Archives for posts with tag: Mids

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Maryland may have the upcoming weekend off game-wise but they can’t escape what is beginning to settle in the world of college hoops: the dog days of the regular season where conference play is no longer new, yet the postseason feels a year away.  Under coach Mark Turgeon the Terps have been known for February fades: in his eight years at the helm, only the 2014-15 team posted a better record in the second half of conference play than the first (that wasn’t always the case as his last three teams at Texas A&M each had better marks in the second half of Big 12 play).  How does the coach plan to keep this team rested but not rusty?  “We’ll take a little more time off,” Turgeon said, “but when we get together we’ll practice hard.”  They could use a breather after a Big Ten schedule that gave them 10 games over a 31-day stretch between January 2nd and February 1st.  “We take care of our bodies–I think really do that on a high level,” sophomore forward Bruno Fernando said, “Even on our days off we’re coming in here trying to do recovery as much as we can.”

Things get lighter this month:  after Wednesday’s win at Nebraska, seven games remain over the final five weekends of the regular season.  “This is where teams fold or where teams get better,” said sophomore guard Darryl Morsell, “we don’t want to be the team that folds this year.”  Last year’s team lost seven of eight road games after the new year;  this year’s edition is 5-1 on the road since conference play resumed.  And they’ll have six days off before #15 Purdue comes to College Park next Tuesday.  “It gives us more time to watch film, which is what we really need,” Turgeon said, “and I think down the stretch we’ll probably do a little more with film than we will on the floor.”  After finishing the first half of Big Ten play 7-3, the Terps have won two of three.  They’ll have more time off, but after the Boilermakers come to Xfinity Center the Terps visit #7 Michigan and #20 Iowa.  One rough/ruff road, indeed.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange began Tuesday’s game with #22 Florida State by getting outscored 36-14, rallied to within one point of the Seminoles, and then was outscored 34-17 the rest of the way.  Suffice it to say this is one streaky team…and the Louisville-Duke-UNC gauntlet is a couple of weeks away.  Hopefully coach Jim Boeheim won’t be tossing his jacket Saturday when Boston College comes to the Carrier Dome.  Bring on the bubble once more…

 

Saturday’s Games:

Georgetown (15-8, 5-5 Big East) vs. Butler (13-10, 4-6), 12 p.m.,

The Hoyas are coming off of their first sweep of Providence since the conference realigned thanks to dominating the glass (a 50-33 rebounding advantage).  Road court advantage has held lately in this series:  the Hoyas have won three in a row at Hinkle Fieldhouse (where the rims remain ten feet above the court) while the Bulldogs have won three straight in DC.  Coach Patrick Ewing’s team shot 55% from three-point range in the two team’s meeting January 2nd–and that was a game they played minus Mac McClung.  Kamar Baldwin was the only Butler starter to score in double figures that night, and the junior lit up the Hoyas for 31 points the last time he came to Capital One Arena.  For the record, two years ago these two teams went to overtime in Washington–and last year’s game went to double-OT.  We politely ask that if you’re attending the game not to make an early dinner reservation.

#11 Virginia Tech (18-4, 7-3 ACC) at Clemson (14-8, 4-5) 12 p.m., ESPN2.  The Hokies come a home loss to Louisville where they allowed more points in the first 13 minutes than they did in 40 minutes at NC State.  Seriously, the Wolfpack sent the game back to the 19th century by shooting 9-for-54 and resembling teams playing the cartoon Harlem Globetrotters. The Tigers’ win over Georgia Tech Wednesday was its first on the road in league play and their third straight–but before you start looking at first and second round NCAA sites, remember the Yellowjackets are 3-7 in league play and the other two wins in the streak have come against Pitt and Wake Forest (a combined 4-16 in the ACC).

American (12-10, 6-5 Patriot League) at Army (11-13, 6-5), 2 p.m.  Two of the league’s three 6-5 teams get to this point from opposite directions:  AU has won four of five while the Black Knights have dropped three straight.  Despite having the conference’s best rebounder in Matt Wilson (8.6 boards per game), Army ranks seventh in the league on the glass.  The Eagles received a nice boost from Patriot League Freshman of the Week Jacob Boonyasith last week, only to see the guard experience growing pains (2 points on 1-6 shooting in the loss at Navy) this week.

VCU (16-6, 7-2 Atlantic 10) at St. Bonaventure (9-13, 5-4), 2 p.m. CBSSN.  Double-digit wins over George Mason and George Washington put the Rams one game out of first place in the conference at the halfway mark;  unfortunately they won’t play league-leading Davidson again in the regular season (the Wildcats took the January matchup at Belk Arena).  The Bonnies have won three of four, but losing three players to graduation and three more to transfer have forced coach Mike Schmidt to lean on freshman Kyle Lofton big-time this winter (the guard’s 38 minutes per game leads the A-10).

