Archives for posts with tag: Nebraska

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

 

The second-to-last week of the regular season delivers another three local teams playing at the same time with Maryland-Nebraska, Navy-SMU, and Virginia Tech-Pitt each taking place in the 3:30 p.m. window.  Nationally we get a few showdowns that will decide divisions, from Ohio State-Penn State in the Big Ten East to San Diego State-Hawa’ii in the Mountain West West (not a typo; just like the ACC the MWC takes its division names from the league).  Also on the menu are Pac-12 rivalry matchups like USC-UCLA and Cal-Stanford that should be the final games of the regular season (thanks, Notre Dame) but aren’t.  In the mix is the traditional SEC weekend where they play lower-tier schools, from Alabama-Western Carolina and Auburn-Samford.  Vanderbilt’s no slouch in the November cupcake department (although at 2-8 you could make the argument that the Commodores are tremendous slouches) by hosting East Tennessee State, who’s lost to both Western Carolina and Samford.  But that’s not the issue I have with the Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference by extension.

My beef is that despite each being a 14-school league they only play eight conference games.  Why does this matter?   The other conferences competing for spots in the College Football Playoff have played nine league games since 2005 (Pac-12), 2011 (Big 12), and 2016 (Big Ten).  That’s one more game against a school with similar budgets and facilities, one more chance to stumble in a world where one loss is near-deadly and two are all but fatal to College Football Playoff hopes.  By playing just eight conference games, the SEC and ACC artificially inflate its elites.  Under this format, Alabama doesn’t have to play Georgia and Florida ever in the same season.  Meanwhile, Penn State had to visit both Iowa and Minnesota this fall in crossover games (and went 1-1).  Oklahoma will likely have to beat Baylor twice to reach the playoff.  And the Oregon/Utah Pac-12 Championship Game winner (barring a pre-title tilt slide) will have to cross its fingers for inclusion in football’s final four.  All while a one-loss Alabama that didn’t win its division somehow is in the driver’s seat to another National Semifinal appearance-again.

It’s amazing how the NCAA that micromanages its athletes has very little influence in how its member conferences do their business.  If the SEC and ACC won’t go to a nine conference game schedule, I’m more than fine with the Pac-12, Big Ten, and Big 12 returning to eight games.  There’d be fewer good matchups and more non-conference schedule stuffers, but at least the Power Five Leagues would be on level playing fields.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange are two wins away from a glorious return to the Pinstripe Bowl, with rebuilding Louisville in their path this week.  The road has not been kind to SU this fall as they’re averaging under 20 points per game away from the Dome, and the Cardinals aren’t your traditional rebuilding team after wins over Virginia and NC State while also putting 62 points on the board against then-unbeaten Wake Forest.  Thank goodness for basketball.

 

Virginia (7-3) vs. Liberty (6-4), noon (ACC Network Extra).

The Cavaliers attempt to mimic the SEC elites by having a non-conference game the week before their “rivalry game” (note that I’ve used “air quotes” because UVa has lost 15 straight in this series).  They chose a beaut as the Flames do not have a great track record against Power Five Conference schools this year;  they were shut out Labor Day weekend by a Syracuse defense that would cough up 104 points in its next two games, and would later allow 44 points in a loss to a Rutgers offense that had scored a total of 30 points in its previous six games. The Cavaliers’ defense that started strong but has surrendered an average of 29 points in its last three games will have its eyes on Liberty wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden:  the senior’s 1,244 receiving yards represent 41.4% of his team’s passing offense.

Kippy & Buffy have their eyes on a non-conference white wine.  And the season of possibilities would not be complete without a trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  And that means a bottle of Antiquum Farms’ 2018 Daisy Pinot Gris.  “Focused, precise, and all about refined texture, minerality and crisp acidity.”  They had my popped collared pals at refined texture. Vibrant citrus and floral components blend seamlessly with pomme fruit, lemon curd, pear,  river stone and metallic nuance.”

Presto’s Pick: nuances aside, the Cavaliers continue their season of possibilities with a 38-17 win.

