Archives for posts with tag: Minnesota

PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

You just knew this was going to happen.  On a Saturday where No. 1 LSU outscored No. 2 Alabama and No. 5 Penn State would fall at unbeaten Minnesota despite a fourth quarter rally, two schools in the Commonwealth have placed themselves on track for an epic Thanksgiving weekend showdown.  Blame an ACC that divided its schools 15 years ago anticipating a much better showing from Miami.  Blame programs that are in full or semi-rebuild.  Blame a setup where three of your seven schools (Duke, UNC, UVa) value their standing more in basketball than football. In a world where most Power Five Conference divisions have one or two dominant programs (Alabama in the SEC West and Ohio State in the Big Ten East, for example), everybody wins in the ACC Coastal.

The past six years have seen six different schools represent the Coastal in the ACC Championship Game, and it only seemed comical to pump up Virginia (the lone holdout) as the natural successor this fall.  Thankfully the softest Power Five Conference division with multiple schools in rebuild or revamp mode provides the Cavaliers with the perfect avenue to complete what would be one crazy seven-year run for the Coastal.  But to do so they have to get past their nemesis-if you haven’t heard or read before, Virginia has not beaten Virginia Tech in football since the Hokies entered the ACC in 2004.   The Hokies also once ruled the Coastal with an iron fist, taking the division five times over a seven-year span.  Virginia Tech still has to play their way into position over the next two weeks, but I’m marking November 29 on my calendar.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange had the weekend off and at 3-6 are still technically in contention for that Pinstripe Bowl berth, but 1- does anyone think this team can win even one more game? and 2- do we even want to see this team play another 60 minutes after the end of November?

 

Maryland (3-7, 1-6 Big Ten) was never in their game at No. 3 Ohio State; the Buckeyes would score on their first six possessions en route to a 73-14 rout that wasn’t as close as the score would suggest.  Perfect time to go on a bye week;  the team’s other week off came against a loss at Temple that set the season’s ceiling.  This defeat established the floor.  There is hope:  the team closes with consecutive games against teams that are currently 4-5.

Terrapin Triumphs: Javon Leake continues to shine on special teams with a 70-yard kickoff return. Keandre Jones tallied eight tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble against his former teammates (the senior transfer played in 34 games with the Buckeyes before coming to College Park).  The men’s basketball team bounced back from an early 12-point deficit to beat Rhode Island Saturday night,  allowing those who made the flight the chance to see the Terps score 73 points in a different sport.

Terrapin Troubles:  seven sacks allowed by an offensive line that remains a work in progress but remains the key for future teams if they want to compete in the Big Ten East.  The offense converted just 2 of 11 third downs while the defense let Ohio State move the chains on 9 of 14 attempts.

Next: November 23 at home at 3:30 p.m. against 4-5 Nebraska.

 

Virginia (7-3, 5-2 ACC) moved within one victory of a first-ever Coastal Division crown, but as has been the case this fall it wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination.  The 33-28 win over Georgia Tech saw the previously hapless Yellow Jackets lead for most of the first half before Bryce Perkins donned his Superman’s cape yet again and led the Cavaliers to victory.  All that stands between UVa and the ACC Championship Game is Virginia Tech.  How have they fared against the Hokies lately?

Cavalier Congrats: Bryce Perkins is my choice for ACC Player of the Year;  once again the quarterback shines in the air (258 yards and a touchdown passing) while making plays on the ground (106 yards and a touchdown rushing).  His top target Saturday was Terrell Jana, who made 9 catches for 108 yards.  Joey Blount’s first quarter interception not only set up a short field for a game-tying TD, but it also stopped Tech’s early success (the visitors drove 75 yards on each of their first two possessions for scores).

Cavalier Concerns: the defense had some serious hiccups early, allowing Georgia Tech 21 first-half points (it could have been worse; GT missed a 30-yard field goal) after the Yellow Jackets entered the day last in the ACC in passing, total and scoring offense.  One week after allowing a number of big plays to North Carolina, the D surrendered passes of 37, 38, and 59 yards.  They also have a bye week coming up, meaning they’ve chosen to take extra time to prepare for the juggernaut that is Liberty.

Next: November 23 at home at noon against the aforementioned 6-4 Liberty.   

 

Virginia Tech (6-3, 3-2 ACC) honored longtime and soon to be retiring Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster Saturday before their game against Wake Forest, and his unit put its best 60-minute effort together in a 36-17 win over the Demon Deacons.  The team that was teetering at 2-2 all of a sudden controls its path to the ACC Championship Game:  three more wins and the Hokies take the Coastal Division.

Hokie Highlights: Hendon Hooker isn’t Bryce Perkins just yet, but give him time. The redshirt sophomore threw for 242 yards while rushing for 69 in his return from injury.  Ja’Cquez recorded 11 tackles while the defense held Wake to season-lows in yards and points.  Special Teams was just that:  Brian Johnson converted all three field goal attempts, Oscar Bradburn averaged 51.2 yards per punt, and Tayvion Robinson delivered a 33-yard punt return.

Hokie Humblings: the offense had issues early and often, converting just 3 of 14 third downs while losing two of three fumbles.  Seven penalties (two of which resulted in Demon Deacon first downs) for 55 yards didn’t hurt this week, but the Hokies have minimal room for error if they want to stay on the road to Charlotte and the ACC Championship Game.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on the road against 2-7 Georgia Tech.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

The second Saturday of November represents a major upgrade in matchups.  No offense to Florida-Georgia, but a pair of one-loss teams in The Swamp pales in comparison to not only two games involving unbeatens but the first No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the regular season since 2011.  That game was LSU-Alabama played in Tuscaloosa, and that’s exactly the same matchup served up this weekend.  But on the undercard at noon is Penn State-Minnesota.  While both 8-0 teams hung over 50 points on Maryland, one serves as a model for Terps head coach Mike Locksley as he builds his program in the shadow of the Big Ten East’s blueblood programs.