Howard (10-13 4-4 MEAC) at Florida A&M (9-14, 6-2), 4 p.m.  The Bison take to the floor for the first time since blowing a 24-point lead to Norfolk State in an 80-78 loss that saw a postgame scuffle brew out of the handshake line.  Three players will be suspended: Princewill Anosike, Jalen Jones and Andre Toure-of which only Anosike averages over 15 minutes per game this season.  The Rattlers provide a metaphorical one-two punch in being the best three-point shooting team in the MEAC while also allowing the second-fewest points per game in the league.  They also beat Howard in DC by ten January 5th thanks in part to turning them over 20 times.

Navy (8-14, 5-6 Patriot League) at Lehigh (15-7, 8-3), 4:30 p.m.  Consecutive wins over Loyola (MD) and American take the Mids from flirting with last place to one game out of third in the conference.  The Mountain Hawks are coming off of a loss to Colgate where they turned the ball over 21 times.  Lehigh did take the January matchup in Annapolis as senior Lance Tejada hit five three-pointers en route to 22 points.  The Mids need to get Evan Wieck the ball more:  the junior leads the Patriot League in field goal percentage (.708) but takes under five shots per game.

#3 Virginia (20-1, 8-1 ACC) vs #2 Duke (20-2, 8-1), 6 p.m., ESPN.  The Cavaliers were done no favors when the league schedule their home game with the Blue Devils two days before a roadtrip to North Carolina.  The makeup call?  Seven days to prepare for Coach K’s crew.  The meeting in Durham saw the two teams combine to shoot 67% from inside the arc and 5-for-31 (16) from three-point range.  Can UVa find a way to contain Zion Williamson & RJ Barrett (the duo tallied 57 points on 21-of-35 shooting)?  And will point guard Ty Jerome’s back (he sat out the Miami win) be good enough for him to keep pace with the healthy Tre Jones (14 points and 5 assists per game since his return from injury)?

George Washington (7-15, 3-6 Atlantic 10) at Richmond (9-14, 3-7), 6 p.m.  Good news for those who enjoyed the A-10 Tournament at Capital One Arena last March- the league’s postseason tourney returns to DC in 2022.  Even with none of the local schools reaching the weekend it was a great five days, with just one blowout (naturally the late Friday 3-vs-6 Quarterfinal) and a thrilling Final (Davidson upsetting Rhode Island 58-57).  The January meeting between these two schools saw the Spiders win by 20.  While rebounding (Richmond held a 38-25 edge on the glass) was a major factor that day, the major mismatch between these schools is ball security:  GW ranks 12th in the league in turnover margin while the Spiders’ Jacob Gilyard leads the conference in steals.

Sunday’s Game:

George Mason (13-10, 7-3 Atlantic 10) vs La Salle (7-14, 5-4), 2 p.m.  The Explorers are attempting to be this year’s Richmond:  last winter the Spiders bounced back from a 2-10 non-conference mark to post a .500 record in league play and almost upset NCAA Tournament at large team St. Bonaventure in the Quarterfinals.  The Patriots are trying to avoid becoming this year’s VCU:  the Rams lost six of eight last February to finish without a winning record for the first time since they joined the A-10.  Mason’s coming off a disaster in Richmond where they turned the ball over 20 times and allowed 57% shooting.  La Salle has won four straight–but those victories have all come against the bottom four schools in the league.

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So much for a duel in the Dominion.  Tuesday’s ACC battle royale between #4 Virginia and #9 Virginia Tech turned into a rout almost from the outset:  the Cavaliers scored the game’s first five points and held the Hokies without a field goal for the first three and a half minutes.  There would be no repeat of last winter when coach Buzz Williams’ scrappy bunch shocked then-second ranked UVa in overtime.  Instead, the Cavaliers hit 59% of their shots and 54% from three-point range while winning the battle of the boards 27-19.  The 22-point point lead at intermission would turn the entire second half into mop-up time as coach Tony Bennett’s team emerged as the ACC’s last remaining team unbeaten in conference play.  And just like Florida State two weeks ago, another top ten team tumbles before leaving John Paul Jones Arena.  Virginia’s four league wins have come by an average of 20.5 points per game and while a date with #1 Duke awaits, the Cavaliers have undercut their instate foes (don’t you dare tell the Charlottesville faithful that the Hokies are their rivals) once again.  Set your calendar for Monday, February ninth when these two teams battle in Blacksburg.

 

Alma Mater Update- nothing like washing off the smell of a double-digit home loss to Georgia Tech by beating #1 Duke at Cameron Indoor in overtime.   A 4/5 court heave by Elijah Hughes that went down.  A monster game that saw Tony Battle and his 32 points remind everyone why they all rejoiced when he announced he was coming back for his junior season.  Despite the injuries and illnesses, the Blue Devils are the team to beat and the Orange did just that.  Now they play a pesky Pitt that’s pesky and guided by a former Duke assistant in Jeff Capel.  SU has proven they can win on the big stage–can they sustain their solid play?

