Archives for posts with tag: Notre Dame

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

College football gives fans a chance not just to talk up their own school, but their entire conference.  Nothing beats Vanderbilt or Arkansas fans talking smack about the SEC, or Rutgers people telling you how great the Big Ten is.  I’ve even looked at the Power Five Conferences multiple times this fall.  But everyone takes a back seat to the best in the business…a conference that might be closer than you think.  The Colonial Athletic Association places SIX teams in the 24-school tournament:  James Madison, Towson, Delaware, Maine, Elon and Stony Brook.  In other words, half of its membership was deemed to be worthy of 25% of the tournament bracket.  The cost of a top-heavy league was that conference champion Maine only gets a #7 seed and they were the only CAA team to get a first round bye.  James Madison (8-3) advanced to the Championship game last year;  the Dukes host Delaware in the Blue Hens’ first playoff  appearance under former Richmond coach Danny Rocco.  Towson (7-4) also has a home game:  The Tigers entertain Duquesne in their first playoff game since the 2013 FCS Championship Game.

Alma Mater Update- let’s just say that things did not go as planned in New York City…as the men’s basketball team lost two straight and the football team fell 36-3 to #3 Notre Dame.  That they weren’t shut out shouldn’t be noted, because the Orange elected to kick a field goal late in the fourth quarter.  Kind of more embarrassing than actually getting blanked.  Actually a blocked field goal returned for a Fighting Irish TD would have been the only result more embarrassing.  At 8-3 they visit Boston College to wrap up the season. I’ll be there.

Maryland (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten) went for the win in overtime against Ohio State…and Jeshaun Jones was open in the endzone.  Unfortunately the pass never got there and fell to the turf incomplete, wrapping up one wild afternoon as the Buckeyes remain alive for the Big Ten East with a 52-51 victory.  The Terps missed out on reaching bowl eligibility…despite outplaying OSU for big stretches of the day.  Terrapin Triumphs:  Anthony McFarland ran for 298 yards and two touchdowns- the two scores coming from 75 and 81 yards in the first quarter.  The defense recovered a fumble inside the Maryland five and RaVon Davis returned an interception for a touchdown.  Terrapin Troubles:  by overtime the D was hanging for dear life, allowing touchdowns the last four times the Buckeyes touched the ball.  And while the passing game saw a few sparks (completions of 27, 30, 56 and 60 yards), Tyrrell Pigrome completed under 50% of his throws.  Next:  Saturday at 3:30 against 8-3 Penn State.

Virginia (7-4, 4-3 ACC) saw its Coastal Division hopes evaporate when Pitt routed Wake Forest, before being taken to overtime by Georgia Tech.  While Brian Delaney’s 32-yard field goal sent the game into OT, his 35-yarder in the extra session went wide.  Cavalier Congrats:  Bryce Perkins threw for 217 yards and a touchdown while running for 73 and a score.  Olamide Zaccheaus notched 11 catches for 111 yards.  Jordan Mack paced the defense with 12 tackles.  Cavalier Concerns:  special teams mistakes cost UVa bigtime-the Yellowjackets scored their first TD of the day on a kick return and their second came on a short field after a the Cavs fumbled a punt.  Next:  Friday at 3:30 at 4-6 Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech (4-6) continued its late-season slide in a 38-14 loss to Miami.  But they aren’t out of bowl contention just yet:  The Hokies have scheduled a provisional game with Marshall for December 1st.  If they beat Virginia (like they have every year since 2003), they’ll play the Thundering Herd the following weekend.  If they lose, the game will be wiped out.  Hokie Highlights:  Ryan Willis completed 3 passes for 70 yards on the first possession of the day to give the team a 7-0 lead.  Rayshard Asbhy tallied 14 tackles to pace a much-maligned defense.  Hokie Humblings:  the offense moved the chains on just 2 of 12 third downs, and the defense once again allowed 30+ points (sixth time this fall–all losses).  Special teams allowed a 51 yard punt return for a score that put Tech down 17 points.  Next:  Friday against 7-4 Virginia.

