Archives for posts with tag: football

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.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-
“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.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

College football gives us plenty of thrills on a weekly basis, and there’s nothing like the surprise of an upset percolating and then happening.  Especially when it involves an unbeaten or a conference leader falling to an unranked foe.  October saw top ten teams Georgia, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma get surprised by league foes;  very few had any falling-that’s why they’re called surprises.  But while the SEC and Big Ten brass simply moved on to the next week the Big 12 higher-ups were likely punching holes in their hats.  Because until we live in a world where there’s an eight-team playoff that gives all Power Five Conference champs automatic berths into the College Football Playoff, the last thing a league wants is to see its last unbeaten lose before November.  Just ask the Pac-12, a conference that’s eaten its own with a nine-game league schedule.  Saturday night No. 11 Oregon needed a last-second field goal to avoid upset against Washington State, and I’m sure the league office was holding its breath as one of its two one-loss teams drove the length of the field with under a minute to play.  As long as the 13-member committee is looking for “intangibles” when it puts together a four-team field, one of the best things the game has to offer is actually the worst that can happen for the conferences that have their eyes on the playoff participation payout (six million dollars for each team selected to the playoff).

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange continue their collision course with under .500 by losing at Florida State 35-17.  SU’s moving month turned into several steps backwards as the 0-3 October likely sentences the team to an early offseason.  The Ghosts of Seasons Past thinks of 1986, when the Orange finished 5-6 after reaching a bowl the previous fall.

 

Maryland (3-5, 1-4 Big Ten) went to No. 17 Minnesota with hopes that having running back Anthony McFarland and quarterback Josh Jackson healthy again could turn the tide of a season that was slipping away.  Unfortunately, the Golden Gophers lived up to their 7-0 record and torched the Terps 52-10.  Adding injury to insult, quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome left the game with a leg injury.  The quarterback carousel continues in College Park.

Terrapin Triumphs:  this team may be sub-.500, but they make big plays.  Javon Leake had a 59-yard catch and a 41-yard kick return, Tayon Fleet-Davis added a 33-yard run, and Marcus Lewis had a 40-yard interception return.

Terrapin Troubles: the passing game earned a failing grade, as the combination of Pigrome, Josh Jackson, and freshman Tyler DeSue combined to complete 10 of 23 passes for 131 yards and two interceptions.  The first INT set up the Golden Gopher’s first touchdown the other was returned for a score.  The defense allowed 321 yards rushing at 5.9 yards per carry.

Next: Saturday at noon against 6-2 Michigan.

 

Virginia (5-3, 3-2 ACC) continues to confound as the Cavaliers followed up an unexpected blowout of Coastal contender Duke with a 28-21 loss at rebuilding Louisville.  After taking a 14-7 lead, UVa went into an offensive funk that included 43 yards on its first 16 plays in the second half.  Thank goodness the Coastal is a quagmire-it’s the only division in FBS where the leader has two losses.

Cavalier Congrats: Hasise Dubois caught 7 passes for 93 yards, while Wayne Taulapapa ran for 55 yards and two touchdowns.  Eli Hanback had two sacks in his six tackles to power the pass rush that finished with four sacks.

Cavalier Concerns:  just 22 called runs, including only three carries for Taulapapa after halftime.  Bryce Perkins threw for 233 yards, but averaged under 10 yards per completion (and 5.5 per attempt).  The defense allowed 5.0 yards per carry and 227 on the afternoon.  Eight penalties for 70 yards made life that much tougher on the road.

Next:  Saturday at 7:30 against 4-4 North Carolina.

 

Navy (6-1,4-1 AAC) looked like it was in control against Tulane, only to let a 24-point first half lead evaporate after intermission.  They were able to prevail on a last-second field goal by freshman Bijan Nichols, but the 41-38 win will give head coach Ken Niumatalolo more questions than answers as his team focuses on the AAC West race in November and the Commander in Chief’s trophy in December.

Midshipmen Medals:  Jamole Carothers ran for 154 yards and three touchdowns while Malcolm Perry ran for 142 yards.  Diego Fagot notched eight tackles and returned an interception for a touchdown. Owen White averaged 47.3 yards per punt.

Midshipmen Miscues: the offense converted just 5 of 14 third downs as Perry completed 2 of 7 passes and was intercepted.  The defense had no solutions for Green Wave quarterback Justin McMillan in the second half and allowed the Green Wave to score the last four times they had the ball.

Next: Friday at 8 p.m. at 2-6 UConn.