 

Friday’s Game:

Maryland (15-3, 6-1 Big Ten) at Ohio State (12-4, 2-3), 6:30 p.m, BTN.

This is the second of four Friday games for the Terrapins this winter.  Friday night hoops should involve me wearing a blue foam finger in Manchester, NH and scrounging up enough money to get Ugli sticks at Luisa’s Pizza on the west side.  The Terps have won consecutive games against Indiana and Wisconsin despite not putting together complete 40-minute efforts.  What’s encouraging is that even when things have gone sideways this month coach Mark Turgeon’s young team has found a way to win.  The Buckeyes have dropped three straight, including a three-point loss at Rutgers.  Perhaps they need to get the ball more to Kyle Young, who leads the conference in shooting (72.1%) but has taken just 12 shots during the slide.

 

Saturday’s Games:

Richmond (7-10, 1-3 Atlantic 10) at Davidson (12-5, 3-1), 12:30 p.m., NBCSN.  Both teams are looking to bounce from discouraging defeats:  the Spiders lost at home to Duquesne for the first time in 25 years, while the Wildcats fell at St. Joe’s by one.  Both teams bring plenty of firepower to Belk Arena:  Davidson leads the A-10 in three-pointers made per game while the Spiders rank second in the conference in field goal percentage.

 

American (8-8, 2-3 Patriot League) vs Lafayette (4-12, 1-4), 2 p.m.  How friendly has home court been for the Eagles thus far in conference play?  They’re 2-0 at Bender Arena and 0-3 outside DC.  Perhaps this is the game where Sa’eed Nelson finds his stroke from three-point range:  the Leopards rank last in the Patriot League at defending the three and are 9th in scoring defense.  But they do have a pair of offensive threats in Justin Jaworski (18 points per game in league play) and Alex Petrie (50% from outside the arc in conference action).

 

Navy (6-10, 3-2 Patriot League) at Army (8-10, 3-2), 2:30 p.m., CBSSN.  It’s not the football game, but this mid-January matchup has two schools recovering from nightmarish pre-conference schedules.  While the Midshipmen are still trying to find their way after losing last year’s leading scorer Shawn Anderson to graduation, the Black Knights are led by juniors Matt Wilson inside (2nd in the conference in rebounding) and Tommy Funk outside (2nd in assists).

 

#9 Virginia Tech (14-2, 3-1 ACC) vs Wake Forest (8-8, 1-3), 4 p.m., ACC Network.  Can the Hokies pick themselves back up from Tuesday night’s wreckage?  They face a Demon Deacons team that is fresh from upsetting #17 NC State by holding the Wolfpack to 37% shooting and 21% from three-point range.  Wake also has a second-generation star in Brandon Childress (son of assistant coach and 1995 ACC Tournament MVP), who’s averaging 16 points with 4 assists per game.  Despite the debacle in Charlottesville, Tech does lead the ACC in shooting and ranks second in scoring defense.  They should be able to find get their mojo back at Cassell Coliseum.

 

Howard (7-11, 1-3 MEAC) at South Carolina State (4-15, 2-1), 4 p.m.  Remind me not to buy into the Bison until they have a winning record entering February: eight losses in nine games has one feeling that “next year” won’t be happening this year.  Tuesday’s defeat to Morgan State was made possible by 18 turnovers and R.J. Cole’s second-lowest scoring output of the season (12 points in 42 minutes).  But as long as Cole and Charles Wiliams (25 points against the Bears) are around, the Bison are a threat to break out on a scoring spree.  And bring me back into the camp thinking that it might just happen this winter.

 

#4 Virginia (16-0, 4-0 ACC) at #1 Duke (14-2, 3-1), ESPN, 6 p.m.  The Cavaliers will have little time to bask in their beatdown of the Hokies…traveling to Durham to face an angry Blue Devils team that lost at home as a top-ranked team for the first time ever (previously 60-0 in that situation).  Adding injury to insult, guard Tre Jones is out indefinitely with a right shoulder injury.  But they still have the ACC’s leading scorer in R.J. Barrett and walking double-double Zion Williamson to test the pack-line defense.  UVa’s ultra-efficient offense that leads the league in assist-to-turnover ratio won’t easily have its way with a Duke defense that holds teams under 40% shooting and under 30% from three-point range.