 

Maryland (3-7, 1-6 Big Ten) vs. Nebraska (4-6, 2-5), 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network).

If you think the Terps are questioning the football impact of leaving the ACC for the Big Ten, think about the Cornhuskers.  Since bolting the Big 12 they haven’t finished in the Top 20 and have won just one division title–and that was during the Leaders & Legends era (it gets worse:  the 2012 Legends champs allowed 70 points in the Big Ten Championship Game to a third place Wisconsin team that advanced because Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible).  Scott Frost is just 22 games into his tenure;  year one saw the Cornhuskers finish 4-2 after an 0-6 start while year two began 4-2 and before the current four-game losing streak.  Defense may take the day off in College Park; Nebraska’s allowed 35 points per game during their slide while Maryland’s coughing up an average of 47 points during their five game losing streak.

Presto’s Pick:  Terrapins tumble, 38-24.

 

Virginia Tech (7-3, 4-2 ACC) vs. Pitt (7-3, 4-2), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN2).

Doubt the Hokies at your own peril.  Just like it takes those smoked turkey legs at Lane Stadium quite a bit of time to cook properly (and quite a bit of time to consume as well), this year’s team was slow-roasting to success.  The switch from quarterback Ryan Willis to Hendon Hooker helped stop the avalanche of turnovers, and once the defense wasn’t given horrible field position the unit played like the Bud Foster defenses of old.  The school honored the soon-to-be-retiring Foster before the win over Wake Forest and then honored him during their shutout of Georgia Tech.  The Panthers bring a decent defense to Blacksburg, leading the ACC in stopping the run (only 2.8 yards per carry) and their 45 sacks are tops in the conference.  But they also bring an offense that has struggled to score (17 points against Delaware, 20 against Georgia Tech).

Presto’s Pick: Hokies set up a Coastal Divsion showdown with a 20-12 win.

 

Navy (7-2, 5-1 AAC) vs. SMU (9-1, 5-1), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).

Contrasting styles take to the field as the Mids boast the best rushing offense (349 yards per game) squares off against the seventh best air attack (328 yards per game) in FBS. There’s a contrast in quarterbacks as well: Navy senior Malcolm Perry has 32 completions over nine games this fall while Shane Buechele completed 33 and 34 passes in his two games this month.  The Texas transfer has needed to air it out:  the Mustangs have allowed 54 and 51 points this month and rank 103rd in the nation in scoring defense. They’re last in the AAC and 124th nationally in stopping the pass.  And that’s where the preseason talk of Navy airing it out more comes into play;  so far the offense that’s averaged 9.68 passes per game since 2014 has thrown the ball 75 times in nine games (8.33) this fall.  And while Perry averages 6.4 yards per carry and 128.7 per game, stopping the run is the one of the few things the SMU defense actually does well.

Presto’s Pick:  Midshipmen can’t keep up in a 40-35 loss to the Mustangs.

 

Georgetown falls at Holy Cross, Howard loses at Morgan State, James Madison mauls Rhode Island, Richmond edges William & Mary, Towson tops Elon.

 

Last Week: 7-0. Overall: 77-30.

Somewhere on paper this seemed like a great idea…especially with that “grow the footprint” guy in the conference office.  What better way for the Big Ten to grow its brand than to plant the flag at the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden?  Forget that New York City is within 300 miles of just three of the 14 Big Ten schools (for those counting, Maryland is actually closer to the Big Apple than Penn State by about 14 miles).  Never mind that instead of waiting for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to open up or choosing to play in the usually available Prudential Center in Newark, they had to move the tournament a week early because the Big East has MSG locked up through 2025.  That’s why we had conference games played the first weekend of December.  And that’s why there will be teams potentially working on a two-week layoff going into the NCAA Tournament.  And let’s not realize the residual effect of the men’s tournament sucking all of the oxygen out of the room while the women’s tournament takes place in Indianapolis at the same time (the league should have considered moving the women’s tournament to next weekend to give it maximum exposure).  Of course, if the conference lands an extra at-large team than expected and if the Big Ten dominates the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament this will turn out to be the stroke of genius.  Thank goodness the tournament returns to Chicago next March.

