Archives for posts with tag: Miami

Blame the Nationals playoff run.  Blame the ongoing college football season plus the start of mens’ and womens college basketball, plus the NHL opener and the NBA’s preseason.  Somehow on the way to documenting what went right and wrong in the Redskins’ 24-3 loss to the New York Giants the Skinsanity got lost in the shuffle.  Because how they fared on third down (both offensive and defensive units rank 31st in the NFL) and which penalties hurt them the most (45 flags over five weeks has the team as the third-most whistled unit in the league) is such a micro thing.  Those are fundamental flaws in a team, but those are bad fruits that are the byproduct of poor soil and worse gardening.

So over the last weeks after watching this team play that way I tried to crank out the usual analysis, but each post died amidst busy days at the ballpark and voting for All-Big Ten and Top 25 polls.  The failed flights are below; consider this a “director’s cut”…:

 

“This just in:  the Redskins are going nowhere.  The 0-4 Burgundy and Gold mess are headed to another last place finish in the NFC East, barring disasters elsewhere.  Sunday’s 24-3 loss to the New York Giants extinguished whatever remaining playoff hopes there were, and who knows how bad things will get between now and the end of the season.”

 

“For those hoping for an October surprise Sunday, you should have turned your TV off after Cam Sims’ 65-yard touchdown run. Just like you should have moved on after Vernon Davis’ 48-yard TD catch against Philadelphia and Adrian Peterson’s triumphant one-yard plunge against Dallas.  But in the NFL, they play a full 60 (sometimes more) and once again the Burgundy and Gold glass is far from half-full.  The 33-7 loss to New England results in an 0-5 start as well as a coaching change; Jay Gruden leaves having lost 11 of his last 12 games.”

 

Okay, now we’re past that.  What now?  Bill Callahan takes over on an interim basis; he’s the first to be in that post here since Terry Robiskie took over for Norv Turner.  While you could argue that the 2000 Redskins were close to contention, as all six losses were one-possession affair, this year’s team is nowhere near respectable.  Even the Eagles loss looked closer than it actually was because of a garbage-time touchdown. This team is in meltdown mode, even judged against other meltdowns this century: Jim Zorn’s 4-12 disaster started the year 2-2 and Mike Shanahan’s 3-13 farewell was 3-5 at one point.  This year’s club could have a date with 2-14 or 1-15 destiny.

Meanwhile, the failed Gruden regime gets buried under an avalanche of losses.  If one takes away his period of adustment (a 4-12 rookie season in 2014) and Gruden’s final 16 game stretch (4-12 as well-how symmetrical!), the team went 25-25-1.  And yes, I count the playoff loss to Green Bay- after all, it was the high-water mark of the era.  What was in 2016 the most stable coach-quarterback combination in the NFC East (https://wtop.com/washington-redskins/2016/09/redskins-new-identity-continuity/) didn’t take long to unravel, and the familiar coach & quarterback carousel is back.

But the quarterback & head coach are merely hood ornaments;  one wonders how long the engine of the current Redskins regime stays in Ashburn.  Bruce Allen came to the franchise almost ten years ago with promises of accountability and a rescue from the Vinny Cerrato era/error.  Just like the peasants who cheer the departure of one ruler, Redskins fans had no idea that Allen would oversee a decade where the team would get worse, as in 59-89-1.  As in currently the fourth-worst mark in the NFL this decade (during a decade dominated by Vinny, the Skins were a robust 71-92, good enough for 23rd).  As in the only franchises who have been worse this decade have been Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Cleveland.

Allen is reportedly working on getting a new stadium deal for the franchise;  as the FedEx Field fiasco is one of the factors that has turned this team from one that dominated the district into a squad that regularly plays at home in front of opposing fans-dominated stands, this is the silver bullet (Coors Light reference not intended) just like the return of Joe Gibbs in 2004 was the Burgundy and Gold bullet that undid previous miss-steps.  But he’s also in charge of the football operations, and for the last decade we’ve seen that patient suffer on the operating table.

