Archives for posts with tag: Georgia

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

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

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

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

 

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

 

Friday’s Game-

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Saturday’s Games-

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Overall: 84-35.

While most of the eyes in the Southeastern Conference were focused on Jacksonville and the game unofficially referred to as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party”, another SEC East school was busy making history.  At the same time #7 Georgia was shutting the door on 9th ranked Florida, Kentucky rallied to beat Missouri 15-14 a with a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns–the gamewinner coming with time expired.  The #12 Wildcats–ranked this season for the first time since 2007–improved to 7-1 on the season and more importantly 5-1 in the SEC.  Yes…for the first time since 1977 Kentucky will finish with a winning conference record.  Since going an unbeaten 6-0 in league play under Fran Curci (and also under probation so they couldn’t play in a Bowl that year) the Wildcats have had almost as many winless (6) SEC campaigns as they’ve had .500 seasons (8).  When Mark Stoops took over for Joker Phillips in 2013, many thought he had a tough task ahead of him while others remained flummoxed that a school would hire as head coach somebody with the nickname “Joker” (for the record, it’s Joe Jr.).  The process has been slow yet steady as the Wildcats have gone from two to five to seven wins thus far…and now Kentucky will host Georgia Saturday with a trip to the SEC Championship Game on the line.  What’s this about basketball?

 

Alma Mater Update- talking about droughts ending…the Orange find themselves ranked (#22) for the first time since 2001 after a 51-41 win over NC State.  SU is bowling for the first time since 2013–and unlike that fall the Orange are assured of postseason play before Thanksgiving.  Fans get to celebrate Eric Dungey’s final month as the quarterback of the Orange and get occasional peeks at the future QB in Tommy DeVito.  Winnable games with Wake Forest and Louisville arrive before they face Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium.

 

Virginia Tech (4-3, 3-1 ACC) turned the Coastal Division race upside-down with a 49-28 loss to Georgia Tech.  Every fear or nightmare one has entering a game against an option team like the Yellowjackets came true.  It’s a good thing Navy isn’t on Tech’s schedule this fall.  Hokie Highlights:  Ryan Willis threw two touchdown passes while Damon Hazelton caught 6 passes for 81 yards and a score.  Khalil Ladler made a team-high 12 tackles.  Oscar Bradburn averaged 41.5 yards per punt.  Hokie Humblings:  the Yellowjackets chewed up yardage and the clock all night- holding the ball for 42 minutes while gaining 465 yards on the ground.  The offense converted just 2 of 8 third downs and gained just 19 yards on its first 11 plays from scrimmage in the second half.   Eight penalties for 87 yards didn’t help either.  Next:  Saturday at 3:45 against 6-2 Boston College.

 

Virginia (6-2, 4-1 ACC) clinched bowl eligibility for the second straight year by beating North Carolina 31-21.  The Cavaliers also move into first place of the Coastal Division, something that might not sit well in Blacksburg if they didn’t have their own problems to deal with.  Cavalier Congrats:  Bryce Perkins threw for 217 yards and three touchdowns while running for 112 yards and another score.  Olamide Zaccheaus notches 10 catches (setting the career mark at UVa) for 108 yards.  Juan Thornhill tallied seven tackles to pace the defense that held the Tar Heels to 4-of-14 on third down.  Just one penalty on the day.  Cavalier Concerns:  Lester Coleman averaged just 34.5 yards per punt, and the return game (17 yards per kickoff return, 1.4 yards per punt return) was somewhat lacking.  Next:  Friday night at 7:30 p.m. against 4-4 Pitt.

 

Maryland (5-3, 3-2 Big Ten) moved within one victory of bowl-eligibility with its 63-33 rout of Illinois.  The big play was the thing as five of the Terps’ nine touchdowns were by more than 40 yards.  Terrapin Triumphs: Javon Leake ran for 140 yards and three touchdowns while scoring a fourth on a 97-yard kickoff return.  Kasim Hill threw for a career high 265 yards and three touchdowns.  The offense converted 12 of 15 third downs while holding the Illini to four field goals on four trips to the red zone.  Terrapin Troubles: after two and a half quarters of lock-down defense, Maryland went into break-but-don’t-bend mode by allowing touchdowns of 61, 89 and 84 yards.  The team was penalized seven times–once in the pregame warmups while another was a targeting penalty that resulted in linebacker Tre Watson’s ejection.  Next:  Saturday at noon against 6-3 Michigan State.

 

Navy (2-6) dropped its fifth straight game in a 44-22 loss to #3 Notre Dame…and it could have been a textbook case for the 2018 season.  The offense struggled in the first half- gaining just 62 yards on 24 plays from scrimmage-while the defense allowed four touchdown drives of 67 yards or more.  Now the Mids are in danger of missing postseason play for just the second time in coach Ken Niumatalolo’s tenure.  Midshipman Medals: After a disastrous first half, they actually outscored the Fighting Irish 22-16 the rest of the way.  Malcolm Perry ran for 133 of the team’s 292 yards.  Taylor Heflin led the defense with 14 tackles.  Midshipman Miscues:  the offense was held to 2-for-12 on third down.  Meanwhile, the defense was unable to slow down the Fighting Irish:  quarterback Ian Book completed 82% of his passes for 330 yards while Dexter Williams ran for 142 yards.  Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at 7-1 Cincinnati.