Fun Fact- while the top seed has won the tournament eight times, don’t sleep on the #6 seed which is 29-19 over the years with one title and three finals appearances.  More recently, the #8 seed has more tournament wins (7) than the regular season champ (6) over the last five years.

Teams to Beat-  Michigan State won its last 12 games to earn the #1 seed for the first time since 2012.  The Spartans led the conference in scoring, shooting and rebounding–the only thing they don’t do well is take care of the ball (last in the league in turnover margin).  Purdue was in first place for most of the season before some late hiccups and there’s no better team in the Big Ten at shooting the three.  They’re also a year older than the team that went one and done as the #1 seed last March.  Ohio State under Coach of the Year Chris Holtmann beat both the Spartans and Boilermakers but somehow got swept by Penn State.

Players to Watch- the Buckeyes’ Keita Bates-Diop was a big reason for OSU’s resurgence;  the junior ranked second in the conference in scoring and rebounding on the way to being named Big Ten Player of the Year.  Myles Bridges may not have the numbers, but the Michigan State Sophomore is arguably the most talented player in the league and is the most productive one when necessary.  Purdue forwards Vincent Edwards and Isaac Haas are the typical skilled but gritty big men Midwest teams seem to run off of the assembly line each winter (perhaps we can get a few shipped to College Park).

Bubble and Bench Watch- Nebraska is in an odd spot as the #4 seed.  Despite winning 8 of 9 down the stretch the Cornhuskers don’t have a great at-large profile: credit a non-conference strength of schedule that ranks 297th in the nation as one reason why ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has them one of the “first four out” in his latest field.  They’re likely going to face #15 Michigan in the quarterfinals, and the Wolverines bring a five-game winning streak into Madison Square Garden while looking beyond awesome in their dismembering last Saturday of Maryland.  An early exit from MSG for coach Tim Miles’ team could mean banishment to the NIT.  Meanwhile, the Nebraska bench has become a lightning rod for their antics that depending on your age and mentality could be called “creative” or “obnoxious”.  It’s cute the guys at the end of the pine pantomimed Olympic bobsledding after a big bucket…but beware:  the last team to pull such shenanigans was Monmouth and they were left out of the field despite a 27-7 mark that included wins over UCLA, Notre Dame and Georgetown.

Wednesday’s “First Round”-  one of the costs of doing business in a 14-team league is the unfortunate bracket where the first day features a doubleheader of despair:  unlike a 12-team format where you potentially have bubble teams battling and at worst a 5 vs 12 game where one of the schools is headed somewhere we get the “dreaded first round”.  (I’m checking with legal on the rumor that we have to refer to it as “dreaded” at all times, like “Lowly Rutgers”).  Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa and “Lowly Rutgers” went a combined 15-57 in league play and these four schools will square off in a doubleheader of depression:  two of those schools’ fan bases get 40 more minutes of watching their sub-500 squads fumble around on the court (although 6th seed Indiana isn’t much to talk about).  The ACC, SEC and Atlantic 10 subject us to this as well; it’s commonly referred to by the media as “the day we pick up our credentials and test the phone lines while watching as little actual hoops as possible”.

 

Thursday’s Second Round-

Maryland (19-12, 8-10 Big Ten) vs Wisconsin (14-17, 7-11), noon.  The Terps won the lone regular season meeting between the two schools 68-63 on Super Bowl Sunday in a game where they blew a ten point halftime lead.  Anthony Cowan Jr. scored 23 points in 39 minutes that afternoon–and for the record, the sophomore has played in 234 of 240 possible minutes since.  In a season where injuries and last-minute losses have all but dashed the Terps’ NCAA hopes (a bid is coming only if they cut down the nets at MSG Sunday), Cowan has been the major bright spot–ranking in the top three of the Big Ten in assists and steals while leading the conference in minutes played.  His play along with Kevin Huerter (the two combined for 14 of the team’s 23 baskets in the win over the Badgers) will be paramount if the Terrapins want to be playing in the quarterfinals Friday.