Will they fix this mess?  The immediate road ahead is a nightmare.  After a trip to Miami their pre-bye week foes are a combined 11-3.  After the hiatus, the Skins face just a pair of teams that currently have losing records (the New York Jets and Giants).  Back to the Dolphins- this 0-4 team isn’t just bad, they’re Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1976 bad.  The team that can’t even wear the right color of aqua or position its dolphin correctly on the helmet ranks 32nd in the NFL in scoring, points and yards allowed, rushing offense and defense, offensive and defensive passing efficiency, sacks for and third down defense.  They rank 31st in total passing and total offense as well as passing defense.  A loss would tempt many to clamor for relegating the Redskins into the CFL or something.  Hail…

 

 

 

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Six weeks into the college football season means the first smattering of schools become bowl eligible, as if there was a doubt about Ohio State. Florida is also 6-0 but has a pair of FCS wins so they’re not technically in the mix just yet. There is one other 6-0 team, and it’s a blast from the past:  SMU is off to its best start since the 1982 team went unbeaten behind the likes of Eric Dickerson and Craig James.  Sadly, the “Pony Express” turned into “Pony Excess” (the title of a great ESPN 30-for-30 narrated by Patrick Duffy of “Dallas”) and the cheating got so rampant at the Southwest Conference school that the NCAA had to deliver the nuclear option of the “Death Penalty” later that decade.

The effect was long term: since restarting the program in 1989, the Mustangs have had eight double-digit defeat seasons while appearing in just five bowls.  Former Louisiana Tech and Cal Head Coach Sonny Dykes brought his high-octane offense to the AAC school two years ago, and the results have been almost immediate.  They averaged 30 points while going 5-7 last fall, and with Texas transfer Shane Buechele running the offense this fall they’ve taken things to the next level.  Far from the Pony Express of yore, the 21st century Mustangs currently rank 10th in FBS in passing yardage and are averaging 44 points per game.  An upset win of No. 25 TCU last month put them on the map, and Saturday’s 43-37 triple-overtime victory against Tulsa has them bowl-bound while thinking conference contention.  SMU has yet to post a winning conference record in the AAC, and still has huge road tests at Houston, Memphis, and Navy.  But for at least one week the Mustangs share the stage with the elite…thirty years after being all by themselves in NCAA Purgatory.

 

Alma Mater Update- a week off for the 3-2 Orange gives Tommy DeVito time to get healthy with NC State on deck.  It also gives one the chance to look at the schedule ahead:  six of SU’s final seven foes boast winning records with no soft spots.  Can they generate three more wins and make their triumphant return to the Pinstripe Bowl??

 

Maryland (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) bounced back from getting blown out by Penn State, routing Rutgers 48-7 in a game that was close for much of the first half.  But just to show that no Saturday is complete without a little heartbreak for the College Park faithful, quarterback Josh Jackson went down with an ankle injury right before halftime. The fact that it took five games for the Terps’ starter to suffer a potential season-ending injury is encouraging, as in previous years the first-string QB would go down for the year in early to mid-September (or as in the case of CJ Brown in 2012, August).

Terrapin Triumphs:  the offense generated big plays of 80 yards (twice), 50 and 42 yards.  Give guys like Anthony McFarland, Javon Leake, Tavon Fleet-Davis and Dontay Demus space and they will make opponents pay.  The Terps also went turnover-free. Linebacker Ayinde Eley notched 12 tackles plus an interception returned to the Rutgers two that helped Maryland take a 20-point lead. Javon Leake returned the second-half kickoff 100 yards for a TD.  Leake also ran for two more scores.