Minnesota has a history just like Maryland; both schools have National Championships to their credit while not enjoying a ton of success in the 21st century.  Each has appeared in more Quick Lane Bowls than Big Ten Championship Games.  They’re also both located in a major metropolitan area and compete for attention with multiple professional franchises.  In addition to those obstacles, while Maryland is primarily thought of as a basketball school, the University of Minnesota is a hockey school through and through; the late Herb Brooks won three NCAA championships there before directing the US team to 1980’s “Miracle on Ice”.  Just as the Terps are the red-haired stepchild in a division dominated by Ohio State and Penn State, the Golden Gophers aren’t even the “other school” in the West, standing in line behind Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska.

But somehow after going 5-7 and 7-6 in head coach P.under head coach P.J. Fleck the Golden Gophers have scraped through a light September schedule before turning into a steamroller:  their first four wins have come by a combined 20 points, and their four most recent victories have come by an average of 32 points.  Even if they stumble against Penn State, Wisconsin, and Iowa, this has been an incredible season.  Can Maryland follow the Minnesota model?

The first key should be finding the right quarterback and keeping him healthy. Just twice in the last 15 years have the Terps started the same quarterback in every game of the season:  both years have been special (2006 and 2014) relative to the other seasons over that stretch.  But the key is keeping him healthy; and that starts with an offensive line.  Maryland’s front five averages 305 pounds.  That’s how much the lightest lineman for the Golden Gophers weighs;  the unit averages 340 points-and they have a 6-foot-9 400 pounder on the roster.  Until Maryland’s offensive and defensive lines mirror the likes of Minnesota’s, the Terps will be a team with splashy skill guys that have trouble overcoming limited lines.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange have this week off, but that didn’t stop another underwhelming night in the Dome from happening.  But instead of the defense allowing 40+ points it was the offense that scored fewer than 40 points.  The 48-34 loss to Virginia was an agonizing way to begin the men’s basketball season; usually November hoops is the necessary salve for the wounds one gets during the first two months of SU football.  It looks like I picked the wrong week to stop drinking bleu cheese dressing.

 

Saturday’s Games-

Maryland (3-6, 1-5 Big Ten) at No. 3 Ohio State (8-0, 5-0), noon (FOX).

The Terps were an incomplete two-point conversion away from upsetting the Buckeyes last year in overtime.  This year’s team is once again on a downward spiral towards being home for the holidays, while the Buckeyes have a two-game semi-preseason (they face Rutgers next week) before battling unbeaten Penn State and arch-rival Michigan.  Like they need a tune-up: OSU  leads the Big Ten in scoring offense and defense, rushing offense and passing defense. Their pass rush has a conference-high 34 sacks while the attack converts third downs at a mind-numbing 57.3%.  If you’re the Maryland defense that allows the second most points and yards in the Big Ten (thank you Rutgers for being in the conference), who do you stop?  Quarterback Justin Fields, who’s posting a better passer rating than Dwayne Haskins did while throwing 50 TD passes last year?  Or runningback J.K. Dobbins, who’s averaging 7.2 yards per carry when not sounding like he belongs in a Charles Dickens story?  The best Buckeye is actually on the other side of the ball, as defensive end Chase Young has 13.5 sacks on the season.  Good luck to an overmatched and oft-injured offensive line group. FRIDAY UPDATE: OSU is holding the DeMatha Catholic product and Hyattsville MD native out of Saturday’s game due to a potential 2018 NCAA violation.  But the Buckeyes still boast a unit that includes the likes of Malik Taylor (41 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and Baron Browning (2.5 sacks).

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins tumble, 45-10.

 

Virginia (6-3, 4-2 ACC) vs. Georgia Tech (2-6, 1-4), 12:30 p.m. (ACC Network Extra).  November in the ACC usually brings three questions to the forefront: 1- can Clemson get back in the Playoff, 2- who emerges from the quagmire that is the Coastal Division, and 3-should we make Duke or UNC the men’s basketball favorite?  Actually, the Blue Devils/Tar Heels question is more 1A than 3 there–and let’s be honest, UVa is wondering why the defending National Champs aren’t getting more respect despite losing multiple starters to the NBA.  The Cavaliers can take comfort in the fact that they are two wins away from a first-ever Coastal division title, while the Yellowjackets are the lone division team no longer in contention.  They’re in the first year under head coach Geoff Collins and look like a rebuild from central casting:  last in the ACC in passing, total and scoring offense while also bringing up the rear in stopping the run.  Bryce Perkins prepares to don his Superman’s cape one more time after tallying 490 total yards and five touchdowns against North Carolina.

Kippy & Buffy know that not all heroes wear capes; sometimes they make fantastic wines.  In honor of the Yellowjackets’ 2014 Coastal championship, our favorite tailgating duo open a bottle of Twomey’s 2014 Soda Canyon Ranch Merlot as they pursue their “season of possibilities”.  With aromas that include “black cherry, roasted meat, wet soil, loose pipe tobacco and brioche”, the offshoot of Silver Oak Vineyards provides the palate a “velvet entry, mouthwatering, vanilla flavors and an enticing texture”.  And don’t forget the “integrated tannins, elegant, juicy with a long finish and return.”  

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers continue to follow their Coastal compass in a 34-16 win.