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

Halfway through the season, we not only start to trim the list of potential College Football Playoff participants but figure out exactly who the Heisman Trophy candidates are.  Round up the usual suspects:  Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was the runner-up last year, and this fall he’s joined by his former backup/teammate Jalen Hurts who transferred to Oklahoma.  LSU QB Joe Burrow has been lights out this fall after making a big splash in the Tigers’ win at Texas, and Ohio State’s Justin Fields has picked up where Dwayne Haskins left off.  Wisconsin’s 24-23 loss at Illinois didn’t just torpedo the Badgers’ Big Ten West hopes; Jonathan Taylor’s Heisman candidacy takes a hit.

This should be no surprise; during this decade only one running back has won the award…can you name him?  Yes, I had to look up Alabama’s Derrick Henry too.  Tailbacks used to dominate the balloting, once enjoying a stretch where they won it 11 straight years.  But the 21st century favors the passer, and since 2000 16 of the 19 Heisman winners have been quarterbacks.  Not many are talking about the nation’s leading rusher Chuba Hubbard, who on name value alone is awesome, because even though the Oklahoma State running back has 1,265 yards and 15 touchdowns his Cowboys are 4-3.  Boston College’s A.J. Dillon is second in FBS, but his Eagles are also 4-3.  It’s a pitch and catch world, and the teams making playoff pushes can each air it out.  Sorry, Earl Campbell.

 

Alma Mater Update- the 27-20 loss to Pitt drops the Orange to 3-4.  The season that began in the Top 25 is almost certain to end Thanksgiving weekend.  Instead of wondering about bowl eligibility SU should be wondering if it’s going to go winless in the ACC as there are no soft touches remaining on the slate.  The fun continues at Florida State, a team the Orange torched last fall in the Carrier Dome.  Somehow I don’t think this will be as fun.

 

Maryland (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) came up short against Indiana 34-28.  The Terps had a pair of chances to take the lead in the final four minutes, but turned the ball over on their final two possessions of the day.  Likewise, the team had two chances to inch closer to bowl eligibility but winds up finding itself three steps shy with a remaining schedule that’s a combined 27-8.

Terrapin Triumphs:  Javon Leake rushed for 153 yards and two touchdowns, the first a 60-yard scamper for a score.  Tyrrell Pigrome threw for 210 yards and two TD’s.  Dontay Demus caught 5 passes for 82 yards and a touchdown.  Chance Campbell tallied ten tackles while Antoine Brooks added seven stops plus and interception.

Terrapin Troubles:  the defense took a while to get in gear, allowing the Hoosiers to reach the end zone the first two times they had the ball.  They also allowed backup quarterback Peyton Ramsey to come in and complete 20 of 27 passes.  While penalties (six this week) were down, the two fourth quarter turnovers killed their comeback hopes.  Ball security by Leake and decision-making by Pigrome need to improve.

Next: Saturday at noon at 7-0 Minnesota.

 

Virginia (5-2, 3-1 ACC) snapped a two-game losing streak by blasting Duke 48-14.  After shutting down the Blue Devils in the first half, the offense scored the first four times they had the ball after intermission.  When Duke did finally score, Joe Reed returned the kickoff back for a UVa touchdown. The season of possibilities is back as they once again stand alone atop the Coastal Division.

Cavalier Congrats: Bryce Perkins ran for three touchdowns while Wayne Taulapapa ran for 78 yards and a score.  Joey Blount tallied 10 tackles and an interception while the defense held the Blue Devils to 2-14 on third down and secured five takeaways.  Brian Delaney made both of his field goals while Reed continues to shine on special teams.

Cavalier Concerns:  Perkins completed just 50% of his passes while tossing an interception.   It was nice to see Chris Moore and Joey Blount finish 1-2 on the team in tackles, but one never likes to see the defensive backs making all the stops.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against 4-3 Louisville.

 

Virginia Tech (5-2, 2-2 ACC) needed six overtimes to get by North Carolina, finally prevailing in a 43-41 marathon.  The win gives the Hokies a bit of a bounce entering their bye week, and the fact remains that they control the path to the ACC Championship Game.

Hokie Highlights:  the quarterback carousel paid off, with Hendon Hooker completing 8-12 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown before going down with an injury. Ryan Willis stepped in to throw the go-ahead TD pass in the second quarter. Quincy Patterson II ran for 122 yards and a touchdown in the second half while also tossing a TD pass in overtime.  Rayshard Ashby notched 17 tackles while Jarrod Hewitt added 2.5 sacks.  Oscar Bradburn averaged 49.2 yards per punt.