Terrapin Troubles:  it took a while for the offense to get in gear; after scoring on an 80-yard pass on their first possession the team suffered four straight three and outs.  The offense would finish 4-13 on third down.  Penalties continue to pose problems, as the team was flagged six times this week.  The kicking game in concerning, as they had a 29-yard field goal blocked and missed an extra point. That might not cost you against Rutgers, but it did at Temple and very well could against the upcoming slate of the Big Ten’s middle class.

Next: Saturday at noon at Purdue.

 

Navy (3-1) needed a last-minute touchdown drive to pull ahead of Air Force after blowing a double-digit fourth quarter lead, and the Mids would then recover a Falcons fumble on the final play to make the 34-25 final look deceptively comfortable.  But it was anything but comfortable as Troy Calhoun and company know they had a golden chance to steal one in Annapolis (Air Force is 1-8 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium since 2001).  What’s reassuring for head coach Ken Niumatalolo is that these were the types of games last year’s team lost.

Midshipman Medals:  Malcolm Perry complete 5 of 7 passes for 144 yards while running for 111 yards and two touchdowns.  Nolan Smith ran for 82 yards and the other two Navy scores. C.J. Williams caught a game-saving 32-yard pass on the go-ahead drive.  Paul Carothers and Diego Fagot (12 tackles apiece) led a defense that held Air Force to 2.4 yards a carry, 40% passing, and 5-of-17 on third down.

Midshipman Miscues:  last week the Mids allowed 21 second-half points, and this week the D surrendered 16 in the fourth quarter.  After being held to 2-12 on third down through three quarters, the Falcons converted three big ones in the final period (scoring both of their touchdowns on third and goal).  Offensively the three drives that preceded the game-winning possession resulted in a missed field goal, a lost fumble, and a three & out.

Next:  Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Tulsa.

 

Virginia Tech (3-2, 1-2 ACC) saw its season flash before its eyes in the fourth quarter at Miami.  Somehow they were tied at 35 after the Hokies took a 28-0 first half lead.  But somehow VT was able to take a late lead and hold the Hurricanes shy of the goal line. (they’d get to the Hokie 10-yard line before time ran out).  The 42-35 win doesn’t cure all, but it keeps the team out of the Coastal Division cellar and also keeps the temperature down a teensy bit on their coach’s hot seat.

Hokie Highlights:  five first half takeaways helped set up short fields, and the offense played turnover free football all day.  Sophomore quarterback Hendon Hooker threw for 184 yards and three touchdowns while running for 76 and another score.  The offense moved the chains on 7 of 9 third downs in the first half, and scored touchdowns on all six red zone appearances.  Rayshard Ashby notched 11 tackles and a sack, and the pass rush generated seven sacks.  Jermaine Waller and Caleb Fraley each grabbed a pair of interceptions.  Oscar Bradburn averaged 50.4 yards per punt.

Hokie Humblings: talk about your tale of two halves.  The offense converted 2 of 7 third downs after intermission, and the defense that tallied turnovers turned into one that gave up 364 yards and four touchdowns over the final two quarters.

Next: Saturday at 4 p.m. against Rhode Island.

 

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

Welcome to “Moving Month” in college football.  Where strong starts are often exposed as the byproduct of soft scheduling.  Where potential weakness become even more apparent as teams for the most part fully enter conference play.  Where Heisman Trophy hopefuls make miss-steps and the eventual winner starts to shine just a little bit brighter.  The four area FBS schools enter October the same way, a loss last weekend, but with different trajectories.  Virginia and Navy can write off road losses as speedbumps en route to bowl eligibility, while Maryland hopes a three game tour of the Big Ten’s underbelly (Rutgers, Indiana and Purdue are a combined 5-8 with an 0-5 league record) can get them back on the right track.  Virginia Tech?  The S.S Blacksburg is taking serious water and last Friday’s 45-10 loss to Duke saw a robot doing push-ups on the sideline after scores.  Next thing you know they’ll be microwaving those turkey legs.

National notables:

The SEC is stacked: five of the top ten teams in this week’s Associated Press Poll are in the Southeastern Conference, and only No. 7 Auburn plays multiple ranked foes this month (both on the road).  No points if you guess which school is ranked highest.

