Carolina.  They probably also could have used an opponent less angry than a Fighting Irish team that saw its playoff hopes go up in smoke when they got manhandled by Michigan last weekend.  It was Ian Book’s worst game statistically since he became a full-time starter;  but something happens when he suits up in South Bend this fall.  The senior is completing 64% of his passes for 317 yards per game at home with an 11-0 touchdown to interception ratio at Notre Dame Stadium.  Good news for the Hokies:  redshirt sophomore quarterback Hendon Hooker is healed up from the leg injury suffered against the Tar Heels.  Bad news for the Hokies:  there’s no way one can heal a defense that allows 33 points per game in regulation to FBS foes.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies can’t handle the Hulk, falling 34-24.

 

Virginia (5-3, 3-2 ACC) at North Carolina (4-4, 3-2), 7:30 p.m. (ACC Network).

The ACC’s Coastal Division is on a collision course where all seven schools could finish 4-4;  while that’s not likely given Georgia Tech’s issues it’s completely conceivable the division winner goes 5-3 in the conference and advances to the Championship Game thanks to a tiebreaker or two.  UVa’s season of possibilities took a major hit last week with a seven-point loss at rebuilding Louisville-their closest game of the season.  This week’s foe is no stranger to tight games:  UNC has seen seven of their eight games decided by a touchdown or less, including a six-overtime extravaganza in Blacksburg.  The Tar Heels have issues getting to the quarterback and stopping the run, good news for a Cavaliers offensive line that remains a work in progress.

Kippy & Buffy know seasons and tailgates are made in November, and thus they enter college football’s “closing month” with a bottle of 2013 Alpha Omega Cabernet Sauvignon.   On the nose: “hints of cherry, earl grey, lavender and dry herbs lingering on black currant, white pepper and saffron.”  On the palate: “big round entrance evolving on dark fruit jam, currant and blackberry lingering on acidity and cherry.”   

Presto’s Pick: on the field- another offensive effort on offense. Cavaliers come up short, 20-16.

 

Georgetown gets by Colgate, Howard falls to North Carolina Central, William & Mary falls to Elon, Richmond beats Stony Brook, Towson tumbles to Delaware, Morgan State slips to Norfolk State.

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More isn’t always better; sometimes it’s just more.  College football rules the roost on Saturdays between Labor Day and Thanksgiving weekend, and Thursday night football has been a fixture for over 20 years.  As previously mentioned in this space, college actually does Thursdays better because more often than not the teams playing are coming off of bye weeks and even those that aren’t have had four days off instead of the NFL’s three (and with a larger roster to eat up snaps).  Expansion to Friday only seemed the next logical move, and when it comes to Friday games I don’t count Labor Day’s opening weekend nor do I count the day after Thanksgiving due to the fact both are “holiday Fridays”.  But it’s not necessarily better, nor welcome.  Instead of the Thursday night island, distinct enough of an entity to have its own sense of place; Friday night feels like the sand bar at low tide.  And just like Sundays belong to the NFL, Fridays should belong to high school football.  I mean, has nobody read the book or watched the movie/TV show “Friday Night Lights”?   (Aside: if you stopped watching the show during season two’s murder storyline, I’d understand).

One of the reasons I was happy Syracuse was leaving the Big East was that at the time the ACC didn’t have Friday night games.  Now they do, as is the case with everybody but the SEC (even the ten-member Big 12 has Kansas playing on a Friday night this year).  And this is the third season of Friday night football in the tradition-rich Big Ten; it was only a matter of time before Maryland would have to close down its campus for classes on a Friday and host one of these games.  I get it. For schools and conferences that aren’t major brands it’s a great way to be in the spotlight as opposed to being buried as one of 50+ games on a Saturday.  But just because one can play games on a night previously reserved solely for the feeder system to your sport doesn’t mean you should for some TV bucks.  And just because I’m not a fan of the 21st Century version of Friday Night Lights doesn’t mean I won’t watch when teams I cover or root for are playing. Clear eyes, full hearts. Right?