 

VCU (12-5, 3-1 Atlantic 10) vs UMass (7-10, 0-4), 6:30 p.m., NBCSN.  The Rams defeated Dayton Wednesday thanks to Marcus Evans: the transfer from Rice scored 17 points-including the team’s last seven and the go-ahead three with 33 seconds remaining.  The Minutemen may be tied for last in the conference, but three of their four league losses have come by five points or fewer.  They lead the A-10 in three-point shooting and are #2 in field goal percentage, while junior guard Luwane Pipkins scored 38 points last year against the Rams.

 

George Mason (10-8, 4-1 Atlantic 10) vs. Fordham (9-8, 0-4) 7 p.m., ESPN+.  The Patriots outscored UMass 18-9 over the final 6:40 of the second half to beat the Minutemen 68-63 Wednesday as Justin Kier tallied 22 points and 9 rebounds–the junior is averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds in league play.  That makes up for Otis Livingston II struggling over the last three games to the tune of 7-32 shooting (22%).  The Rams lead the conference in turnover margin, but are 1-4 on the road (those losses include a defeat to Houston Baptist).

 

Sunday’s Game:

George Washington (6-11, 2-2 Atlantic 10) vs. Duquesne (12-5, 3-1), 4 p.m., NBCSN.  The Colonials bounced back from a horrid first half at La Salle by shooting 68% after intermission in their 68-63 win Wednesday;  they’ll find the Dukes a little tougher to contend with even though the game is in Foggy Bottom.  Duquesne is 12-5 and 3-1 in the league for the second straight January;  last year’s edition stumbled the rest of the way into a 16-16 finish.  Sincere Carry averages 5.5 assists per game;  I can’t think of a more appropriately named point guard.

 

 

 

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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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Thanksgiving weekend gives college football the crescendo of arch-rivals clashing across the country.  In-state matchups like Alabama-Auburn and Clemson-South Carolina have playoff ramifications, while Michigan and Ohio State play for more than just a Big Ten East title and the usual bragging rights.  USC has spoiled Notre Dame’s National Championship hopes in the past;  this year the Trojans are fighting not just the Irish but for bowl eligibility (and relevance).  The second-tier affairs range from something tangible (Washington-Washington State is for the Pac-12 North) to something else (Ole Miss-Mississippi State I believe decides if eggs in the Magnolia State will be poached or scrambled over the next calendar year) to nothing at all (let’s not kid ourselves, Indiana and Purdue are fully focused on hoops).  But regardless of the stakes, college football’s rivalries deliver dislike and begrudging respect.

Which brings us to Maryland’s situation as a dancer without a true partner.  For years the Terps thought of themselves as Virginia’s ACC rival, and the Cavaliers thumbed their nose north by saying their true football foe was North Carolina (dubbed “the South’s Oldest Rivalry”) even though the Tar Heels laughed every time that was uttered.  Virginia Tech supplanted the Terrapins as the ACC’s northernmost rivalry before they left the league.  Which brings us to the Big Ten:  there are two schools in decent proximity of College Park. Penn State will have nothing to do with a rivalry with anyone–let alone Maryland.  And given how Rutgers has been either a dumpster or tire fire since joining the Big Ten, do you really want to use the Scarlet Knights as a measuring stick or focal point for your program?  One of the cases for lagging attendance at Maryland has been the fact that the must-win games like West Virginia, Virginia or even Clemson have disappeared off the slate.  Until they find a worthy partner, the Terps will be dancing with themselves when it matters most.

Alma Mater Update- a tradition continues on Chesnut Hill. No, I’m not trying to palm off the Syracuse-Boston College game as anything but a season-ending battle to see who gets to avoid the Pinstripe Bowl…even though banners from said bowl actually hang in the Carrier Dome to my dismay.  But for years I would travel to watch the Orange play on the road with my roommate from freshman year.  Since we left SU, we each have moved across the country and back.  We’ve carved out careers and have lived lives neither of us fully expected when we shared room #220 in Shaw.  So Saturday if you happen to stumble anywhere near Alumni Stadium, watch out for the two guys wearing orange hats and giving each other high fives when SU scores its lone touchdown against BC.  Go Orange…

Friday’s Game-

Virginia (7-4, 4-3 ACC) at Virginia Tech (4-6, 3-4), 3:30 p.m. (ABC).

You may have heard that the Cavaliers haven’t beaten the Hokies since Tech joined the ACC in 2004.  In the fourteen game losing streak, four of the games have been one-possession affairs.  Two of those losses prevented the UVa from reaching a bowl, so as they face the weakest Virginia Tech team in over 25 years there’s a chance for sweet revenge.  These Hokies rank 11th in the ACC in scoring and in points allowed.  If a bowl-bound Virginia led by dual-threat quarterback Bryce Perkins doesn’t beat Virginia Tech this year, when will they?  Ending a sorry streak is always a tough task, but Kippy & Buffy plan to do their part by breaking out a bottle of Chateau O’Brien 2013 Mourvèdre.  “The smell of Mourvèdre is an explosion of dark fruit, flowers like violet and herbaceous aromas of black pepper, thyme, and red meat.  The variety can be a difficult grape to grow, preferring “its face in the hot sun and its feet in the water.”