Wisconsin has endured a winter of discontent as well:  instead of thinking about a potential third straight trip to the Sweet Sixteen under coach Greg Gard, the team that received votes in both preseason polls is likely going to finish with a losing record for the first time since 1998.  But they did conclude the regular season with four wins in six games (and their two losses were against Michigan and Michigan State).  The Badgers’ bright spot is junior Ethan Happ;  the 6-foot-10 forward scored 18 points in College Park earlier this month and paces leads the team in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks (but is a 9% shooter from three-point range-slacker).  Freshman guard Brad Davison has given them feast (30 points against Michigan State) and famine (5 on 1-4 shooting earlier in the week at Northwestern) in varying doses but is their number two option.  At the beginning of February it appeared as though Wisconsin was a year away from being a factor;  there’s no reason not to expect they’ll be a handful Thursday.

 

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

Don’t look now, but there’s a dynasty brewing down the road on I-81.  James Madison is defending its FCS Championship by posting complete effort after complete effort:  the Dukes lead the CAA in rushing and are second in passing efficiency, while JMU’s overall defense is tops in the conference and 30+ yards per game better than anyone at stopping the pass.  They even lead the league in punting.  Coach Mike Houston’s name will certainly come up anytime there’s an opening on the coaching carousel, especially in ACC country where there’s always a hot seat or two.  The 2018 table is already set with not one but two underclassmen in position to rush for 1,000 yards this fall…and that punter who leads the CAA (Harry O’Kelly) is just a freshman.  But the past (and the 2016 FCS title) as well as the future take a back seat.  The majority of the 2017 campaign is ahead, and while a 5-0 start that includes a win at East Carolina is nice the Dukes know that CAA play is what determines an FCS berth and seed.  Over the next five weeks as they’ll face three conference foes currently ranked in the top 15…starting Saturday with #11 Villanova.  ESPN is even holding Gameday in Harrisonburg…and it’s not just to keep Lee Corso away from the fried twinkies offered at the Texas State Fair during Oklahoma-Texas.  The Dukes face their first major roadblock to repeating…as the Wildcats are coming off a shutout of Maine and are 2nd best nationally (FCS) in stopping the run.  We’re talking allowing just 50 yards per game on 1.76 yards per carry.  Roadblock, indeed.

 

Alma Mater Update- not since 1984 when #1 Nebraska was defeated at the Carrier Dome has the college football world been turned on its ear as much as Friday night when the Orange shocked another orange-clad team in #2 and defending champ Clemson.  I’m still processing it…but I think this means the school has a shot at securing one of those vaunted Pinstripe Bowl banners.  A 4-3 mark with games against Wake Forest and Boston College on the horizon?  Break out multiple “Five Wing Specials”.

 

Maryland (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) vs Northwestern (2-3, 0-2),  3:30 p.m, (ESPN2).   While it’s always good to have a Plan B…and sometimes a decent Plan C can salvage things, heaven forbid if you have to go to Plan D.  That’s what we could see Saturday as Max Bortenschlager was “shaken up” last Saturday at Ohio State, and while coach D.J. Durkin would not say if Max was in the concussion protocol he was confident in Caleb Henderson- as in the transfer from North Carolina who’s been injured for much of the last six months.  The case could be made that Henderson before getting hurt was the original “Plan A”.  The Wildcats haven’t had to vary from their Plan A at quarterback, with junior Clayton Thorson making 31 starts over the last two-plus years.  Unfortunately he doesn’t have a great supporting cast as Northwestern ranks last in rushing and allows the most sacks in the Big Ten.  Terrapins triumph, 29-21.