Hokie Humblings: Brian Johnson missed 41 and 42 yard field goals that would have won the game.  The defense coughed up 348 yards through the air.  The offense lost two of their three fumbles on the afternoon.  Turnovers all but torpedoed the season in September; they’ll have to keep the mistakes to a minimum if they want a November to remember.

Next: November 2 at No. 8 Notre Dame.

 

Navy (5-1, 3-1 AAC) posted another dominant effort, crushing South Florida 35-3.  The difference this fall has been a defense that is much more disruptive than previous units.  The usual offensive efficiency saw Malcolm Perry join Keenan Reynolds, Napoleon McCallum and Chris McCoy as the only Mids to post 3,000 career yards rushing.

Midshipmen Medals: Perry rushed for 188 yards and two touchdowns while the team gains 434 yards on the ground. Diego Fagot notched 10 tackles as the defense tallied five sacks and kept the Bulls out of the end zone.  Owen White averaged 47 yards per punt.

Midshipmen Miscues: Perry’s legs may be legendary, but his arm remains a work in progress after an 0-3 performance that included two interceptions.  Six penalties for 45 yards isn’t a big deal at most schools, but it is at the Academy.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against 5-2 Tulane.

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

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.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

The University of Maryland owned the week in a way many schools would rather not. After a summer-long investigation into the death of student athlete Jordan McNair, the Board of Regents announced Tuesday that despite the fact that yes, there was dysfunction within the athletic department and football program.  Only nobody would be held responsible for the death of a 19-year old student athlete in the College Park sun.

They recommended reinstatement for coach DJ Durkin as well as Athletic Director Damon Evans.  “Nothing to see here, anyone.”   Status Quo Post-Investigation.  “Thanks for coming…we’re fine, thanks.  How are you?”  The response went over as well as one would expect…even with University President Wallace Loh announcing his retirement at to take effect at the end of the academic year.  Handling situations has never been the school’s strong suit…but even with the lowered level of expectations that the University is given, this seemed bewildering, tone-deaf and disastrous.  The resignation of James T. Brady two days after the recommendation only served to underscore that.

There was no way DJ Durkin could return to coach this team.  Not after the death of a player.  Not after the investigation into the program especially not after he had been separated from this team (due to administrative leave) for almost three months and two thirds of the regular season. He couldn’t transition back to normalcy, and it will be years and at least one new head coaching regime before this program gets back on the track they may have been on or thought they were on when Jordan McNair died.

There will no doubt be more fallout…as Athletic Director Damon Evans is on far from secure ground.  The hiring process for the next head coach will be filled with ridiculous expectations (Frank Reich is likely NOT leaving the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts to come to College Park), second-guessing and the customary misdirection that any coaching search at Maryland has been known for delivering.  If it’s anything like previous regime changes, expect a few current players to transfer once the dust settles.

Somewhere in the midst of assigning responsibility and finding the right course of action, McNair’s 115 teammates have scraped their way to a 5-3 start–meaning they’re one victory shy of reaching bowl eligibility.  I’ve long thought that there are way too many bowls–with the mediocrity of a .500 season propped up with cupcake wins getting rewarded to the point where postseason play is an entitlement instead of an achievement.  If the Terps get to six wins this month, they’ll be one of the exceptions.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange enter November bowl-eligible.  That’s happened just once since the end of the Paul Pasqualoni era…and that 6-2 start saw three November losses in four games.   SU starts the month with a trip to Wake Forest and the team will be wearing “all-white” to mimic snow falling in the south.  Of course, snow melts in warm-weather climates.  But that’s merely an accounting note.

 

Friday-

#23 Virginia (6-2, 4-1 ACC) vs. Pitt (4-4, 3-1), 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)-

Don’t look now, but the Cavaliers enter November atop the ACC Coastal Division.  While getting to the top of the standings to begin college football’s “Closing Month” is one thing,  Virginia is the only original Coastal school that has yet to play in the ACC Championship Game.  The Panthers are somewhat offensively-challenged this fall, with senior runningback Qadree Ollison (795 yards and seven touchdowns rushing) the lone bright spot this fall.  He’s coming off of a 149-yard performance against Duke.  UVa quarterback Bryce Perkins is coming off a 217-yard passing, 112-yard rushing effort against North Carolina.  He’s also been dynamite at moving the chains–the Cavaliers rank second in the ACC (47.7%) on third down.  Pitt’s defense?  Second to last at getting off of the field this season.  Kippy & Buffy move the chains and much more during their tailgate by going with a 2015 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cold Creek Cabernet Sauvignon:  “the aromas are bright, with notes of cherry, plum, vanilla and baking spice. The fruit flavors are plump, with plenty of barrel accents. The tannins come off as quite dry, leading to a sweet vanilla-filled finish. The oak is at the fore.” 