Cavaliers finally get to have their faces in the hot sun, 27-16.

 

Saturday’s Games-

Navy (3-8, 2-5 AAC) at Tulane (5-6, 4-3), noon (ESPNU).

The Midshipmen’s tour of colored singular foes continues, but they’ll find the Green Wave a little tougher than the Tulsa Golden Hurricane:  Tulane has won three of four behind backup quarterback Justin McMillan.  Zach Abey is coming off of his best day (128 yards and two touchdowns rushing) since suffering a shoulder injury last season, but the Green Wave are one of the better teams at stopping the run in the conference.  Their 33 sacks are also tied for the AAC lead, but that won’t help much against the Navy option.  At the other end of the pass rush spectrum are the Mids, who are tied for last with just eight sacks on the season.  That will hurt.

Midshipmen stumble, 35-30. 

 

Maryland (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) at #15 Penn State (8-3, 5-3), 3:30 p.m. (ABC).

One week after losing to Ohio State by one and two weeks after losing by two at Indiana, the Terps have a final shot at bowl eligibility.  The Nittany Lions are coming off an underwhelming win over Rutgers, and three of their other seven wins are one-possession affairs.  Senior quarterback Trace McSorley is having his best year as a runner and his worst season as a passer.  The Nittany Lions don’t have Saquon Barkley in their backfield this year, but junior Miles Sanders is averaging 5.7 yards per carry.  Expect freshman Anthony McFarland to continue his November to remember (525 yards rushing over three games this month) against the 10th rated defense against the run in the Big Ten, but the lack of a consistent passing game will once again torment the Terps on chilly afternoon.

Terrapins tumble, 34-22.

 

FCS Playoffs:

Towson (7-4) vs. Duquesne (8-3), 2 p.m. (ESPN3).  The Tigers make the tournament for the first time since they reached the 2013 championship game.  The team’s turnaround this fall can be traced to transfer Tom Flacco (younger brother of Ravens QB Joe) who has helped the school lead the CAA in passing yards, total offense and scoring.  Problem is, Rob Ambrose’s defense is at near the bottom of every defensive category in the conference–except against the run where they lead the league.  Good thing these Dukes bear little resemblance to their James Madison namesakes:  five of their eight wins were one-possession affairs.  It’s an early exit for the automatic-qualifying Northeast Conference champs.

Towson triumphs, 33-25.

James Madison (8-3) vs. Delaware (7-4), 3 p.m. (ESPN3).  A rare first round game between fellow conference members was made possible because the Dukes and Blue Hens did not play during the regular season;  if we go by the old NFL tiebreaker of “common opponents” JMU has the 5-2 to 4-3 edge.  They also have the edge on third down:  coach Mike Houston’s team ranks first in the CAA at moving the chains while his defense is fourth best at getting off the field on the money down.  Delaware-not so much.  Although we’ve seen Danny Rocco-coached teams come out of Harrisonburg with upsets in the past,  the Blue Hens enter this postseason with two straight losses.  The Dukes will likely make it three.

Dukes defeat Delaware, 31-16.

 

Last Week: 5-3.

Overall: 61-39.

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Two weeks ago I was amazed at how Kentucky for the first time since 1977 was going to finish with a winning conference record.  Well, those Wildcats are going to have to take a back seat to a school that wrapped up a Division title-with two weeks in the regular season to spare.

Northwestern’s 14-10 win at #21 Iowa clinches their first West Division title, putting the Wildcats within one victory of their first Big Ten championship since 2000. It’s easy to sell this year’s team short. They lost to Akron, a school that had last beaten a Big Ten team two years before the conference was founded in the 19th century.  They were 1-3 at the start of October–and that one win was a four-point Labor Day weekend victory over Purdue.  Northwestern needed overtime to edge then-winless Nebraska and a fourth quarter touchdown to beat Rutgers (!) in October, and it felt as though whatever division hopes they had were a mirage.  But nobody told the school with the smallest enrollment and tiniest stadium (21,000 and 47,330 respectively) in the Big Ten.  And the little program that could beat ranked foes Wisconsin and Iowa en route to its first division title.  Now coach Pat Fitzgerald’s team waits to see if they’ll face #4 Michigan or 8th ranked Ohio State in the championship game at Indianapolis next month.  I wouldn’t sell them short…

Alma Mater Update-  Syracuse is 8-2 and #13– the rarest air this program has graced since 1998.  An unbeaten record at home!  And a winning mark in the ACC for the first time since SU joined the league…Camping World Bowl here we come!  The Orange face #3 Notre Dame and always-tough Boston College the final two weeks of the season…and both games are away from the dome.  Who’s talking about basketball?