Don’t Sleep on Wake:  No. 2 Clemson is one of two unbeatens remaining in the ACC, with surprising Wake Forest being the other.  The Demon Deacons are one win away from tying last year’s total and are led by dual-threat quarterback Jamie Newman. They’re idle this weekend and could very well be unbeaten when they face the Tigers next month.

Pac-12 After Dark-Delicious but Deadly: or, the conference that feeds on its own. Everybody’s suffered at least one loss, and despite the zaniness of Washington State-UCLA, the league is once again positioned outside the College Football Playoff party.

Everybody Wins-Almost:  every Power Five school has at least one victory this year, and only three schools in FBS are winless after one month. Rice, New Mexico State and Akron, we’re looking at you. Actually, with NM State facing Incarnate Word in November our eyes are on the Owls and the Zips.

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss:  the Heisman Trophy race offers up some early front-runners, with Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts the early leader.  Just like Baker Mayfield in 2017 and Kyler Murray last year.  A school hasn’t deserved to have the Heisman winner in three consecutive years since Herschel Walker was tearing things up at Georgia from 1980-82.  Candidates to break the Sooner streak:  Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa, LSU QB Joe Burrow, Ohio State QB Justin Fields and Wisconsin running back (yes, a RB is still eligible to win this award) Jonathan Taylor.  And yes- even though I wasn’t a huge “Home Improvement” fan, I want to call him Jonathan Taylor Thomas.  Just like Maryland QB Josh Jackson makes one think of “Dawson’s Creek”.

 

Alma Mater Update- a bye week has the Orange recharging after a 3-2 start, with Pinstripe Bowl dreams still in their heads at night.  That’s the good news, as the bad news is SU doesn’t face a team with a losing record the rest of the way.  Bring on basketball…

 

Saturday’s Games :

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

Technically these two schools are competing in the Big Ten, despite being outscored 141-0 in three combined conference games played this fall.  The Scarlet Knights fired Chris Ash after three-plus years and an 8-32 record, trotting out “not a New Jersey Stereotype” Nunzio Campanille as their interim head coach.  Four years ago it was Mike Locksley who was the fill-in for the fired Randy Edsall at Maryland and the Terps came within a point of beating Penn State in his debut.  It appears as though Rutgers is the medicine Locksley’s team is looking for on multiple fronts.  The banged up offensive line has had issues protecting quarterback Josh Jackson lately, allowing eight sacks in the losses to Temple and Penn State.  The Rutgers D? Just four sacks all September.  Maryland’s defense is also looking to bounce back from a week where, by estimation of head coach Mike Locksley, they missed 17 tackles.  Rutgers ranks near the bottom of the Big Ten in most offensive categories, and are dead last in moving the chains on third down.

Presto’s Pick:  Terrapins Triumph, 38-19.

 

Navy (2-1) vs. Air Force (3-1), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).

Service Academy Irony Time:  despite educating their respective cadets to defend the seas and skies, the Midshipmen and Falcons rank first and second in FBS on the ground as both teams are averaging over 330 yards per game rushing.  While Navy relies primarily on quarterback Malcolm Perry (20 carries per game) to generate yardage within the context of its triple option, Air Force boasts a “thunder and lightning” backfield consisting of fullback Tavin Birdow (338 yards and 5.3 per carry) and running back Kadin Remsberg (342 yards and 5.9 per carry).  Home field has held in this series recently, with Air Force winning just once in Annapolis since 2001.  But the visitors have traveled well this fall, beating Colorado in Boulder while also taking a second half lead before falling to No. 20 Boise State on that blue field.

Presto’s Pick:  Falcons Fly High, 27-24.

 

Virginia Tech (2-2, 0-2 ACC) at Miami (2-2, 0-1), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN).