Cavaliers come the fore of the Coastal Division with a 30-14 victory. 

 

Maryland (5-3, 3-2 Big Ten) vs. Michigan State (5-3, 3-2), noon (ESPN2)-

As if anyone is focused on the nuts and bolts of this matchup, we’ll do our darnedest to keep this game-related.  Both schools are in contention but are longshots in the East Division race….and while the Terps boast the second-best running game in the conference (with a league-leading 6.3 yards per carry) the Spartans bring the stingiest run defense (2.7 yards per carry and 77.4 yards per game) to College Park.  They also bring a freshman quarterback named Rocky Lombardi who threw for 318 yards in his first career start (second-year starter Brian Lewerke was out with a shoulder injury).  They’ll need to pass effectively as the Spartans manage just 3.1 yards per carry this fall…and if there’s one thing the Terps don’t do well defensively its rush the passer (12 sacks rank 13th in the Big Ten).  Win or lose, this is going to be one intriguing afternoon.

Terrapins triumph 24-20.

 

Navy (2-6, 1-3 AAC) at Cincinnati (7-1, 3-1), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)-

The midseason gauntlet continues for coach Ken Niumatalolo’s team as they face the number one defense in the American Athletic Conference (I still want to add “of America”–it’s the “Dodgeball” guy in me).  The Bearcats are tops in the league against the run and are the stingiest on third down while being one of four teams in a top-heavy East Division that could advance to the conference championship.  The bright spot for the Mids this fall has been ball security:  they rank second in the AAC and are 13th nationally at +7 through eight games.  They’re also the least-penalized team in the league while Cincinnati has drawn the most flags (an average of eight for 81.2 yards per game).  They may do the little things better than the Bearcats, but Cincy does the big things much better–and that will come up huge.

Midshipmen continue to meander in a 35-21 loss.

 

Virginia Tech (4-3, 3-1 ACC) vs #24 Boston College (6-2, 3-1), 3:45 p.m. (ACC Network)-

Could the Hokies actually miss a bowl this fall?  The “easy” Coastal Division games against Duke and North Carolina are in their rearview mirror and a suddenly slippery schedule awaits with their remaining foes a combined 12-5 in conference play.  Defensive coordinator Bud Foster has made the most out of an inexperienced unit, but in each defeat they’ve been exposed:  495 yards passing allowed against Old Dominion, three touchdowns of 30+ yards in the Notre Dame game, and 465 yards on the ground given up to Georgia Tech.  This week they face a healthy AJ Dillon (134 yards per game at 5.8 per carry) who’s looking to atone for last year’s 10-carries-for-35-yards performance in Chesnut Hill.  Keeping quarterback Ryan Willis upright will be a key:  BC leads the ACC with 28 sacks over eight games.  Getting him possessions will be just as important:  they had the ball 10 times in the loss to the Yellowjackets after averaging 13.7 drives over their first six games this fall.

Hokies hold on, 20-19. 

 

Howard falls to Florida A&M, Richmond beats Villanova, James Madison beats New Hampshire, Towson tops Maine.

Last Week: 6-3.

Overall: 49-25.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

Despite the weather getting cooler as October approaches, it’s most certainly getting hot at more than a few locales in college football. The Coaching Hot Seat fires up again with there already being a pair of casualties.  Thanks LSU, for jettisoning Les Miles last weekend (there goes my title, lead sentence and big chunk of the first paragraph from my rough draft).   But let the record show that in the SEC West, all coaching seats begin rather lukewarm upon the new administration’s arrival.  FIU has also made a coaching change, replacing Ron Turner with Ron Cooper.  This was a shock to many following the program who thought that the coaches name was Ron Cooper to begin with.  They could name Ronald McDonald the interim coach and it still wouldn’t register on the national scale.