Navy (3-8, 2-5) ended a seven game losing streak by outscoring Tulsa 37-29.  After starting the day with a three and out, the offense reached the endzone the next four times they had the ball.  On senior day, it seemed like old times for quarterback Zach Abey.  Midshipman Medals:  Abey ran for 128 of the team’s 389 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns.  The offense converted 11 of 15 third downs. Nizaire Cromartie paced the defense with nine tackles.  Midshipman Miscues: the defense was either feast of famine in the second half, allowing two touchdowns while tallying two takeaways.  The lack of a passing game (only 15 yards) didn’t hurt them this time,  but the Mids won’t be facing the 2-9 Golden Hurricane every week.  Next:  Saturday at noon on the road against 5-6 Tulane.

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It was brought to my attention after I praised Northwestern’s run to the Big Ten West that their division is subpar, and that’s absolutely right.  The West is far from being the best this fall, as has been the custom since the conference put “Leaders & Legends” into the trash can where it belonged.  But the Big Ten’s Division discussion is far from unique, as each of the Power Five Conferences have long boasted a Darryl Hall as well as a John Oates. (Or, depending on your age and interest: Paul Simon/Art Garfunkel, George Michael/Andrew Ridgeley, Kix Brooks/Ronnie Dunn, Big Kenny/John Rich).  Even the ten-member Big 12 had that issue, as the South won 12 of 15 championship games.

At least the Big Ten West has a ranked team in the Wildcats.  That’s not the case in the ACC’s Coastal where a 4-loss Pitt  is all but headed to Charlotte for a showdown with unbeaten Clemson (that will certainly end well).  The Atlantic Division has won seven straight and is 9-4 in a league set up for Miami and Florida State to face off for the title (and they’ve yet do do so).  Despite the imagined edge, the Atlantic and Coastal have won an equal amount of inter-divisional games this fall.

The Pac 12 division of fortune is similar, with two ranked schools in the North and just one in the South (a #19 Utah that has three league losses).  The North has won six of seven Championship Games and this year looks like more of the same, with a 5-4 South champion an extreme possibility.  The North owns a two-game edge inter-divisonally, with everyone wondering when USC and UCLA will get their respective acts in gear.

You’d expect the SEC to have a marked difference, especially with the West winning seven of eight titles this decade (although it was 5-5 the previous decade and the East dominated the 90’s).  But the East has actually taken seven of 12 inter-division games.  Even Vanderbilt is getting into the act.  Of course, everybody-in the East and West-is and will be chasing Alabama now and for some time.  My only issue is that Missouri is west of the Mississippi River yet plays in the East Division.

Which brings us to the Big Ten.  This year there are three East Division teams in the top 14 with Northwestern repping the West at #22.  The East owns an 11-8 edge and enjoyed a 13-8 advantage last year, but the West won 11 of 21 games in 2016 and the two divisions were even the previous two years.  The East is 4-0 in the Championship Game, a small sample size to say the least.  And that span saw changes at formerly dominant programs Nebraska and Wisconsin.  How long the current divide will last between the divisions might just hinge on how long it takes for Scott Frost to get things going in Lincoln and how long it takes Paul Chryst to consolidate what he’s built in Madison.  Perhaps Urban Meyer (who’s resigned with health concerns before), Mike Dantonio (62 years old) and Jim Harbaugh (mentioned every year with NFL vacancies) won’t be on their current campuses forever.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was conference parity.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange haven’t started 9-2 since 1992, when Marvin Graves was at the peak of his powers.  SU heads to New York City to face #3 Notre Dame, and after the Fighting Irish won their first three games by single digits they’ve been on a roll.  The last time these two teams played, the Orange allowed 50 points.  While I’m hoping its not that bad, it can’t get worse than men’s basketball’s  loss to UConn at Madison Square Garden where somebody spelled a player’s name wrong on the back of their jersey.  Granted, it was only a freshman who played just six minutes.  But the kid’s name was-and is-Buddy Boeheim.  As in the son of the man who has been our head coach for the last 42 years–and has been on campus in one way or another since 1962.  I’m looking forward to buying a game replica Buddy Boheim jersey at Manny’s online.