Maryland (5-5, 3-4 Big Ten) lost quarterback Kasim Hill to injury and fell 15 points behind Indiana-twice-before rallying to take a late lead over the Hoosiers.  Unfortunately, IU’s offense woke up to drive for a go-ahead field goal and backup quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome fumbled on the Terps’ last possession in a 34-32 loss.  The road to bowl eligibility just got a lot tougher.  Terrapin Triumphs: Anthony McFarland rushed for a career-high 210 yards.  Tyrrell Pigrome completed 10 of 13 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown and also made plays with his feet coming off of the bench.  Tre Watson tallied seven tackles plus an interception to direct a defense that held the Hoosiers to 3 for 12 on third down. Terrapin Troubles:  Four turnovers-the first three leading to 17 IU points and the fourth extinguishing any hopes for a victory in the final minute of regulation.  Ten penalties for 93 yards- life is tough enough in the Big Ten…but when you beat yourself it’s even more difficult.  Next:  Saturday at noon against #8 Ohio State.

Virginia (7-3, 4-2 ACC) didn’t make things easy of its fan base at Scott Stadium.  Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s team took a while to get going, falling behind Liberty on the first possession of the game outscoring the Flames 21-7 after intermission en route to a 45-24 triumph.  UVa can still win the Coastal Division, but need a 2-0 finish plus a pair of Pitt losses.  Cavalier Congrats:  Bryce Perkins threw for two touchdowns while running for two more scores.  Both of Perkins’ TD passes were to Joe Reed who also returned a kickoff 90 yards for touchdown.  Jordan Ellis had his first 100-yard rushing game since September.  Juan Thornhill tallied 13 tackles while Robert Snyder posted 11 stops with a sack.  Three takeaways for the defense and just one penalty for the team.  Cavalier Concerns:  allowing 24 points to…Liberty?  The Flames scored on three of their five first half possessions, with the other two resulting in a missed field goal and an interception in the red zone.  UVa allowed 205 yards rushing…and their next foe will try to exploit any weaknesses on the ground early and often.  Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against 6-4 Georgia Tech.

Virginia Tech (4-5, 3-3 ACC) was still in control of its path to the  Coastal Division heading into their game at Pitt…only to run into a Panthers team that appears to be destined this fall.  The 52-22 loss eliminated the Hokies from the division race and put their bowl hopes on life support.  Yes, they face a fading (four straight losses) Miami team followed by the annual duel with Virginia (they haven’t lost to the Cavaliers since joining the ACC)- but the margin for error is ridiculously thin.  Hokie Highlights:  Ryan Willis threw for 231 yards and three scores on a turnover-free day while also leading the team in rushing.  Oscar Bradburn averaged over 40 yards per punt.  Hey-in a 30-point drubbing, you look for what you can get.  Hokie Humblings:  The defense coughed up 492 yards on the ground and allowed 31 points in the first half.  This is the fourth time this fall that the D has allowed 40 points or more and the primary reason why instead of talking division title this year’s team is on the precipice of bowl elimination.  Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. vs. 5-5 Miami.

Navy (2-8, 1-5 AAC) rallied after falling behind to #11 UCF 21-3 at intermission.  While they were able to reach the endzone three times in the second half, it wasn’t enough as the Midshipmen lose 35-24 and are officially eliminated from bowl eligibility.  The good news is the run through the gauntlet is over.  Midshipman Medals:  The offense converted 8 of 13 third downs and scored touchdowns on three of four second-half possessions.  Taylor Heflin led the defense with 14 tackles.  Owen White averaged 54 yards per punt.  Midshipman Miscues:  Zero sacks as the defense was unable to make McKenzie Milton uncomfortable to any degree (he completed 17 of 21 passes).  The run defense allowed 5.7 yards per carry on the afternoon.  Next:  Saturday vs. 2-8 Tulsa.  The Mids’ last five opponents currently have a combined-eight losses.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

As a kid, there was a stretch when I wanted to run for President.  Kind of came with the territory of growing up in New Hampshire and watching the nation’s first Primary up close and personal.  Last weekend I learned what it was like to run for President–as Walter Mondale.  Presto’s Picks went 1-8 as I felt like George Costanza in that “I should do the opposite” episode of Seinfeld.  The Navy pick saved me from a complete shutout–and in retropsect a winless week would have been an achievement to admire:  perfection in reverse.

In Division I FBS there are no winless teams…but there are nine one-win schools whose brotherhood I joined last weekend.  Hopefully listing this rogues gallery will serve as a cleanse before this week’s breakdowns:

UConn (1-8, 0-5 AAC)- the Huskies’ only win was a game where they allowed 49 points to FCS Rhode Island, and they cough up an FBS-high 627 yards per game.