This year the seats in the area are rather cool;  that’s what usually happens when you make changes at Maryland, Virginia and Virginia Tech.  Looking around the expanded area…one sees a little heat up in Happy Valley surrounding Penn State’s James Franklin.  The Nittany Lions are 2-2 to start the season and 16-14 in his tenure…with alumni-embarrassing losses to Pitt and Temple (for shame!).  He’s also 6-11 in the Big Ten…and while Ohio State is playing on another level the State College faithful have to be rankled by defeats to Northwestern and Illinois.  Not to mention a loss to Maryland at home for the first time ever.  Athletic Director Sandy Barbour gave Franklin the “vote of confidence” this week after the team was crushed by #4 Michigan 49-10.  Each of their next three opponents are 3-0 (but let the record show Ohio State’s 3-0 is a lot different than Maryland’s 3-0) and the Nittany Lions’ remaining foes boast a composite 21-6 record.  Rutgers can’t come soon enough.  In the ACC, Boston College’s Steve Addazio has presided over an offense that can’t get out of its own way as the Eagles have dropped 10 straight conference games.  Thankfully Buffalo and UConn are sprinkled in between the Clemsons and Florida States.  Nationally the hot spots are at the usual locales- USC appears to be self-destructing under Clay Helton (did they really send 8 players out for a punt?) while the natives are restless at Auburn (Gus Malzahn began his tenure 19-3 but is 11-12 since).  Both of those schools are more than happy to jettison regimes when things go south…much to the delight of UCLA and Alabama.

Alma Mater Update- no hot seat in Central New York this year as Dino Babers is putting together a program that will contend with the Clemsons and Florida States of the world.  Did I just write that?  That is what a win at UConn will do for my orange-colored glasses.  This week SU faces a 1-3 Notre Dame team that allowed 38 points to Duke at home.  Granted, it’s a neutral site game in the Meadowlands…but one just hopes for a little semi-home cooking.  For those in the DC Metro area, you can get Sal’s Birdland Sassy Sauce at most Wegman’s.

Virginia (1-3) at Duke (2-2, 0-1 ACC), 12:30 p.m. Saturday (ACC Network)- UVa has lost 18 straight road games…dating back to November 2012.  But that is Cavaliers past. Cavaliers present is all about third down:  they rank 13th in the ACC at moving the chains while the defense is last in the conference at getting off the field.  The Blue Devils aren’t much better, ranking 12th in third down efficiency and last in the conference in red zone offense.  Duke is fresh off an upset win at Notre Dame, but the Blue Devils leading rusher Jela Duncan (5.6 yards per carry and 78 yards per game) is on the shelf thanks to a leg injury.  ACC play means Kippy & Buffy move on to reds, and Virginia has some very interesting choices.  This week they open a bottle of Ankida Ridge 2014 Pinot Noir: “a luscious, round mouthfeel lingers with a long-lasting finish of floral notes and white peppercorn”.  Break out the Cantal cheese with Ritz crackers.  Cavaliers come up short, 39-30.

Maryland (3-0) vs Purdue (2-1), 3:30 p.m Saturday (Big Ten Network)- after four weeks away from College Park, the Terps hold homecoming and their conference opener on the same afternoon.  Quarterback Perry Hills and his injured shoulder is listed as probable by coach D.J. Durkin- but the running game is the major reason this team is unbeaten:  Maryland ranks 2nd in the Big Ten in rushing and leads the conference in yards per carry.  The Boilermakers have had issues stopping the run and the pass this fall.  Defensively the challenge is containing David Blough and the second ranked passing game in the Big Ten; the Boilermakers also convert a league-best 59% of third downs.  One huge test for a secondary now minus safety Denzel Conyers (ACL, out for season).  All eyes on junior Josh Woods who makes his first career start.  Could turnovers tell the tale?  Maryland is +5 on the season while Purdue is a Big Ten worst -6.  Terrapins triumph, 36-24.

Navy (3-0) at Air Force (3-0), 3:30 p.m. Saturday (CBS Sports Network)- the Midshipmen have owned this rivalry as of late, taking 10 of the last 13 meetings.  But it’s a different world in Colorado Springs:  the Falcons have beaten the Mids in two of their last three meetings out west…and none of Navy’s wins there since 1978 have come by more than a touchdown. Expect another close contest between schools that, despite defending our skies and seas, get things done on the ground.  Both average over 300 yards per game rushing:  Air Force’s attack ranks 2nd in FBS while Navy’s is 5th.  Will Worth may be the wildcard this year- the senior QB is a better passer than his Air Force counterpart Nate Romine.  Midshipmen come up short, 34-31.

Howard loses at Norfolk State, Georgetown falls to Harvard, James Madison defeats Delaware, Richmond tops Towson, William & Mary falls at New Hampshire, Morgan State defeats Delaware State.

Last Week: 5-2.

Overall: 30-5.  Can we survive college football’s “moving month”?