 

Virginia Tech (5-3, 2-2 ACC) vs. No. 22 Wake Forest (7-1, 3-1), 3:30 p.m. (ACC Net).

The Hokies and Demon Deacons get together a few weeks before the fifth year anniversary of the last time they met on the football field.  Remember that dark day in Winston-Salem?  The 6-3 double-overtime win by Wake that was even more as soul-sucking as it sounds and was the metaphorical beginning of the end of the Frank Beamer era as he was captured on video celebrating a missed field goal at the end of regulation but with the 0-0 score in graphics to frame the shot.  The Demon Deacons bring a much better offense into Blacksburg this time, leading the ACC in passing while ranking second in scoring. Even in their lone loss, quarterback Jamie Newman and company put 59 points on the board against Louisville.  The Hokies are coming off of a tough loss at Notre Dame where the offense completed 32% of their passes and gained 2.8 yards per rush.  Wake’s no Fighting Irish on defense, but they lead the conference in turnover margin and are third best at getting off of the field on third down.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies come up short, 27-20.

 

Howard loses to South Carolina State, James Madison beats New Hampshire, Richmond slips at Villanova, William & Mary tops Rhode Island, Towson tumbles at Stony Brook, Morgan State falls against North Carolina A&T.

Last Week: 6-4.

Overall: 63-28.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

College football’s “Moving Month” wraps up with a pre-Halloween weekend that is part creepy costumes, parental candy tax (I believe in Virginia it’s a flat 25% of your children’s take while in D.C. and Maryland it’s one of the first ten pieces, two of the second ten, three of the next ten, and so forth) and all things pumpkin-infused. For the record, I went old school this week, eschewing the pumpkin spiced latte, pumpkin oatmeal, and pumpkin pasta for a simple piece of pumpkin pie.  I also haven’t put together my outfit just yet; going as one of the Gallagher brothers from “Oasis” may be cost-effective (you only need to not shave or comb your hear, wear aviator sunglasses, and snarl) but it’s been irrelevant for some time.  Not unlike when I’d still dress up as J.R. Ewing from “Dallas” a full decade after the show was cancelled.

The area schools reach the second turning point of the season with a few tricks and treats of their own:  while Navy is riding a road to redemption, Maryland finds itself behind the eight-ball in its pursuit of bowl-eligibility.  Virginia and Virginia Tech have each had treats (the Cavaliers’ rout of Duke and the Hokies’ six-OT win over North Carolina) while still playing tricks on their fans (UVa losing at Miami and VT getting smoked by Duke).  Part of what makes Halloween an intriguing holiday is that one can dress up and pretend they’re something they’re not;  six or seven games into the college football season that’s far from the case.  For the final stretch, the masks will be off.

 

Alma Mater Update- the year that began with a Top 25 ranking is in shambles, bringing to mind other seasons of ridiculous expectations.  The 1989 squad was ranked in the preseason for the first time in a while (1971) just like this year’s team ended a drought.  Unfortunately, Billy Scharr was cast in the role currently inhabited by Tommy DeVito–and the prime prospect couldn’t make it happen as a first-year starter.  Lack of defensive speed showed in blowout losses to Florida State and Penn State, and the Orange had to settle for a 7-4 season and a Peach Bowl berth.  This 3-4 team would be lucky to secure a Pinstripe Bowl bid.  This week they visit a 3-4 Florida State that is in full rebuild-mode. Fingers are crossed.

 

Maryland (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) at No. 17 Minnesota (7-0), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN). 

Before we even think about the November gauntlet of Michigan-Ohio State-Nebraska-Michigan State, the Terps have to deal with the unbeaten West Division leaders.  The Golden Gophers could easily have started 0-4, winning each of their September games by a touchdown or less.  Given a reprieve, the October Gophers have blasted their foes this month by an average score of 39-10.  They’re also led by the 1-2 punch of quarterback Tanner Morgan (66% completion rate with 16 touchdowns and 3 interceptions) and running back Rodney Smith (5.7 yards per carry).  Maryland starts a pair of true freshmen in their secondary and ranks last in the Big Ten at stopping the pass.  Offensively, they’ll get quarterback Josh Jackson and running back Anthony McFarland back from ankle injuries.  But both will be operating by a banged up offensive line that’s started the same five just twice this fall.

Presto’s Pick:  Terrapins tumble, 27-14.

 

Virginia (5-2, 4-1 ACC) at Louisville (4-3, 2-2), 3:30 p.m. (ACC Network). 

The Cavaliers regained the Coastal Division lead last week with their rout of Duke, but if their season of possibilities is to be more than just a pipe dream they’ve got to beat the teams they’re supposed to beat.  And rebuilding Louisville is the classic case of that team; even though the Cardinals have already doubled last season’s victory total under first-year head coach Scott Satterfield, they’re still last in the ACC in scoring defense and in the bottom four of most categories on that side of the ball.  Virginia’s D has been consistent all fall, unfortunately it’s the offense that’s been maddeningly uneven.  A running game that’s had issues all fall has weighed heavily on the shoulders of Bryce Perkins:  he’s thrown seven interceptions in seven games after being picked off just nine times last fall.

Kippy & Buffy recognize that during the season of possibilities a team has make the most of its opportunities, so this week they’re seizing the day by tailgating with Carpe Diem Pinot Noir from the Anderson Valley.  The cool climate is the reason for the vivid black cherry flavors and intense rose petal and spice aromas.  Like any contender that’s more than one-dimensional, the 2015 vintage wine offers more than a nice nose:  “generous flavors of plum, blackberry and leather are uplifted with a great texture, silky tannin and crisp acidity.”