Alma Mater Update- the Orange host Holy Cross Saturday at noon.  I do believe “Syracuse-Holy Cross” is Greek for “noon kickoff”, although I’ve been wrong before. I’ve also been wrong in supporting my school this fall. As I realized over the weekend, SU is outscoring foes 65-17 when I’m not watching/listening (thank you 1180 AM in Rochester for your long reach after dark) while I’ve witnessed them getting outscored 120-37.  Surely I can cut into that deficit while watching the Orange roast an FCS team, right?  I’m still on the fence–it’s been one of those years.

 

Thursday’s Game:

Navy (2-0, 1-0 AAC) at Memphis (3-0), 8 p.m. (ESPN). 

Both teams are off to dominant starts, but while the Midshipmen are outscoring the opposition 87-17 those wins have come against Holy Cross (1-2 with a three-point win over New Hampshire) and East Carolina (winless against FBS schools).  The Tigers have beaten an SEC school (Ole Miss counts, believe it or not) and have also won on the road (South Alabama isn’t the Crimson Tide, but the Jaguars are in FBS).  They also finally decided the “Brady Brawl” at quarterback:  Brady White starts while Brady McBride transferred to Texas State.  Even with last year’s one-point loss in Annapolis, the Tigers won the AAC West and they look better this season.   And while Navy’s much better than last year’s 3-10 nightmare, a prime time game on the road might be too much to ask.

Presto’s Pick: Mids come up short, 35-24.

 

Friday’s Games:

Virginia Tech (2-1, 0-1 ACC) vs. Duke (2-1), 7 p.m. (ESPN). 

After a week off, the Hokies rollercoaster ride continues with a date against the Blue Devils.  Both schools lost Labor Day weekend, but while the Hokies coughed up a winnable game at Boston College the Blue Devils were blown out by No. 2 Alabama (somewhere there has to be that oddball who roots for Duke football and Alabama basketball).  Duke has also dominated in its two wins while Virginia Tech has struggled to scrape past Old Dominion and Furman.  Daniel Jones may be off to the NFL, but Quentin Harris is completing 73% of his passes and unlike ODU’s Sterling Smartt or Furman’s Darren Grainger actually saw action on the field last year.  The Blue Devils also keep Harris upright:  Duke has allowed an ACC-low eight sacks this fall while the Hokies pass rush has been somewhat lacking.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies are humbled, 21-16.

 

Maryland (2-1) vs. No. 12 Penn State (3-0), 8 p.m. (FS1).

The rivalry that isn’t has two Eastern schools in a Midwest-based league kicking off conference play.  The Terps’ tumble at Temple robs what could have been some serious buzz around this game.  Instead, prepare yourselves for a Penn State invasion:  College Park is the closest Big Ten campus from Beaver Stadium and there are plenty of alumni and Nittany Lion fans inside the beltway (including one or two that work at WTOP).  Maryland owns the conference’s top-ranked running game and the defense that ranks second-best in sacks is also third best in getting off of the field on third down.  Penn State’s led by first-year starting quarterback Sean Clifford, and while he’s put up decent numbers (facing Idaho and Buffalo will do that) the sophomore is directing an offense that ranks last in the Big Ten on third down conversions.

Presto’s Picks: Terrapins tumble, 24-17.

 

Saturday’s Games:

No. 18 Virginia (4-0) at No. 10 Notre Dame (2-1), 3:30 p.m. (NBC).

The Fighting Irish are coming off of a six-point loss at No. 3 Georgia, just the kind of tough defeat that may have actually helped their chances at getting into the College Football Playoff.  As crazy as this sounds, the Cavaliers are currently the highest ranked foe remaining on their schedule (Michigan has dropped to No. 20 and USC is No. 21).  Ian Book threw for 275 yards in the loss to the Bulldogs.  Even though UVa’s defense has allowed just three second-half touchdowns this fall (and two were while holding a 30-plus point lead over William & Mary), Book is better than any of the four QB’s they’ve faced.  Bronco Mendenhall’s ground game took a step back against Old Dominion (27 carries for 85 yards when accounting for sacks), and that’s a shame because Notre Dame allows over 200 yards per game rushing.

