Archives for posts with tag: James Madison

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Bye weeks are often a byproduct of the conference schedule…so most schools don’t have the option of when they take their annual hiatus.  The September break always feels a little odd;  we’re just getting into the rhythm of the season and learning what team we’ll see on the field before we have to take a week off.  While Virginia (October 6th) and Virginia Tech (October 20th) have their byes next month, Maryland and Navy get to sit at home this week and evaluate a much smaller sampler size.

Maryland is 3-1 with impressive wins over Texas and Minnesota outweighing the tough-to-stomach loss at home to Temple.  Causes for confidence include a running game that averages 6.2 yards per carry and a defense that has turned into a takeaway machine in the second halves of games.  Causes for concern begin with the lack of a legitimate receiving threat and continues with the team committing too many penalties (their 37 flags for 362 yards are the most in the Big Ten).

Navy is 2-2 with a pair of one-point games in AAC play.  They’re very much in the West Division race, but after this start none of their league games will be gimmes.  Causes for confidence include the triple option offense that leads the nation in rushing (355.8 yards per game) while causes for concern include a defense that hasn’t allowed under 20 points yet this fall.

Meanwhile, there’s a strange occurrence in Central New York…not unlike the Cicadas that show up in the DC Metro area once per generation.  Syracuse is 4-0 for the first time since 1991 and for just the fourth time since World War II.  Just like the ’91 edition the Orange have a September home win against a school from the sunshine state (although upsetting Steve Spurrier’s Gators was a little more impressive than beating a bad Florida State team).  And just like the squad that dared to start 4-0, SU heads into the deep south for a game against a top-5 school.  Let the record show that Marvin Graves & company actually led #1 Florida State 14-7 before the bottom fell out in a 46-14 loss at Doak Campbell Stadium.  This time it’s a trip to #3 Clemson–a school that won’t be looking past the Orange after last year’s upset win in the Dome.

 

Saturday’s Games:

Virginia (3-1, 1-0 ACC) at NC State (3-0), 12:20 p.m. (ACC Network).  The Cavaliers’ defense is much improved this fall–and Coach Bronco Mendenhall feels they’re making better in-game adjustments as well, allowing just 16 second-half points over four games.  They’ll be hard-pressed to contain this week’s foe:  Wolfpack senior quarterback Ryan Finley leads the ACC in passing yardage and NC State converts 58.5% of their third downs to lead the conference.  UVa has also had issues on the road in league play lately: 2-18 since the 2012 season…when they went into Raleigh and beat the Wolfpack by 27.  This is the first meeting between these two founding ACC members since that game, so Kippy & Buffy go with the Founding Father inspired “Federalist Bourbon Barrel-Aged Zinfandel”.  The 2015 vintage possesses “aromas and flavors of black fruit, smoke, caramel and vanilla”.  Despite the portrait of university founder Thomas Jefferson’s rival Alexander Hamilton on the bottle, “the finish is long and smooth making this a thoroughly enjoyable wine.”  Enjoy with aged cheddar on club crackers.  Cavaliers come up short, 38-31.

 

Virginia Tech (2-1, 1-0 ACC) at #22 Duke (4-0), 7 p.m., (ESPN2).  Entering the season the secondary was a primary concern, which made the team’s shut-down of Florida State in Tallahassee all the more impressive.  Since then we’ve seen the Seminoles convert 1-of-14 third downs against a Syracuse team that allowed 42 points to Western Michigan, while the Hokie D earned an F in coughing up 35 second half points at Old Dominion.  They also lost quarterback Josh Jackson with a fractured fibula in that game…and former Kansas QB Ryan Willis gets the start Saturday in Durham.  The Blue Devils are also going with plan B at that position with Quentin Harris tossing six touchdowns to no interceptions in two starts after taking over for the injured Daniel Jones. Hokies suffer another September stumble, 31-26.

Georgetown slips at Brown, James Madison beats Richmond, William & Mary falls to Colgate, Towson tops The Citadel.