Presto’s Picks: Cavaliers continue their crisp play and come through, 24-17.

 

Navy (5-1, 3-1 AAC) vs. Tulane (5-2, 2-1), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).

Both schools are one win away from bowl eligibility; for the Midshipmen it would mean doubling last year’s victory total on their road to redemption, while for the Green Wave it would mean a return trip to the postseason for the first time in program history.  The top two ground games in the conference square off in Annapolis, with Tulane already having some experience defending the option this year after outscoring Army 42-33 October 5.  They also boast a senior quarterback who’s been more than successful against the Mids:  dual-threat Justin McMillan burned Navy for 291 yards passing and three touchdowns while running for another score last year.  McMillan better look for where the kid with the number one his jersey lines up each play:   Navy junior Jacob Springer is coming off of a three-sack afternoon against South Florida.

Presto’s Pick:  Mids make it happen, 28-21.

 

Georgetown gets by Lehigh, Howard slips to NC A&T, Richmond falls to Delaware, William & Mary loses at Maine, James Madison tops Towson, Morgan State falls to Florida A&M.

Last Week: 7-2.  Overall: 51-21.

 

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

The NCAA Tournament begins Tuesday night with the First Four.  If you’ve filled out a sheet or two already you’re probably trying to figure out how to better your workplace rivals.  First things first–

1–Do not be the person who tells everyone what the standings are Thursday afternoon after each result.  Odds are they know–and if say they pick a Georgia Tech to go to the Final Four and they lose the first day of the tournament don’t want to to be told.  And if they didn’t, to be notified after every result is a water torture nobody wants to experience.

2–You don’t have to share your picks.  Honestly, win or lose.  You had Houston beating Michigan and the Wolverines hit a last-second shot?  Sorry to hear…as in I’m sorry you felt as though you had to tell someone.  Everybody’s pool takes hits with each upset–and we don’t want to know how you’d be winning the office pool if only Virginia had beaten UMBC.

3–“Almost picking” is not the same as picking. So if your Final Four picks flame out the first weekend, don’t tell us which schools you thought about taking but didn’t.

4–Don’t discuss your “other sheet”.  Oh yes, the famous “other sheet” that you filled at your other job or with other friends.  The sheet that has all of the winners, even though the sheet you’re playing with your friends has no Final Four teams remaining.  The “other sheet”.  Right…

 

It’s time for our Bold, Fold and Gold picks for 2019…

Bold- which sleepers might bust a bracket or two?

Fold- which teams are likely to make in early exit?

Gold- who advances to the Final Four?

 

East Regional- Duke is the team to beat after entering the NCAA Tournament ranked number one in the nation for the first time since…2006.  For all of their success this decade one would have thought they’d have been atop the rankings at least once. Perhaps they’re making up for lost time this winter.  I thought Michigan State should have gotten the last number one seed, but instead the Spartans are on the other side of the Blue Devils’ regional.

Bold- Minnesota boasts the Big Ten’s leading rebounder in Jordan Murphy, and the Golden Gophers play Louisville- who just happened to fire Rick Pitino two years ago.  Minnesota is coached by Richard Pitino, who happens to be Rick’s son.  They already have plenty of tape and a scouting report on the likely second round foe Michigan State.

Fold- LSU was in the top ten before coach Will Wade was served a subpeona by the federal government and a suspension by his school regarding the recent FBI investigation.  The Tigers then wilted in the SEC Tournament.  While they have the clear edge talent-wise over Yale, the circumstances surrounding the program aren’t the recipe for a deep tournament run.

Gold- Duke has the best player in Zion Williamson and the best coach in Mike Krzyzewski. They’ll find their way to Washington DC for a coronation next weekend after disposing of their alphabet soup (NCC, NDSU, VCU, UCF) in nearby Columbia, SC.  A likely avenging of a February loss (Virginia Tech) looms.  The question is, how did three Big Ten teams (Michigan State, Maryland, Minnesota) wind up in the bottom half of that regional?  I thought the Selection Committee’s long lunches were put in place to prevent that.

 

South Regional- Virginia is a number one seed for the fourth time in six years.  We don’t need to discuss what happened last season.  Unfortunately March Brings Cinderellas to the forefront.  Condolences to Gardner-Webb.  Unless the Runnin’ Bulldogs somehow repeat the Terriers’ feat.  Then it’s going to be another summer of discontent in Charlottesville.

Bold- Cincinnati is fresh off beating Houston to win the AAC Tournament…and the Bearcats are also bound for Columbus, which happens to be the capital of the state that the city of Cincinnati resides.  Don’t be surprised to see the underseeded Bearcats make noise.

Fold- Villanova has been boom or bust recently, either advancing to the Final Four or saying adios the first weekend.  The Wildcats gritted their way to the Big East Tournament championship for a record third straight year, but wrapped up the regular season with five straight road losses.  Even though Hartford isn’t exactly San Jose, I’m feeling Jay Wright’s team has a short stay this March.

Gold- Virginia will be tested by a Tennessee that doesn’t have to travel far (Columbus & Louisville), but this year the Cavaliers have additional hitch to their giddy-up in an offense that might not be able to match their best in the nation defense (I think it’s Grandfathered in that UVa leads the nation in scoring D) but has the necessary firepower to pull away from foes. De’Andre Hunter’s wrist is intact, unlike last March, and so are the Cavaliers’ Final Four hopes.

 

Midwest Regional- North Carolina won neither the ACC regular season or tournament, but why recognize another league like the Big Ten or SEC at this time?  The Tar Heels head up the Blue Blood Bracket, with Kentucky and Kansas (sadly UCLA could not attend the NCAA Tournament this year) joined by a few schools who actually did win their conference tournaments in Auburn and Iowa State.