Kippy & Buffy realize if you can’t beat them, tailgate with them.  Knowing that Irish are stereotypically redheads, their plan is to enjoy a bottle of Mount Veeder 2017 Chardonnay: “On the nose, beautiful and delicate floral aromas of jasmine marry with sweeter notes of honeysuckle and candied ginger. A very subtle hint of vanilla creme and toffee from the oak aging emerge on the lingering finish.”  Let the record show that Kippy & Buffy are cool with redheads, as Thomas Jefferson founded the University.

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers linger into the second half but come up short, 30-18.

 

Howard slips to Bethune-Cookman, Georgetown loses at Columbia, James Madison beats Elon, Towson tumbles at Florida, Richmond beats Fordham, William & Mary edges Albany.

Last Week: 4-2. Overall: 25-8.

College football gives fans a chance not just to talk up their own school, but their entire conference.  Nothing beats Vanderbilt or Arkansas fans talking smack about the SEC, or Rutgers people telling you how great the Big Ten is.  I’ve even looked at the Power Five Conferences multiple times this fall.  But everyone takes a back seat to the best in the business…a conference that might be closer than you think.  The Colonial Athletic Association places SIX teams in the 24-school tournament:  James Madison, Towson, Delaware, Maine, Elon and Stony Brook.  In other words, half of its membership was deemed to be worthy of 25% of the tournament bracket.  The cost of a top-heavy league was that conference champion Maine only gets a #7 seed and they were the only CAA team to get a first round bye.  James Madison (8-3) advanced to the Championship game last year;  the Dukes host Delaware in the Blue Hens’ first playoff  appearance under former Richmond coach Danny Rocco.  Towson (7-4) also has a home game:  The Tigers entertain Duquesne in their first playoff game since the 2013 FCS Championship Game.

Alma Mater Update- let’s just say that things did not go as planned in New York City…as the men’s basketball team lost two straight and the football team fell 36-3 to #3 Notre Dame.  That they weren’t shut out shouldn’t be noted, because the Orange elected to kick a field goal late in the fourth quarter.  Kind of more embarrassing than actually getting blanked.  Actually a blocked field goal returned for a Fighting Irish TD would have been the only result more embarrassing.  At 8-3 they visit Boston College to wrap up the season. I’ll be there.

Maryland (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) went for the win in overtime against Ohio State…and Jeshaun Jones was open in the endzone.  Unfortunately the pass never got there and fell to the turf incomplete, wrapping up one wild afternoon as the Buckeyes remain alive for the Big Ten East with a 52-51 victory.  The Terps missed out on reaching bowl eligibility…despite outplaying OSU for big stretches of the day.  Terrapin Triumphs:  Anthony McFarland ran for 298 yards and two touchdowns- the two scores coming from 75 and 81 yards in the first quarter.  The defense recovered a fumble inside the Maryland five and RaVon Davis returned an interception for a touchdown.  Terrapin Troubles:  by overtime the D was hanging for dear life, allowing touchdowns the last four times the Buckeyes touched the ball.  And while the passing game saw a few sparks (completions of 27, 30, 56 and 60 yards), Tyrrell Pigrome completed under 50% of his throws.  Next:  Saturday at 3:30 against 8-3 Penn State.

Virginia (7-4, 4-3 ACC) saw its Coastal Division hopes evaporate when Pitt routed Wake Forest, before being taken to overtime by Georgia Tech.  While Brian Delaney’s 32-yard field goal sent the game into OT, his 35-yarder in the extra session went wide.  Cavalier Congrats:  Bryce Perkins threw for 217 yards and a touchdown while running for 73 and a score.  Olamide Zaccheaus notched 11 catches for 111 yards.  Jordan Mack paced the defense with 12 tackles.  Cavalier Concerns:  special teams mistakes cost UVa bigtime-the Yellowjackets scored their first TD of the day on a kick return and their second came on a short field after a the Cavs fumbled a punt.  Next:  Friday at 3:30 at 4-6 Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech (4-6) continued its late-season slide in a 38-14 loss to Miami.  But they aren’t out of bowl contention just yet:  The Hokies have scheduled a provisional game with Marshall for December 1st.  If they beat Virginia (like they have every year since 2003), they’ll play the Thundering Herd the following weekend.  If they lose, the game will be wiped out.  Hokie Highlights:  Ryan Willis completed 3 passes for 70 yards on the first possession of the day to give the team a 7-0 lead.  Rayshard Asbhy tallied 14 tackles to pace a much-maligned defense.  Hokie Humblings:  the offense moved the chains on just 2 of 12 third downs, and the defense once again allowed 30+ points (sixth time this fall–all losses).  Special teams allowed a 51 yard punt return for a score that put Tech down 17 points.  Next:  Friday against 7-4 Virginia.