North Carolina (1-7, 1-5 ACC)- a three-point win over Pitt is the only non-blemish for a Tar Heel team that’s 123rd in turnover margin.

Rutgers (1-8, 0-6 Big Ten)- what happened to the team that opened with a 35-7 thumping of Texas State?  The Scarlet Knights rank 130th in passing efficiency- the lowlight at Maryland where they tossed five interceptions to two completions.

San Jose State (1-8, 1-4 MWC)- a 50-37 win over UNLV keeps the Spartans out of last place in their division.  Their achilles is running the ball (130th and last in the nation).

Bowling Green (1-8, 0-5 MAC) and Central Michigan (1-9, 0-6) meet Saturday in Mount Pleasant.  Movable object or stoppable force?  The Falcons rank 129th in points allowed while the Chippewas are 129th in total offense.

Conference USA’s Three Stooges- slapstick at the bottom of the standings has UTEP (1-8, 1-4) getting their only win of the year against Rice (1-9, 0-6).  The Owls have a sacrificial lamb game at LSU later this month while the Miners play Western Kentucky (1-8, 0-5)  the same day.  Pick your poison…

Alma Mater Update- the Orange blasted Louisville–improving to 7-0 at home and 8-2 on the season.  Forget about the Pinstripe Bowl– I’m thinking Camping World Bowl!

Saturday’s Games-

Maryland (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten) at Indiana (4-5, 1-5), noon (Big Ten Network).

The Terps are one win away from bowl eligibility, and with #8 Ohio State and #21 Penn State on the horizon this is their last best chance to secure a holiday destination.  The Hoosiers are coming off of consecutive one-possession losses to Penn State and Minnesota–and have two weeks to prepare.  Sophomore Peyton Ramsey is completing 68% of his passes this fall- and threw for three scores last year in a loss to the Terps.  Maryland has yet to show that they can pass the ball and are coming off of a season-low 26 yards rushing.  Everything tells me that the Terps come home from Bloomington empty-handed. After last week, everything tells me to go opposite what everything tells me.

Terrapins Triumph, 26-21.

 

Navy (2-7, 1-4 AAC) at #11 UCF (8-0, 5-0), noon (ESPN2).

The gauntlet ends for the Midshipmen as they meet a school that has won 21 straight games.  One of the reasons why the Knights are unbeaten is they don’t beat themselves: their +14 turnover margin ranks second nationally.  Causes for confidence include the fact that UCF did allow 226 yards on the ground to Temple last week…and the Mids can’t be as bad as they were against Cincinnati.  Sadly for Navy the defense has to deal with McKenzie Milton, who has thrown for 300+ yards four times this fall-and the junior is also a threat on the ground (seven touchdowns rushing).  This trip to Orlando is more “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” and less “Carousel of Progress”.

Midshipmen sink, 44-16.

 

Virginia (6-3) vs. Liberty (4-4), 3 p.m. (ACC Network).

The Cavaliers go outside the ACC for the final time this fall, hosting an independent Flames team that has allowed over 40 points four times in their last five games.  Look for the offense to sort itself out, or at least roll up some yards while attempting to do so.  The final home game at Scott Stadium has Kippy & Buffy breaking out white wine for a non-conference foe one final time, and this week it’s a bottle of 2017 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc.  “Tightly structured, with strong, vigorous passionfruit and lime flavors, woven with steely acidity, and obvious potential.”

Cavaliers live up to their obvious potential in a 45-20 win.  

 

Virginia Tech (4-4, 3-2 ACC) at Pitt (5-4, 4-1), 3:30 p.m. (ESPNU).

Does anyone want to win the Coastal Division?  Pitt is the third team to have the lead in the last three weeks, a turnover that began when the Hokies were steamrolled on national TV five days before Halloween.  They gave up 465 yards rushing that night–and surrendered 219 yards on the ground last weekend in a loss to Boston College.  The one thing Pitt does well offensively is run the ball, whether it’s Darrin Hall (229 yards against Virginia last week) or Qadree Ollison (192 yards against Duke October 27th).  The Panthers may be 5-4 but their losses have come to unbeatens Notre Dame and UCF as well as #21 Penn State.  Yes, there’s that defeat at North Carolina one can’t explain but the Tar Heels just seem to have their number.  Just like Pitt seems to always play well against the Hokies (four one-possession games in the last four years).

Hokies slip under .500 with a 19-17 loss.

 

Howard handles Norfolk State, Georgetown beats Bucknell, Richmond slips to Maine, William & Mary loses to Villanova, James Madison beats Rhode Island, Towson tumbles to Elon.

Last Week:  1-8.  It’s Morning in Picksland?  Or more appropriately, quicksand.

Overall: 50-32.  