Bold– Seton Hall is fresh off losing the Big East Tournament championship and possesses the type of player (Myles Powell) who can make noise in the big dance.  They’ve also beaten Kentucky this season.

Fold- there’s always that one team that wins its league tournament that somehow feels like it spent a ton of energy doing so…and then can’t recreate the magic the following weekend.  Auburn took the SEC in an emotional day for Bruce Pearl, who lost an assistant coach not to another job but to prison (Chuck Person convicted in the FBI probe).  New Mexico State ranks 26th in the nation in scoring defense and won’t be a walkover.

Gold- why in the heaven am I taking another ACC team?  North Carolina has the talent, the experience, and the gosh-darnit-aw-shucks coach in Roy Williams on the sidelines to do just enough to infuriate the fan base that thinks the Heels should win every game by 50.  They won’t win every game by 50, and there’s going to be at least one win where UNC looks like they have no idea how to play basketball for 5-10 minutes but survive anyway.

 

West- Gonzaga is going to join the ACC as a provisional member so commissioner John Swofford can boast that for the first time all four seeds come from the same league.  Actually, if the Atlantic Coast Conference can have schools in Louisville and South Bend while the Big Ten can have 14 schools, this isn’t THAT much of a stretch.  The Bulldogs have been in the top five all season and begin another tournament run Thursday in Salt Lake City.

Bold- Syracuse plays that famed 2-3 zone and gets their best player back from injury in Tyus Battle.  The Orange lost late regular season games to North Carolina, Duke and Virginia after leading all three games at the half.  They won’t be star-struck by the Bulldogs, who have lost the last four years in the NCAA’s to an ACC school.

Fold- Marquette was once 23-4 and in conversations to not only win the Big East but secure a #2 seed.  But four losses to end the regular season plus a four-hour Big East Semifinal defeat to Seton Hall have exposed the Golden Eagles as another ordinary team.  Markus Howard is a dynamic point guard, but he won’t be enough to get this team out of its late-season skid.

Gold- or Maize.  Michigan began the year 18-0 and has lost just three times since Valentine’s Day-each loss coming to Michigan State who happens to be in a different region.  Coach John Beilein always gets the best out of his teams in March and this year won’t be an exception.  Ann Arbor’s not too far from South Bend…perhaps the ACC could reach out to the Wolverines.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

College football’s “Show Me Month” shows worlds turned upside-down in Lincoln and Tallahassee:  traditional powers Nebraska and Florida State are off to less than ideal starts with new head coaches.

While the Cornhuskers are not the program in the 21st century they were during the glory run of Tom Osborne, this is a program that hasn’t been 0-2 since 1957.  The coach that year was William Jennings, although it may just as well be William Jennings Bryan.  The idea when they hired Scott Frost away from UCF was their former quarterback would be the magic potion for a program that hadn’t competed for a conference crown since the Big Ten boasted its ill-advised “Leaders” and “Legends” divisions.  Instead, consecutive losses at home has the red jacket-clad fan base wondering if two years at an AAC school was enough of a proving ground.  Thank goodness they’ve rescheduled an opponent to fill the void when the Akron game was cancelled:  0-3 Bethune-Cookman (from the MEAC) comes to Lincoln October 27th.

Any panic you may see in the midwest pales in comparison to the horror on the gulf coast:  the Seminoles’ come from behind win over Samford can hardly cover up an 0-2 ACC start where the offense has scored just one touchdown.  And this is an 0-2 start in the conference with Miami and Clemson still on the schedule.  What happened to the program that posted double digit wins every year from 2012-2016?  And have visiting aliens kidnapped Deondre Francois?  Seriously, folks.  As a freshman the kid netted 8.4 yards per pass attempt (two full yards better than what he’s doing this year) with a 20-to-7 touchdown to interception ratio (he’s thrown three TD’s with four INT’s so far this fall).  Perhaps Jimbo Fisher departed for Texas A&M just in time?  The good news for FSU fans is that Willie Taggart has started slow in his previous stops as head coach before eventually delivering winners at Western Kentucky and South Florida.  But will a fan base that views a 10-win season as a “bad year” have the necessary patience?

Alma Mater Update– Syracuse is 3-0 for the second time this century and entertains UConn Saturday.  The Huskies are beyond bad this fall;  they’ve allowed an average of 56 points per game–including 49 in a win over FCS Rhode Island (I’m hoping they didn’t make up a “trophy” for that game).  But there’s a reason the Orange haven’t started 4-0 since 1991–and it’s that they used to lose games like this all the time.  Somehow the likes of East Carolina, Middle Tennessee, NC State and Cincinnati often have the last laugh.  Perhaps SU alum Randy Edsall will go easy on his alma mater.

Maryland (2-1) vs. Minnesota (3-0), noon (Big Ten Network)-  can the Terrapins bounce back from last week’s ugly loss to Temple and begin conference play on the right note, providing positive momentum entering the bye week?  Quarterback Kasim Hill needs to turn his season around;  the redshirt freshman has seen his passing yardage decline from 222 to 121 to 56 this month.  Golden Gophers coach P.J. Fleck brings a defense that allows under ten points per game and ranks first in the Big Ten in passing efficiency into College Park– he also brings wide receiver Tyler Johnson (20 catches for 283 yards and 5 touchdowns) to apply pressure on a much-improved Maryland defense (tops in the Big Ten in getting off of the field on third down).  Terrapins tumble, 27-17.