The Hurricanes have once again been downgraded to a “tropical depression” after starting 0-2, although consecutive wins over Bethune-Cookman and Central Michigan have prevented a bad dream from becoming a nightmare.  Not so in Blacksburg, where the Hokies have a pair of unimpressive wins and two bad conference losses.  They’ve never started 0-3 in ACC play.  The root cause of their issues appear to be the inability to stop the run (13th in the ACC) and hanging onto the football (at minus-8 Virginia Tech is tied for 128th in FBS in turnover margin).  If there’s one school that turns you over before shoving said takeaways in your face, it’s the U.  As in the home of the “Turnover Chain”. As in a plus-six turnover margin that leads the ACC and is tied for sixth best in the nation.  The Hurricanes have also had a week off to prepare.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies get humbled, 36-16.

 

No. 23 Virginia (4-1, 2-0 ACC) may be idle, but Kippy and Buffy never take a weekend off.  This weekend they’re shuttering up the cottage in the Outer Banks, and they’ll be toasting a season of possibilities with a bottle of Ruinart Brut Blanc de Blancs.  The non-vintage Champagne offers “A superb, golden yellow color with a beautiful luminosity and a fine and persistent mousse. The nose is clean and intense with warm, rich notes of brioche, French toast and roasted almonds. On the palate the wine is very supple and harmonious, with notes of honey and minerals on the long, sustained finish.”  With three road games over the next four weeks, Kippy and Buffy hope the Cavaliers can sustain what has been one solid start.

 

Howard falls at Harvard, Georgetown gets by Cornell, Catholic loses to the Coast Guard, James Madison beats Stony Brook, Richmond slips at Albany, William & Mary loses to Villanova, Morgan State falls to Bethune-Cookman.

Last Week: 7-3.

Overall: 32-11. 

 

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).

Maryland is in its fourth Big Ten season, meaning every fourth-year senior attending the school (I know not everybody gets out in four–aka “seven years of college down the drain”) has known no other conference.  But there’s still an ACC feel to the university on gamedays–as the men’s and women’s crowds are robust and the football crowds are lacking.   Instead of a “blackout”, whiteout” or a “gold rush” it appears as there have been “gray ghost” games–where the fans are disguised as stadium seats.

Attendance this fall has averaged 37,636–which ranks 13th in the Big Ten, just ahead of Northwestern.  One could point to the small stadium size as Maryland Stadium is the third-smallest in the conference, but when grading for percentage of capacity the Terps’ 72.7% is only ahead of Illinois.  Since its inaugural season of 2014, the school has gone from 10th to 12th to 13th in putting people in the seats.   No longer having ACC rivals like Virginia on the slate can’t help as there’s a generation of fans who now feel a disconnect and can’t really get motivated for the likes of Northwestern and Purdue.  And for the opponents with big fan bases like Ohio State and Michigan, College Park becomes “Ann Arbor South” or “Columbus East”.  Last Saturday against the Wolverines there was a flood of Maize and Blue in the stands.  One could even hear UCF fans shout “Knight” during the National Anthem when they came to College Park in September.  Brace yourselves, because Penn State fans will likely be holding a “white-out” of their own at Maryland Stadium next Saturday.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange need a win over Louisville to stay in contention for a bowl game.  Yes, the Cardinals that are currently carving their way through the back end of a schedule after early stumbles.  Last year Lamar Jackson led Louisville to 62 points at the Carrier Dome–and he’s found that groove again this fall.  Meanwhile, there’s basketball.

 

Virginia (6-4, 3-3 ACC) at #2 Miami (9-0, 6-0), noon (ABC).  The Cavaliers November gauntlet continues with the resurrected Hurricanes:  how will their 11th best in the ACC run defense hold up against Travis Homer (146 yards rushing against Notre Dame and a 6.7 yards per carry average for the season)?  UVa quarterback Kurt Benkert has thrown an interception in four straight games- he’ll be facing a Hurricane secondary that leads the conference with 16 picks.  Kippy & Buffy pick a red blend for the tailgate, and against the “Convicts” school of the Catholics & Convicts what better to enjoy than a 2016 bottle of The Prisoner: “enticing aromas of Bing cherry, dark chocolate, clove, and roasted fig. Persistent flavors of ripe raspberry, boysenberry, pomegranate, and vanilla linger harmoniously.”  Cavaliers win the tailgate but lose the game, 38-15.