Welcome to October- where strong starts go to die and September unbeatens get a double dose of reality.  After extended sunny skies in September, this past Saturday’s weather shook up the rankings.  Four of the top ten survived scares and four others went down in defeat.  Number two Georgia saw its unbeaten season go up in flames at LSU- the 36-16 blowout officially relegates the SEC East to second-tier status.  Sixth ranked West Virginia suffered the “Dave Preston writes a column about you jinx” and lost at nondescript Iowa State.  Number seven Washington came up short in overtime at Oregon (who had previously fallen this fall in OT) and ninth rated Penn State’s chant is now “We are”—“a two-loss team” after a second fourth quarter fade to a conference foe.  Even paper-Buffalo Colorado (a very soft 5-0 and deservedly ranked 19th) lost.  Meanwhile, third ranked Ohio State, number five Notre Dame, ninth rated Texas and number ten UCF count their lucky stars after needing rallies to stay in the potential playoff mix.  Before bundling up again this week.  Don’t you feel a little chill outside?

Alma Mater Update– the Orange come off their bye week with a magnificent opportunity ahead.  Three of their next four foes are sub-500 in conference play and they play two of those games at home.  The road to another Pinstripe Bowl is there.

Maryland (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) routed Rutgers 34-7 in a game where they held the Scarlet Knights scoreless for over 59 minutes.  There are those who say Maryland-Rutgers is not a true Big Ten matchup, as both schools are less than a decade in the league.  I found the matchup remarkably like the Big Ten I grew up watching–in 1972 when “passing game” meant you received a C+ in Hunting & Fishing 101 and quarterbacks looked like they wore mittens on their throwing hands.  Terrapin Triumphs:  the D earns an A+ by intercepting the Scarlet Knights five times (most since a seven-INT effort at Duke in 1998) and holding the visitors to 1-10 on third down until the final drive of the day.  How bad was it?  Rutgers had 41 yards on 24 first half plays and in 13 possessions either turned it over or failed to register a first down nine times.  Ty Johnson tallied 132 yards as well as a 65-yard scamper for a score that put the Terps ahead to stay.  Kasim Hill threw three touchdown passes to three different receivers.  Wade Lees had some killer punts in the first half, forcing Rutgers to start from their own two and six yard lines their first two possessions.  Terrapin Troubles:  the passing game stalled at times…and while the inability to get more than a field goal out of a late first-quarter takeaway inside your foe’s 30 won’t hurt you against Rutgers, it will come back to haunt you against Iowa, Illinois and Michigan State.  Next:  Saturday at 5-1 Iowa (noon).

Navy (2-4, 1-2 AAC) took a 17-7 lead over Temple on their first possession of the second half.  Unfortunately, the offense would gain just 67 yards on their final 26 plays–and the Owls would tally two touchdowns and a field goal as the Mids fall 24-17 in Annapolis.  With the Commander in Chief’s Trophy and AAC West hopes taking major hits the last two weeks, one now wonders if the Mids can scrape their way to a bowl berth-especially with the next four schools on their schedule currently 24-1.  Midshipman Medals:  new quarterback Garret Lewis ran for 56 yards and a touchdown while fullback Nelson Smith notched 108 yards rushing and a TD.  Hudson Sullivan paces the defense that tallied a pair of takeaways with 12 tackles.  Midshipman Miscues:  Lewis completed just 3 of 11 passes…while the offense converted just 5 of 13 third downs.  After a solid first half, the defense coughed up over seven yards per play after intermission (not including the Owl’s kneeldown at the end).  Next: Saturday at home against 4-1 Houston (3:30 p.m. kickoff).

Virginia (4-2, 2-1 ACC) came off of its bye week by nipping #16 Miami 16-13.  So much for a Hurricane warning this fall in the ACC–instead Mark Richt’s team gets downgraded to a tropical storm.  And Bronco Mendenhall’s team just got one step closer to bowl eligibility…something that hasn’t happened in consecutive seasons since 2005.  Cavalier Congrats:  Juan Thornhill notched two of UVa’s three interceptions…while Zane Zandler tallied nine tackles and half of a sack.  Jordan Ellis ran for 86 yards and scored the Cavs’ only touchdown.  Brian Delaney nailed all three of his field goal attempts.  Cavalier Concerns: Bryce Perkins threw three interceptions…while the offense went 3-10 on third down.  Tough to find blemishes when you upset a ranked team in conference play.  Next:  Saturday against 5-1 Duke (12:30 p.m. gametime).

Virginia Tech (4-2, 3-0 ACC) had beaten North Carolina 34-3 and 59-7 the previous two years, and this fall’s Tar Heel team looked even worse than the 2016 and 2017 editions.  So naturally Tech needed to rally to stay unbeaten in the conference and atop the Coastal Division.  The 22-19 victory wasn’t pretty, but coach Justin Fuente and staff will take the W and use the gamefilm as “coaching moments” over the next week and a half.  Hokie Highlights:  Ryan Willis threw two touchdown passes while running for a score.  Rayshard Ashby tallied 12 tackles as the defense recovered a pair of fumbles.  Oscar Bradburn averaged 43 yards per punt.  Hokie Humbles:  Willis isn’t exactly the quarterback you want to lead the team in rushing–while the rest of the ground game was limited to 66 yards on 26 carries.  He also threw a pair of picks.  Next:  Thursday October 25th in Blacksburg against 3-4 Georgia Tech (7:30 p.m. kickoff).

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

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

 

Friday’s Game:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Saturday’s Games-

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Presto’s Pick: Tigers triumph, 30-22.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Playoff Party—

#1 Clemson vs #4 Oklahoma

#2 Auburn vs #3 Alabama

 

Last Week: 2-1.

Overall: 74-25.