 

Navy (2-1) at SMU (0-3), noon (ESPN News)- the two AAC West schools provide quite a contrast in coaching stability:  Ken Niumatalolo is in his 11th season at the helm while first-year coach Sonny Dykes is the Mustangs’ fifth in that span.  It’s been a rough start for Dykes, with two of their losses coming against ranked foes and the other loss was against unbeaten North Texas.  It’s just as rough for third-year starting quarterback Ben Hicks, minus both of his top targets from last year as Trey Quinn is currently with the Washington Redskins and Courtland Sutton is playing for the Denver Broncos.  Last fall the Mids needed a last-second field goal to prevail in Annapolis;  so far this September Navy boasts the best turnover margin (+7) in the conference and has a ground game that holds the ball over 36 minutes per game.  Midshipmen handle the Mustangs, 31-14.

 

Virginia (2-1) vs. Louisville (2-1), 12:30 p.m. (ACC Network)- the Cardinals own a three game winning streak over UVa, but that was with quarterback Lamar Jackson. This year’s already brought a change at the position with Malik Cunningham getting the nod instead of Jawon Ross this week.  Virginia counters with dual threat quarterback Bryce Perkins (4th in the ACC in passing efficiency while averaging 80 yards rushing per game).  The first ACC game means Kippy & Buffy switch over from white to red wine…and there’s no better way to kick off conference play than with a bottle of A to Z Pinot Noir from Oregon.  The 2015 vintage offers “striking aromas of black cherries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries are overlaid with a cornucopia of spices. As the wine moves across the palate, ripe, dusty tannins bracketed by juicy acidity give shape and definition to the powerful fruit flavors in harmony with a mineral quality, reminiscent of slate and graphite.”  As we’re already in the Beaver State, Kippy & Buffy break out the Rogue Smokey Blue cheese on multi-grain crisps.  Cavaliers come through, 28-20.

  

Virginia Tech (2-0) at Old Dominion (0-3), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)- the Hokies may be on the road but Norfolk is well within the program’s footprint.  Last year they turned FedEx Field into a sort of “Blacksburg North” for their game with West Virginia.  Hopefully they’ve brought plenty of Lane Stadium turkey legs for their faithful to consume.  The Monarchs may be winless, but one benefit of having last Saturday off was coach Justin Fuente’s team had a chance to see multiple upsets.  They won’t be taking ODU lightly, even with the Monarchs’ offense converting just 28% of third down conversions.   Hokies handle business on the road, 38-14. 

 

Howard tops Bethune-Cookman, Georgetown loses to Columbia, James Madison beats William & Mary, Richmond gets by Stony Brook, Morgan State comes up short at North Carolina A&T.

 

Last Week: 4-2.

For the Season: 16-8.

What did Benjamin Franklin say?  “Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards”?  As somebody who’s been a fan of college football and basketball most of my life, one is not unfamiliar with programs playing loose with the rules.  Back in the day the joke was that the SEC stood for “So Everyone Cheats”-and wasn’t completely inaccurate.  Conference winners occasionally didn’t play in bowl games because of probation and one year the Pac-10 was reduced to five eligible schools because of shenanigans.  A whole league once imploded because of cheating (RIP, Southwest Conference) and SMU is still recovering from receiving the “Death Penalty” in 1987.

Which is why this week’s FBI investigation into bribery and corruption isn’t just a men’s college basketball story:  it’s one that bleeds into the football world as well because every time a non-blue blood improves beyond expectations there are whispers.  Anytime a hot recruit spurns the local powerhouse to attend the league’s black sheep, there are double-takes.  Whenever a school is associated with a shoe company (Oregon-Nike) there is head-scratching when the vast majority of their recruits are from outside what should be their primary recruiting area.  And anytime a school that has been flagged for violations in one sport, it almost makes sense that there could have been corner-cutting in the school’s other revenue sport.

Four schools were named in the federal investigation…and they’re all name schools:  USC, Auburn, Oklahoma State and Arizona have had varying success over the years on the court while each has run afoul of the NCAA on the football field.  The first head coach to lose his job (even though he technically is on “unpaid leave”) is with a school that was in the report but not even named–and barring something going down at Duke, Rick Pitino will be the biggest fish caught in this net.  As a graduate of a school that has been popped more than once for coloring outside the lines (Syracuse), I’m uneasily nervous.  And as someone who has enjoyed covering college football and basketball for the majority of my life, I’m sickened.

One of my favorite stories as a kid was about “Harry the Dirty Dog”…where a white dog with black spots rolls around in coal and becomes a black dog with white spots.  I always knew college athletics this game was one that didn’t bathe all the time.  This week’s revelations lead one to believe that it’s going to be some time before this animal we’ve all grown to love will be clean again.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange kick off ACC play with a trip to Raleigh and a showdown with NC State.  This is a Wolfpack team that is fresh from beating Florida State- and boast a quaterback named Ryan Finley who has yet to throw an interception this year.  Pardon me if I’m not a little distracted from the football Cuse as one of Jim Boeheim’s original assistant coaches (Pitino) goes down in flames.  These two men grew up in the game and in life together–to the point where Rick’s wife called Jim and his on their honeymoon at 5am to get back at Boeheim for hiring Pitino right after his wedding and sending him recruiting instead of his honeymoon.  Boeheim beat Rick’s Providence Friars to reach his first NCAA Final in 1987…and Pitino’s Kentucky Wildcats edged the Orange in the 1996 title tilt.  They were competing against each other and the ACC bluebloods until each ran afoul of the NCAA IN recent years.  And now I’m hoping the other shoe that drops isn’t a Nike.  Okay–now back to football.