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

\For all of the hype surrounding the clash of top five teams, didn’t Alabama-LSU feel a little underwhelming?  Yes, the Crimson Tide led by only 16 at the half and quarterback Tua Tagovialoa actually threw an interception for the first time all season-but the 29-0 shutout had the strange feel of a pre-determined outcome.  I’m not saying the Tide were toying with the Tigers at any time last night, but even the interception had the feel of a punt intended to pin LSU inside their own five.  In my mind’s eye I kept on seeing the cat I had as a child toying with a doomed mouse.  And this is the toughest competition in the SEC?  Thank goodness Georgia beat Kentucky yesterday to win the East, or we’d have to hide our eyes while the SEC Championship Game took place.  While Alabama still has Mississippi State and Auburn on their slate, coach Nick Saban’s team appears to be on its way to another appearance in the College Football Playoff.  The fall foliage is definitely filled with Crimson again this autumn.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange improve to 7-2, their best start since 2001.  The #13 ranking is their highest since 1998 when Donovan McNabb was quarterbacking SU to glory.  I want to call this a “soft 13”–as massive upsets last weekend created a serious vacuum.  But I’m going to enjoy this ridiculous ride as long as it lasts.  Bring on Louisville…

 

Maryland (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten) wrapped up a whirlwind week where their coach was reinstated and then fired by falling at home to Michigan State 24-3.  The Terps had a chance in the second half with consecutive possessions on the Spartans’ side of the field, only to come up empty.  How bad was the bouncing ball?  Michigan State recovered two fumbles in the end zone:  one of theirs for a touchdown and one of the Terps on an interception return that became a Spartans touchback.  Incidentally, they’d score the backbreaking touchdown on the very next play.  Terrapin Triumphs:  The defense tallied a pair of takeaways while Tre Watson’s 13 tackles paced the team.  Wade Lees averaged 45 yards per punt…and he had plenty of practice with a season-high eight kicks.

Terrapin Troubles: the offense went three-and-out the first three times they had the ball, and converted 3-of-15 third downs on the afternoon.  Kasim Hill was held to 8-of-21 passing for 74 yards while getting sacked four times.  Next:  Saturday at 4-5 Indiana (noon kickoff) in what will likely be the Terps’ best chance to become bowl eligible (they face Ohio State and Penn State to close the year).

 

Virginia (6-3, 4-2 ACC) lost control of the Coastal Division race on a rainy Friday night in Charlottesville…as Pitt emerged atop the three team scrum thanks to their 23-13 victory at Scott Stadium.  I’m sure announcers will say that “the Panthers control their own destiny”;  and while Pitt does control its road to the ACC Championship Game (win out and they take the Division) they do not control their own destiny.  Nobody controls their own destiny–that’s why it’s called “destiny”.  Cavalier Congrats:  Bryce Perkins completed 17 of 24 passes for 205 yards and UVa’s lone touchdown.  Joey Blount led the defense with 11 tackles.  Lester Coleman averaged 44.8 yards per punt.  Cavalier Concerns:  Perkins had issues staying upright all evening, getting sacked five times.  The defense held Qadree Ollison in check (24 yards rushing) but had no answers for senior Darrin Hall, who rumbled for 229 yards on 19 carries.   Ten penalties for 80 yards didn’t do the Cavs any favors.  Next:  Saturday at 3 p.m. vs. 4-4 Liberty in the final home game of the year.

 

Navy (2-7, 1-4 AAC) saw its skid reach six games–and unlike the other five losses this was a cradle to grave blowout.  While the 42-0 defeat at Cincinnati was the fourth time the Mids allowed 40+ points this fall, it’s the first time they’ve been shut out since October of 2012.  Midshipman Medals:  Not a lot to highlight on one long afternoon by the Ohio River.  Hudson Sullivan notches 10 tackles to pace an overmatched defense.  Midshipman Miscues:  Zach Abey was held to 37 yards rushing on 28 carries and the offense converted just 3-of-13 third downs.  Cincinnati reached the endzone the first five times they had the football.  Next:  Saturday at #12 UCF (noon kickoff).  The Knights are unbeaten.

 

Virginia Tech (4-4, 3-2 ACC) saw it’s season take another unfortunate turn in a 31-21 loss to Boston College.  While the Hokies can still capture the Coastal Division with three straight victories, they haven’t won three in a row all season.  Meanwhile, they’re still two wins away from reaching bowl eligibility.  It could be a long winter in Blacksburg.  Hokie Highlights: Ryan Willis threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns while also leading the team with 49 yards rushing.  Rico Kearney paced the defense with 18 tackles.  Oscar Bradburn averaged 45 yards per punt.  Hokie Humblings: a tale of two halves saw the offense generate three straight 3-and-outs to start the second half (their fourth possession was an interception);  the defense that allowed seven first half points coughed up 24 after intermission.  Next:  Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against 5-4 (but 4-1 in the ACC) Pitt.