 

Virginia (4-1, 1-0 ACC) at North Carolina (1-5, 0-3), 3:30 p.m., (ACC Network).  Hold on…it’s mid-October and the Cavaliers have a better record than the Tar Heels?  UVa hasn’t finished higher in the Coastal Division standings than UNC since 2011…and they haven’t beaten the kids from Chapel Hill since 2011.  But 2017 has Bronco Mendenhall’s team executing on third down (2nd best in the ACC at 49.4 % conversion rate) while Larry Fedora’s bunch ranks last in the league at moving the chains (28.8%).  Remember how UVa couldn’t stop anybody last year?  This fall that’s UNC’s honor as they allow a league-worst 33 points and 466 yards per game.  If you listen to old school alumni in Charlottesville, they’ll tell you that North Carolina-not those upstarts at Virginia Tech-is their real rival.  If you listen to Kippy & Buffy, they’ll tell you that they’ll share a bottle of Ponzi Pinot Noir (“carries aromas of tobacco, dark red fruits and fresh berries. The rich cherry flavor is complemented by notes of cedar, raspberry and strawberry”) with their UNC pals Meredith & Peyton (both wear navy blue turtlenecks and Carolina blue sweaters). Break out the Gruyère.  Cavaliers come through, 34-20.

 

#24 Navy (5-0, 3-0 AAC) at Memphis (4-1, 1-1), 3:45 p.m., ESPNU.  Somehow the Midshipmen are unbeaten despite a defense that has been rather accommodating and an offense that has either misfired (13th in red zone offense) or shot itself in the foot (4 lost fumbles is second most in the league).  They’ll need to score touchdowns instead of field goals if they want to keep pace with the high-octane Tiger offense:  quarterback Riley Ferguson has posted three 300-yard passing games this fall and burned the Mids for 333 yards last fall.  That game saw Will Worth roast Memphis with his arm and legs…and Zach Abey just isn’t the passer who can keep the Tigers’ D honest.  Midshipmen come up short, 38-33.

Howard defeats Delaware State, Georgetown loses at Lehigh, Richmond tops Towson, William & Mary loses to Delaware, and James Madison stays unbeaten with a victory over Villanova.

Last Week: 7-1.

Overall: 35-11. 

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

 

While the closing of the local swimming pools is usually the figurative end for summer, it doesn’t really feel like autumn until we start to hear about the hot seats in college football.  And while there is one at Nebraska after the Cornhuskers began the season 1-2, any heat Mike Riley feels is now obscured by the hot mess that is the firing of Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst.

Sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make.  Nebraska dominated the Big Eight and its successor the Big 12 (also known as the Big XII on some logos) before joining the Big Ten (which had previously been dealing with an 11-team membership for two decades).  They went from being a senior partner in a firm they helped create to becoming a junior associate that can’t even win the easier West division (let the record show the Huskers did win one Legends Division before the Big Ten regained its mind).  And now they’re not even the new kid in town who wears red (expanding with Maryland and Rutgers mean 50% of the league wears some shade of that color) anymore.  While men’s basketball has gone from playing in the 8-vs-9 game the first day of the Big 12 Tournament to playing in the 12-vs-13 game the first day of the Big Ten Tournament, the football program no longer has a schedule that allows easy access to recruits in Texas–or games against Iowa State and Kansas.  The same people who couldn’t wait to get rid of Frank Solich a decade ago couldn’t wait to be done with Bo Pellini two winters ago…and now those same people are wondering if they can buy out Mike Riley who is 16-13 with mostly Pellini’s players.  Thankfully the Huskers begin league play with games against Rutgers and Illinois.

 

Alma Mater Update– there was once a time when the Orange went toe to toe with LSU… beating the Tigers in the 1989 Hall of Fame Bowl.  This week SU takes its 2-1 record into Baton Rouge against a 2-1 Tiger team that got roasted by Mississippi State last weekend.  That’ll go over real well.  The 7 p.m. kickoff means I’ll miss the first half (as I’ll be covering Maryland-UCF)…which might be a good thing.

 