 

Virginia Tech (7-3, 3-3 ACC) vs Pitt (4-6, 2-4), 12:20 p.m. (ACC Network).  The Hokies need to get right before their annual Commonwealth clash with Virginia.  Quarterback Josh Jackson hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since before Halloween-he’ll face a rather accommodating Panthers defense that allows the most passing yards in the ACC.   Despite allowing 28 points in each of the last two weeks, the Hokies defense remains first against the pass and in points allowed as well as in getting off of the field on third down.  They’ll be tested on the ground as Darrin Hall is averaging 162 yards over his last three games.  Hokies make it happen, 28-16.

 

Navy (6-3) at #9 Notre Dame (8-2), 3:30 p.m. (NBC).  This isn’t the walkover it used to be:  The Mids have won four of the last ten meetings and came within a touchdown on two other occasions.  The Fighting Irish can still secure a New Year’s Day bowl berth with wins this weekend and at Stanford, while Navy appears to be bound for the Military Bowl in Annapolis–leave it the USNA to save the government money in travel expenses.  Navy’s had a pair of quarterbacks run for over 200 yards this fall, but both Zach Abey (shoulder) and Malcolm Perry (ankle) are questionable for Saturday–potentially placing Garret Lewis in the driver’s seat of the option offense.  The junior has 46 total yards rushing this fall.  Midshipmen come up short, 44-17.

 

Maryland (4-6, 2-5) at Michigan State (7-3, 5-2), 4 p.m., (FOX).  The Terps need a win to keep their bowl hopes alive, while the Spartans are smarting after a 48-3 loss to Ohio State.  MSU’s offense may be middle of the road (seventh in the 14-school Big Ten in rushing, passing and total yardage), but Maryland’s defense has been roadkill over the last two months-allowing 31+ points in six league games while coughing up 38+ twice in non-conference play.  Quarterback Max Bortenschlager (still not specified if it’s a shoulder, head or hangnail injury) remains a question mark for the Terps;  and while Ryan Brand played better as the Michigan game progressed there’s something to be said about instability (even injury-induced) at the game’s most important position.  Terrapins tumble, 31-17.

Howard makes Mike London the MEAC Coach of the year with a victory at Hampton, Georgetown ends its autumn by falling to Colgate, Richmond edges William & Mary, Towson tops Rhode Island, James Madison escapes upset at Elon…and enters the FCS Playoffs as the #1 seed.
Last Week: 6-2.

Overall: 64-23.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Last Week: 5-4.

Overall: 58-21.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

The four local Division I FBS schools have all played six games…and while each had a different set of expectations coming into the season those hopes often change by mid-October.  For instance, nobody thought Virginia would double its win total from the previous year before Columbus Day and be in position to go bowling for the first time since 2011.  The Cavaliers’ glass (read below to see what they’re pouring) is more than half-full.  Virginia Tech came into 2017 expecting to compete for another Coastal Division title…and barring a hiccup at home over the next two Saturday’s that’s what they’ll get in early November at a nationally ranked Miami team.  Navy learned it’s in for a long battle to return to the AAC Championship game…but is safe at quarterback for the time being in Zach Abey.  And Maryland?  Right where we were in late-August…looking to scrape together six wins and make a bowl.  Looking ahead they need victories over Indiana and Rutgers to have a prayer…and somehow need an upset over Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan or Wisconsin.   All four of those schools are currently ranked in the Top 20.