Last Week: 4-5.  Contemplating firing my offensive coordinator…

Overall: 20-13.

 

 

One finally saw the sun Thursday afternoon during a gloomy Washington week that had more than its share of clouds.  But make no mistake, this break is precisely that.  Hurricane Florence has already made its mark;  either canceling (Virginia Tech-East Carolina), postponing (Howard-Savannah State), shifting (James Madison-Robert Morris from Saturday to Thursday) or transporting (Virginia-Ohio from Charlottesville to Nashville) week three area action.

First and foremost, during a bad weather weekend that could escalate into something disastrous, be safe.  There’s a Washington DC traffic reporter who tweets “#TurnAroundDontDrown”…and along with it being a catchy rhyme “TADD” should serve as a message to those who think they can drive their low-to-the-ground-axle Honda Civic through a miniature pond in the middle of an intersection where there’s little chance of regular drainage.  Don’t.

Second, why limit your store runs to “milk, bread and toilet paper”?  Stock up on juices you don’t need to refrigerate immediately like grapefruit and cranberry (they actually make a good blend).  Get some cereal (recommending Cinnamon Quaker Oatmeal Squares)  while grabbing a book or two (my fiction for the summer was “After Anatevka”, about what happened to the middle daughter after the events of “Fiddler on the Roof”) to keep you occupied if the cable goes out.

Lastly, if you’re not going to be in College Park or Annapolis, set up your alternate viewing for the day:  Hawaii-Army kicks off at noon (it’s going to feel like 6 a.m. to the Rainbow Warriors), Auburn-LSU begins at 3:30 p.m. (nothing like the SEC West undercard) and Ohio State-TCU start at 8 p.m. (the Buckeyes may miss Urban Meyer more against the Horned Frogs than they did against Rutgers).  Stay safe…

 

Alma Mater Update- Syracuse entertains a struggling Florida State as the Orange attempt to start 3-0 for the second time since…1991?  That season saw a week three win at home against a highly-rated Florida…so if Dino Babers calls a reverse on the opening kickoff you’ll know what he was thinking.

 

Maryland (2-0) vs. Temple (0-2), noon (Big Ten Network).  The Owls have lost home games to FCS Villanova and Buffalo (not the Bills, although it should be said the Bulls have had much better quarterbacking than their NFL counterparts).  So naturally Terps interim head coach Matt Canada said in his Tuesday press conference that the Owls have a “great tradition”.  Temple may have won ten games twice this decade, but the school’s “tradition” includes losing by 40+ points to Penn State and having to join the Mid-American Conference because the old Big East didn’t want them.  While the Owls are a scrappy team that has a defensive and special teams touchdown to its credit this month, the Terps just have too much talent on both sides of the ball to get caught off-guard.  Terrapins triumph, 30-14.

 

Navy (1-1) vs Lehigh (1-1), 3:30 p.m (CBS Sports Network). The Midshipmen are coming off of a season-salvaging win against Memphis;  not only did they beat the preseason AAC West favorites but coach Ken Niumatalolo’s team held possession for 38 minutes.  While one win doesn’t deliver the division, at least the Mids can think of themselves as a team that can win the West if they continue to improve.  Lehigh did make the FCS Playoffs last year as Patriot League champ and boasts a three-time 1,000-yard rusher in senior Dominic Bragalone, but they’ll be hard-pressed to match the Midshipmen’s clock and yardage grinding offense.  Side note:  my uncle Jimmy Watson and two of his kids attended Lehigh, but when the team’s nickname was the Engineers.  Now they’re the “Mountain Hawks”.  Midshipmen manhandle the Mountain Hawks, 37-13.