Navy (3-8, 2-5) ended a seven game losing streak by outscoring Tulsa 37-29.  After starting the day with a three and out, the offense reached the endzone the next four times they had the ball.  On senior day, it seemed like old times for quarterback Zach Abey.  Midshipman Medals:  Abey ran for 128 of the team’s 389 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns.  The offense converted 11 of 15 third downs. Nizaire Cromartie paced the defense with nine tackles.  Midshipman Miscues: the defense was either feast of famine in the second half, allowing two touchdowns while tallying two takeaways.  The lack of a passing game (only 15 yards) didn’t hurt them this time,  but the Mids won’t be facing the 2-9 Golden Hurricane every week.  Next:  Saturday at noon on the road against 5-6 Tulane.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

It was brought to my attention after I praised Northwestern’s run to the Big Ten West that their division is subpar, and that’s absolutely right.  The West is far from being the best this fall, as has been the custom since the conference put “Leaders & Legends” into the trash can where it belonged.  But the Big Ten’s Division discussion is far from unique, as each of the Power Five Conferences have long boasted a Darryl Hall as well as a John Oates. (Or, depending on your age and interest: Paul Simon/Art Garfunkel, George Michael/Andrew Ridgeley, Kix Brooks/Ronnie Dunn, Big Kenny/John Rich).  Even the ten-member Big 12 had that issue, as the South won 12 of 15 championship games.

At least the Big Ten West has a ranked team in the Wildcats.  That’s not the case in the ACC’s Coastal where a 4-loss Pitt  is all but headed to Charlotte for a showdown with unbeaten Clemson (that will certainly end well).  The Atlantic Division has won seven straight and is 9-4 in a league set up for Miami and Florida State to face off for the title (and they’ve yet do do so).  Despite the imagined edge, the Atlantic and Coastal have won an equal amount of inter-divisional games this fall.

The Pac 12 division of fortune is similar, with two ranked schools in the North and just one in the South (a #19 Utah that has three league losses).  The North has won six of seven Championship Games and this year looks like more of the same, with a 5-4 South champion an extreme possibility.  The North owns a two-game edge inter-divisonally, with everyone wondering when USC and UCLA will get their respective acts in gear.

You’d expect the SEC to have a marked difference, especially with the West winning seven of eight titles this decade (although it was 5-5 the previous decade and the East dominated the 90’s).  But the East has actually taken seven of 12 inter-division games.  Even Vanderbilt is getting into the act.  Of course, everybody-in the East and West-is and will be chasing Alabama now and for some time.  My only issue is that Missouri is west of the Mississippi River yet plays in the East Division.

Which brings us to the Big Ten.  This year there are three East Division teams in the top 14 with Northwestern repping the West at #22.  The East owns an 11-8 edge and enjoyed a 13-8 advantage last year, but the West won 11 of 21 games in 2016 and the two divisions were even the previous two years.  The East is 4-0 in the Championship Game, a small sample size to say the least.  And that span saw changes at formerly dominant programs Nebraska and Wisconsin.  How long the current divide will last between the divisions might just hinge on how long it takes for Scott Frost to get things going in Lincoln and how long it takes Paul Chryst to consolidate what he’s built in Madison.  Perhaps Urban Meyer (who’s resigned with health concerns before), Mike Dantonio (62 years old) and Jim Harbaugh (mentioned every year with NFL vacancies) won’t be on their current campuses forever.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was conference parity.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange haven’t started 9-2 since 1992, when Marvin Graves was at the peak of his powers.  SU heads to New York City to face #3 Notre Dame, and after the Fighting Irish won their first three games by single digits they’ve been on a roll.  The last time these two teams played, the Orange allowed 50 points.  While I’m hoping its not that bad, it can’t get worse than men’s basketball’s  loss to UConn at Madison Square Garden where somebody spelled a player’s name wrong on the back of their jersey.  Granted, it was only a freshman who played just six minutes.  But the kid’s name was-and is-Buddy Boeheim.  As in the son of the man who has been our head coach for the last 42 years–and has been on campus in one way or another since 1962.  I’m looking forward to buying a game replica Buddy Boheim jersey at Manny’s online.