Maryland (2-1) at Minnesota (3-0), 12 noon, Fox Sports 1.  The Terps will be using their third different starting quarterback in four games…and unlike the transition from dual threat Tyrrell Pigrome to Kasim Hill the move from Hill to Max Bortenschlager will be a little more marked.  As in Max is not nearly as nimble on his feet.  Not ideal when you’re facing a Golden Gophers defense that leads the Big Ten in stopping the run.  Max needs more than DJ Moore to throw to (the WR has over 50% of the team’s catches, 57% of the receiving yards and 80% of the TD receptions this fall) while also needing to stay upright (5 sacks allowed by the Terps against UCF).  Minnesota’s main threat offensively is runningback Rodney Smith:  the junior is coming off his first 100-yard effort of the season and ran for 144 yards and two touchdowns last year against the Terps.  Terrapins tumble, 24-17.

Navy (3-0, 2-0 AAC) at Tulsa (1-3), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU.  Expect the turf of Skelly Field at H. A. Chapman Stadium to get a major workout:  the Mids rank 2nd in the nation running the football while the Golden Hurricane are 4th in Division I FBS.  But while Navy allows fewer than 100 yards per game on the ground, Tulsa coughs up 294.5 per game and 6.9 yards per carry.  The Golden Hurricane have also lost games to the likes of Toledo (a 54-51 shootout) and New Mexico (a 16-13 defensive duel).  In addition, the two quarterbacks they’ve used this year are named “Chad President” and “Luke Skipper”.  Leadership is never too important…no word on if Tulsa is also recruiting prospects “Greg Governor” or “Pete Pilot”.  Midshipmen win despite the customary ill-timed fumble and missed field goal, 35-26.

#12 Virginia Tech (4-0) vs Clemson (4-0, 2-0 ACC), 8 p.m., ABC.  Not only is this a rematch of last year’s conference title game, it’s also a showdown of the league’s two highest ranked teams.  Kelly Bryant isn’t necessarily making people forget DeShaun Watson, but the junior is completing 68% of his passes while rushing for over 60 yards per game.  Despite ranking 7th in the ACC against the run and the pass, the Hokies defense has pitched a pair of shutouts and allows just over 10 points per game.  Josh Jackson isn’t playing like a redshirt freshman (leading the ACC in passing efficiency), but he’s yet to face a defense like the Tigers one that is the stingiest in the conference against the pass and overall.  As much as I wish there was a blocked punt or a kickoff return for a score to spring the home team Saturday night, one has the feel the smoked turkey legs won’t be as tasty.  Hokies come up short, 21-16.

Virginia (3-1) has the week off…and that means Kippy & Buffy are in the Outer Banks to shut down the cottage for the winter.  Just like it’s not a tailgate at Scott Stadium without the best wines, cheeses and crackers…it’s not technically champagne unless the bubbly comes from the Champagne region of France.  That’s why the Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label is on ice.  “Offering smoky pear and nectarine flavors and a hint of honey…finishes on a gently spicy note, with very good cling and a touch of bitter lemon pith. ”  Where’s the tin of D’artagnan caviar?

 

Georgetown loses to Harvard at RFK Stadium,  William & Mary gets by Stony Brook, Towson tumbles to Villanova, James Madison defeats Delaware.

Last Week: 5-3.   Overall: 23-8.

 

Losing Sucks.  And with the late Luther Vandross belting “One Shining Moment” at the close of another NCAA Tournament, 67 schools wonder how things could’ve ended in that slo-motion net-cutting moment.  Meanwhile, 280 schools wonder what it will take to get into the Big Dance.  For just about everybody it’s a slippery slope on the way to the top;  a prized recruit attends another school, an athletic director makes a bad hire… and the winter of one’s discontent can turn into several years.  Losing Sucks.  Whether you were Michigan unable to turn back the Louisville tidal wave, Syracuse unable to get the block call instead of the charge, Georgetown unable to nip March’s most memorable story in the bud, Maryland unable to win on the road in the ACC, George Mason unable to keep Luke Hancock around campus, American unable to put 40 smart minutes together, Howard unable to break the cycle of 20-loss seasons or the Maryland women unable to keep its backcourt off crutches–Losing Sucks.  But it’s worth the missed shots, the blown calls, the misjudged recruits…because Luther had pretty damn good pipes.  Just hearing that song makes a lot of the heartbreak manageable…and if it just happens to be your school’s “One Shining Moment”– don’t let it go.  Ever.

Cardinals Rule– It’s hard to think that this Louisville team was once a teetering ship that malfunctioned multiple times at Notre Dame during a 5-overtime marathon, wrapping up a 3-4 stretch that took coach Rick Pitino’s team from top ranked to partially tanked.  Credit the Hall of Famer for getting this team back in gear– and 16 wins later, they’re National Champs.  Credit Luke Hancock for averaging 21 points during the Final Four in Kevin Ware’s absence.  Credit the Cardinal pressure generating turnovers on the perimeter while locking down inside and dominating the glass against Michigan.  Credit Jim Nantz for not coming up with a blatantly ridiculous pun at the final buzzer.

Alma Mater Update– what did I say?  Losing Sucks.  But what a run by the Orange.  The VAUNTED 2-3 ZONE must now be capitalized and in boldface with italics for one calendar year.  I still think I’m watching the halfcourt offense every time I drive through DC– come on people, it’s a crosswalk!  Make your way with some kind of purpose!  I still have to shake my head when I realize this team had lost 4 of 5 entering the Big East Tournament, the killer a 39 point effort against Georgetown.  I still get goosebumps when I remember the upset of Indiana and recall the net-cutting after beating Marquette.  I still wonder if Mike Hopkins will be Tom Izzo or Craig Esherick (THAT IS CRAP!).  I still try to imagine how the move the ACC will help or hurt this program from an immediate as well as a longterm standpoint.  I still marvel at the fist-pumping high-fiving comradery I have with fellow alums in Orange Nation win or lose.  And I still know it’s 9:39 PM. 