Alma Mater Update– eight days after it’s improbable victory over #2 Clemson, the Orange visit #8 Miami.  Somehow I don’t think this is going to end well.  But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about the Hurricanes over the last decade, it’s that they’re often downgraded to tropical storms in mid-October.  I have an annual column saved in my computer for that purpose.  I’m not saying that Eric Dungey can get it done…but the U does rank 12th in getting off the field on third down.  Breaking out two bleu cheese containers to let one wing soak while I eat the other.

Maryland (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) at #5 Wisconsin (6-0, 3-0), noon, FOX.  Another national showcase involving the not-ready-for-prime-time Terps has them battling the Badgers at high noon…although it will technically be 11 a.m. in Madison.  Hopefully the dining halls will open up early so the students can load up on Monte Cristo sandwiches before heading to Camp Randall.  The Terps defense that’s allowing a Big Ten-high 36.5 points per game will have its hands full with Jonathan Taylor (a Big Ten-best 164 yards per game with 10 touchdowns this fall) and an offense that converts 54% of its third downs.  Wisconsin is also #1 in the league at stopping the run… and we saw what happened last week when the Terps’ tailback tandem averaged under three yards per carry.  I fully expect Max Bortenschlager to get the ball to DJ Moore a ridiculous amount of times…but also fully expect the conference’s best pass rush (20 sacks in six games) to plant Max in the turf early and often.  Terrapins tumble, 41-16.

 

Virginia (5-1, 2-0 ACC) vs Boston College (3-4, 1-3), 12:30 p.m., ACC Network.  Does one credit the Eagles with a 45-42 upset of Louisville or realize that the Cardinals are major frauds this fall?  What isn’t up for debate is the 272 rushing yards produced by freshman AJ Dillon…and that the Cavaliers rank ninth in the ACC in stopping the run.  But they’ve been solid everywhere else on that side of the ball, from #1 against the pass to #4 on getting off the field on third down.  BC is the very definition of “one dimensional” this fall (13th in the conference in passing and last in passing efficiency) and last weekend’s outburst was the first time the school had posted 30+ points in a league game since 2014.  Kippy & Buffy can taste bowl eligibility as well as a Cross Key Cabernet Franc: “aubergine and opaque in the glass; redolent of raspberry compote with hints of fennel.”  Strong suggestions of bleu cheese on Triscuits to complete the fun.  Cavaliers come through, 26-16.

 

#14 Virginia Tech (5-1, 1-1 ACC) vs North Carolina (1-6, 0-4), 3:30 p.m., ESPN2.  Somewhow UNC has already lost more games this fall than they did in all of 2016.  Blame the worst defense in the ACC…as well as an offense that ranks last in converting third downs.  It doesn’t help that the Tar Heels have a mess at the quarterback position…as the freshman-grad transfer combination of Chazz Surratt and Brandon Harris has produced just the wrong combination of inexperience and limitations (as opposed to potential and experience).  Speaking of quarterbacks, the Hokies Josh Jackson has thrown four interceptions over his last three games.  Good thing he’s going up against a very forgiving UNC D.  Hokies win big, 38-14.

 

Navy (5-1, 3-1 AAC) vs #20 UCF (5-0, 3-0), CBS Sports Network.  The Knights (they dropped the Golden last decade when they moved away from “Central Florida”-#branding) blew away Maryland last month…and haven’s slowed down one bit.  McKenzie Milton is completing 70% of his passes with 15 touchdowns and 2 interceptions (one coming at Maryland) for the highest-scoring offense in the AAC.  The Mids aren’t horrible against the pass, but they aren’t great against it by any stretch of the imagination.  UCF is also plus-8 in the turnover battle, and Navy’s minus-5 is the red flag no ship wants to fly.  Midshipmen fall at home, 33-22.

 

Howard beats Morgan State, Georgetown edges Fordham, Richmond falls at Delaware, James Madison beats William & Mary.

 

Last Week: 7-1.

Overall: 42-12.