 

Virginia (1-1) vs. Ohio (1-0), 4:30 p.m. (ACC Network).  The Cavaliers and Bobcats moved the game from Charlottesville to Nashville.  While UVA naturally would have liked to have kept the home game, the Bobcats are thankful they don’t have a bye for the second straight week.  They needed a bye week in between Howard and Virginia?  Perhaps–Ohio trailed the Bison at the half while playing at home.  A semi-neutral site game means a semi-neutral white wine for Kippy & Buffy;  nothing says “home away from home” better at the tailgate than Chateau O’Brien’s Northpoint White.  The 2017 Chardonnay offers “a beautiful array of creamy hazelnut and subtle butterscotch” and “shows a profound maturity, along with a balancing elegance and grace”.   Perfect with take-out from Bojangles.  The Cavaliers show maturity along with balance in a 28-17 win.

Georgetown falls to Dartmouth, Towson falls at Villanova.

Last Week: 7-2. Overall: 12-6.

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The Maryland Women’s Lacrosse team is in the Final Four–again.  Ten straight appearances in the national semifinals means that, bear with me here, that not only has every senior been on four straight Final Four teams- no senior has played with anyone who played with anyone at Maryland who was on a Terps team that didn’t make the Final Four.  No easy task.  Just like winning a second straight national title this weekend will be no easy task as they battle Boston College at 7:30 Friday in the Semifinals-one year after beating the Eagles in the National Championship Game.

The seeds to this year’s senior class were planted over ten years ago.  Senior attacker Megan Whittle says, “The coolest thing about my class–there’s seven of us now–is that we’re all from Maryland and four of us played on the same club team together.  Since we were eight or nine.” The addition of transfer Kathy Rudkin from Syracuse bolstered a defense that lost plenty of talent to graduation-and gives the Terps eight seniors who contribute on and off the field.  “I’m just fortunate and blessed to have a team full of amazing women,” coach Cathy Reese says, “they’re all just terrific people and that’s what it’s all about.  From Megan Whittle who leads the team with 83 goals to Emma Moss who saw action in just four games this year, Reese’s senior class and team is more than a collection of talent but a group of teammates.  “What Cathy’s been able to do is bring 37 girls together, get everybody on the same page and focused towards the same goal. And have everyone love every moment of it,” Whittle says, “And that is something that is very hard to do–especially with 37 girls of college age.”

This year’s senior class leaves College Park with a 47-0 home record…setting the standard while also laying the groundwork for the 2019 and 2020 teams. “They mean the world (to me)”, says junior goalie Megan Taylor, “I’ve actually been playing with Megan Whittle since Rec (league)–and Taylor Hensh I grew up playing COBRA (travel lacrosse) with. Just being able to watch them grow and watch them become the leaders that they are, it’s really something special.”  But the mood around campus is not one of celebration this week–it’s one of focus.  “This senior class has had such an impressive ride and accomplishment, but it’s important that we don’t take anything for granted,” coach Cathy Reese says, “it took a lot of work to get here and there’s a lot of work still to be done going into this weekend.”  And that’s exactly where Megan Whittle wanted to be-and she gets to be there one more weekend in her playing career.  “When I was 15 years old and decided to commit to Maryland, that’s what I signed up for,” Whittle said, “And here it is, happening. My senior class had a very successful tradition of winning National Championships and Big Ten Championships–but the coolest part is that is isn’t over yet”.

 

In the other semifinal–

#2 North Carolina (17-3) faces #3 James Madison (20-1) at 5 p.m..  After a slow start the Tar Heels enter Memorial Day weekend on a 12-game winning streak that includes an ACC Championship.  The Dukes boast the fourth best defense in Division I and are led on offense by Kristen Gaudian (74 goals) and Katie Kerrigan (53 assists).  Gaudian and Elena Romesburg each scored 5 goals in the February meeting between the two schools that was won by JMU in overtime.

 

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

 

Friday’s Game:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Saturday’s Games-

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Presto’s Pick: Tigers triumph, 30-22.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Playoff Party—

#1 Clemson vs #4 Oklahoma

#2 Auburn vs #3 Alabama

 

Last Week: 2-1.

Overall: 74-25.