Saturday’s Games-

Maryland (5-5, 3-4 Big Ten) vs. #9 Ohio State (9-1, 6-1), noon (ABC).  The Buckeyes happen to be the only team in the East Division the Terps haven’t beaten since joining the league, and it hasn’t been close:  the average score has been 56-17.  This year OSU owns the number one offense in the Big Ten thanks to the arm of Dwayne Haskins, who has 33 touchdown passes in ten games.  With Kasim Hill done for the year due to a torn ACL, the Terps will start redshirt sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome (who has thrown all of 31 passes this fall).  Expect Anthony McFarland (210 yards rushing against Indiana) to receive the lion’s share of attention, and while the Buckeyes aren’t as sharp on that side of the ball their defense is second-best at getting off of the field in the Big Ten.  Terrapins tumble, 44-14.

Virginia Tech (4-5, 3-3 ACC) vs. Miami (5-5, 2-4), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN).  The last two Coastal Division champs expected to be playing for another spot in the ACC Championship Game this weekend as recently as one month ago.  Instead, it’s a question of which team can salvage its sinking season. While the Hokies have dropped three in a row, the Hurricanes have lost four straight.  But not all slides into oblivion are created equally, as Miami has three one-possession losses in its tumble and Virginia Tech has dropped its three by an average of 20 points.  Tech’s slump can be traced to a defense that’s surrendered 30 or more points five times this fall;  the Cane’s decline can be traced to an offense that ranks 12th in the ACC in passing and a starting quarterback in N’Kosi Perry who hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in over a month.  Cover your eyes.  Hokies hurt a little more, 27-21.

Virginia (7-3, 4-2 ACC) at Georgia Tech (6-4, 3-3), 3:30 p.m. (ACC Network).  The Cavaliers can still win the Coastal Division, but only with two wins and two losses by Pitt.  The Yellowjackets may be out of the running for the division, but Coach Paul Johnson’s option offense will be running all afternoon- they lead the nation with 362 yards per game on the ground.  UVa just coughed up 205 yards rushing– to Liberty.  The home team has also prevailed in seven of eight meetings this decade.   Kippy & Buffy hit the road with a bottle of Cain Five.  The 2014 vintage is 51% Cabernet Sauvignon and 26% Merlot (remaining grapes used are split between Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot).  “The aromas are discrete: fruity—floral—herbal—spicy—and pure. On the palate, the wine has a certain density, but now the tannins have melted and this wine just flows.”  Cavaliers come up short, 33-26.

Navy (2-8, 1-5 AAC) vs. Tulsa (2-8, 1-5), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).  For just the second time all season, the Mids will face a team with a losing record -their October 6th trip to 1-3 Air Force being the other time.  The Golden Hurricane have lost eight of nine (the one win coming against one-win UConn) and rank tenth in the AAC at stopping the run while allowing 5.0 yards per carry.  Now that Zach Abey is back at the controls of the option offense, one can expect more of the 21-point second half they had against UCF and less of the 3-point first half they scraped together against the Knights last week.  The defense has to put together a solid sixty minutes together against Tulsa offense that ranks 11th in passing, total offense and points per game while allowing the most sacks this fall.  Midshipmen celebrate Senior Day in Annapolis with a 31-19 victory.

Howard beats Bryant, Georgetown gets by Holy Cross, James Madison tops Towson, William & Mary beats Richmond to send Jimmye Laycock out a winner.

Last Week: 6-4.

Overall: 56-36.