Bye Bye Big East– National Champs in 1984, 85, 99, 03, 04, 11, 13.  Not a bad tally for a latecomer to the big time… who then redefined what Big Time was.  Great memories of incredible games and Hall of Fame coaches and unbelievable players.  The 34 year history of excellence will live on…in the “New Big East” (hopefully more “Frasier” than “AfterMASH”), the ACC (7 of the 14 schools in the league next summer will have Big East ties) and the American Athletic Conference– yeah, whatever.  Losing Sucks.

Terps end near where they started– it’s just a matter of it you take the subway or a cab from Brooklyn’s Barclays Center to Madison Square Garden.  A thrilling 58-57 win at Alabama sent coach Mark Turgeon’s team to the NIT Semifinals–and despite a 71-60 loss to Iowa there’s plenty of positives to take into the offseason.  Now the question is if sophomore center Alex Len returns to College Park.  Enough scouts like his upside– but he’s had more than a few consistently uneven stretches.  You’d think he’d stay to get more polish– but the money’s probably there to be a semi-project in the NBA.  The program will definitely lose the last player on the roster to have played for Gary Williams– Pe’Shon Howard transferring to be closer to his ill grandmother in California.  For whatever reason it just didn’t work for the junior under coach Turgeon– he missed 18 games last winter and this past season shot under 30% from the field.  All the best to a good kid.  And all the best to a Terrapin progam that chooses between Nick Faust, Seth Allen or freshman Roddy Peters to run the offense next season.

Maryland Womens Minute– the Terps came up short against eventual National Champion Connecticut 76-50… before the Huskies bludgeoned its final three opponents in the tournament by an average of 27 points.  The world of women’s hoops this winter involved such a gap between the elite and the upper tier… and coach Brenda Frese’s team after losing its starting backcourt to torn ACL’s found itself overmatched and overworked.  Can another solid recruiting class combined withinjured players Laurin Mincy and Brene Mosley returning to form negate the loss of four year starter Tianna Hawkins?  Alyssa Thomas returns for one more run through the ACC…Duke and UNC beware.

Coaching Carousel– when will it stop?  Actually, never.  A few notable moves over the last few weeks…

Steve Alford went from New Mexico to UCLA…if ever there was a blue-blood player turned blue-blood coach around to guide the blue-blood Bruins, it’s the former IU All-American and Olympian.  His success at various stops now feels like a precursor to this career-making (Wooden) or career-breaking (Cunningham, Hazzard, etc) move.  The pressure at Pauley Pavillion is just enough to turn out a coach who led them to three straight Final Fours (Howland).  But after operating on the fringes it’ll be interesting to see how Alford deals with a prime time program that’s expected to win big consistently.

Andy Enfield went from Anonymity to USC…while Alford’s career has been a slow broil, the ex-Florida Gulf Coast coach’s run has been a high heat microwave trip.  He’s charismatic, energetic…respected in NBA circles.  Enfield teaches a pro-style offense that recruits will flock to.  He’s going to be recruiting in Southern California.  And he took his Maxim model wife out to Taco Bell on their first date…while proposing with a ring stuck between Krispy Kreme donuts.  Let’s just say the guy has moxie.  And the bar in Troy is much lower than Westwood.

Richard Pitino went from being Rick Pitino’s son to being Rick Pitino’s son at a Big Ten job…one never knows how a coach’s kid will fare when on his own (Pat Knight, Sean Sutton) and it’s not easy to win at Minnesota (unless you want the eventual NCAA Probation).  He’s had one year as a head coach and led Florida Atlantic to an 18-14 record.  Now he might turn into something special, but the Big Ten is not the ECAC North where his father cut his teeth at Boston University.  And the Golden Gophers got rid of a perfectly decent coach in Tubby Smith who had been somewhat successful.

Chris Collins went from CBS’ halftime interview to the Big Ten’s Abyss… I can’t wait to see Wojo handle that role next year, although I don’t think it’s fair for Coach K not to rotate his assistants in the halftime interview segment.  Although he did speak at the half this year.  I think after losing to Louisville, Coach K will view his halftime chats as bad luck and give one of his managers the role next winter.  The last few sentences has intentionally kept me from writing about Northwestern Mens’ Basketball.

Mike Rice Jr. went from Rutgers to Infamy… Wow.  Beyond career-napalming.  How does that happen for so long without anything coming out?  Oh yeah, Rutgers.  I’ll call this the Curse of Gary Waters– the Scarlet Knights hired him away from Kent State and despite 3 winning seasons in 5 years, dumped him for Fred Hill (57-77 over 4 years) and now Mike Rice (11-25 after 2 seasons).  Since Waters left, Rutgers hasn’t only lost every season– they’ve placed in the teens of the Big East (13th or lower) every single year.  Athletic Department misfires aside, Rice cooked himself with belligerent behavior that not only crossed over the line but ran far beyond it.  Shoving and kicking players from behind is akin to attacking a defenseless receiver in the NFL– you just don’t do it.  Homophobic slurs in 2013– you just don’t do it.  Not with video.  Not with sound.  You wonder if Rice let the pressures of handling a sinking program in the Big East get the better of him.  You hope that he gets the necessary help to move on.  But you know that he’s justifiably out of there…and probably shouldn’t be anywhere for a while.