Friday Night-

Virginia (2-1) at Boise State (2-1), 8 p.m., ESPN2.  A battle of 2-1 teams takes place on the blue turf in the Gem State…but not all 2-1’s are alike.  The Broncos lost in triple-overtime at a ranked Washington State after losing their starting quarterback to injury while the Cavaliers were soundly beaten at home by a second-tier Big Ten school.  Brett Rypien could potentially return for BSU–although Montell Cozart is a dual threat that gives teams like UVa nuts (they’ve coughed up 32, 89 and 90 yards rushing to the three starting quarterbacks they’ve faced this fall).  The Cavaliers don’t have a ton of happy Friday memories:  two years ago they were roasted 56-14 at Scott Stadium on a Friday night by…Boise State.  Despite name recognition, Bronco Mendenhall went just 2-2 (and 0-2 on the road) against the Broncos when he coached BYU.  Something about that blue field.  Kippy & Buffy tailgate for their first road and night game…looking for sweets.  Thank goodness my Uncle Chris and Aunt Kristi own a chocolate shop in Boise.  The Chocolat Bar (www.thechocolatbar.com) specializes in truffles…and my UVa friends will enjoy those with a bottle of Saracco Moscato d’Asti 2016: “sweet and seductive as the hills where it is born and grows; as vibrant and sharp as the mountains that surround and protect the land on the horizon; refreshing and effervescent, like the wind rushing down from the Alps towards their hills.”  Add a signing nun and we’ve got something here.  Cavaliers come up short, 38-24.

 

Saturday-

#13 Virginia Tech (3-0) vs Old Dominion (2-1), 2 p.m., ACC Network Extra.  While the ACC schedule kicks off against defending national champ Clemson next weekend, college football’s version of “Linner” (not lunch, but definitely not dinner) has the Hokies playing a local foe for the fourth straight week.  Pass protection will be a priority-as the Monarchs lead the nation with 16 sacks this season.  The Hokies by comparison have allowed three sacks over three games.  Redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Jackson’s education is a little easier when he has three seniors and two juniors up front protecting him…and having Cam Phillips (nine catches and 139 yards receiving per game) can’t hurt either.  ODU’s offense will be led by 17-year old freshman Steven Williams…and plan B is turnover-prone quarterback Blake LaRussa.  The Monarch’s defense?  Performing like paupers in allowing 53 points to North Carolina team that’s an underdog at home to Duke this week.  Not that anybody is looking ahead to the Clemson game.  That’s in Blacksburg, right?  Hokies handle the Monarchs, 45-13.

 

Maryland (2-0) vs UCF (1-0), 3 p.m., Fox Sports 1.  The Terps are coming off on an odd early-season bye (they did have week two off in 2011, but that was after playing the previous Monday night).  Meanwhile, the Golden Knights are coming off of two weeks off due to the hurricane devastation of the Sunshine State- as UCF’s game with Georgia Tech was canceled and their conference tilt with Memphis was moved (major credit to the AAC for being able to reshuffle the league schedule jenga-style).  Quarterback McKenzie Milton made his first career start last year against Maryland–and threw for 260 yards while accounting for all three of their touchdowns in a double-overtime defeat.  Whether you read “Paradise Lost” or watch “Office Space” in your spare time, containing Milton in the pocket will go a long way towards remaining in the Garden of Unbeatens as well as stapling another victory to the 2017 resume.  Last year’s game was won by true freshman Tyrrell Pigrome’s feet in double-overtime;  this year true freshman Kasim Hill will be contributing from the opening possession.  Terrapins Triumph, 44-20.

 

Navy (2-0, 1-0 AAC) vs Cincinnati (2-1), 3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network.  Before you ask me, “why is Cincinnati in the AAC East and Navy is in the AAC West?” just remember that the Bearcats should be in the Big 12 as a travel partner with West Virginia if only for the Bob Huggins effect during hoop season (Houston is the school that won’t make things an even dozen because the Big 12 schools are petty).  While the Mids had a week off to digest their near-defeat at home to Tulane (and watch the Green Wave get bludgeoned by Oklahoma), Cincy is coming off of a 21-17 win over Miami (Ohio Version) and boasts an offense that remains a work in progress.  The Bearcats rank last in the AAC in total offense and third down conversions, while gaining 3.2 yards per carry and completing just over 50% of their passes.  If Navy is going to contend for a West Division title, the defense that returned six starters needs to make a statement Saturday in Annapolis.  Midshipmen make a statement, 28-14.

 

Howard beats Bethune-Cookman, Georgetown loses at Columbia, James Madison mauls Maine, Richmond rips Elon, Towson tumbles at Stony Brook.

 

Last Week: 5-2.  Overall: 18-5.