Saturday’s Games-

Maryland (5-5, 3-4 Big Ten) vs. #9 Ohio State (9-1, 6-1), noon (ABC).  The Buckeyes happen to be the only team in the East Division the Terps haven’t beaten since joining the league, and it hasn’t been close:  the average score has been 56-17.  This year OSU owns the number one offense in the Big Ten thanks to the arm of Dwayne Haskins, who has 33 touchdown passes in ten games.  With Kasim Hill done for the year due to a torn ACL, the Terps will start redshirt sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome (who has thrown all of 31 passes this fall).  Expect Anthony McFarland (210 yards rushing against Indiana) to receive the lion’s share of attention, and while the Buckeyes aren’t as sharp on that side of the ball their defense is second-best at getting off of the field in the Big Ten.  Terrapins tumble, 44-14.

Virginia Tech (4-5, 3-3 ACC) vs. Miami (5-5, 2-4), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN).  The last two Coastal Division champs expected to be playing for another spot in the ACC Championship Game this weekend as recently as one month ago.  Instead, it’s a question of which team can salvage its sinking season. While the Hokies have dropped three in a row, the Hurricanes have lost four straight.  But not all slides into oblivion are created equally, as Miami has three one-possession losses in its tumble and Virginia Tech has dropped its three by an average of 20 points.  Tech’s slump can be traced to a defense that’s surrendered 30 or more points five times this fall;  the Cane’s decline can be traced to an offense that ranks 12th in the ACC in passing and a starting quarterback in N’Kosi Perry who hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in over a month.  Cover your eyes.  Hokies hurt a little more, 27-21.

Virginia (7-3, 4-2 ACC) at Georgia Tech (6-4, 3-3), 3:30 p.m. (ACC Network).  The Cavaliers can still win the Coastal Division, but only with two wins and two losses by Pitt.  The Yellowjackets may be out of the running for the division, but Coach Paul Johnson’s option offense will be running all afternoon- they lead the nation with 362 yards per game on the ground.  UVa just coughed up 205 yards rushing– to Liberty.  The home team has also prevailed in seven of eight meetings this decade.   Kippy & Buffy hit the road with a bottle of Cain Five.  The 2014 vintage is 51% Cabernet Sauvignon and 26% Merlot (remaining grapes used are split between Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot).  “The aromas are discrete: fruity—floral—herbal—spicy—and pure. On the palate, the wine has a certain density, but now the tannins have melted and this wine just flows.”  Cavaliers come up short, 33-26.

Navy (2-8, 1-5 AAC) vs. Tulsa (2-8, 1-5), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).  For just the second time all season, the Mids will face a team with a losing record -their October 6th trip to 1-3 Air Force being the other time.  The Golden Hurricane have lost eight of nine (the one win coming against one-win UConn) and rank tenth in the AAC at stopping the run while allowing 5.0 yards per carry.  Now that Zach Abey is back at the controls of the option offense, one can expect more of the 21-point second half they had against UCF and less of the 3-point first half they scraped together against the Knights last week.  The defense has to put together a solid sixty minutes together against Tulsa offense that ranks 11th in passing, total offense and points per game while allowing the most sacks this fall.  Midshipmen celebrate Senior Day in Annapolis with a 31-19 victory.

Howard beats Bryant, Georgetown gets by Holy Cross, James Madison tops Towson, William & Mary beats Richmond to send Jimmye Laycock out a winner.

Last Week: 6-4.

Overall: 56-36.

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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.

While most of the eyes in the Southeastern Conference were focused on Jacksonville and the game unofficially referred to as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party”, another SEC East school was busy making history.  At the same time #7 Georgia was shutting the door on 9th ranked Florida, Kentucky rallied to beat Missouri 15-14 a with a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns–the gamewinner coming with time expired.  The #12 Wildcats–ranked this season for the first time since 2007–improved to 7-1 on the season and more importantly 5-1 in the SEC.  Yes…for the first time since 1977 Kentucky will finish with a winning conference record.  Since going an unbeaten 6-0 in league play under Fran Curci (and also under probation so they couldn’t play in a Bowl that year) the Wildcats have had almost as many winless (6) SEC campaigns as they’ve had .500 seasons (8).  When Mark Stoops took over for Joker Phillips in 2013, many thought he had a tough task ahead of him while others remained flummoxed that a school would hire as head coach somebody with the nickname “Joker” (for the record, it’s Joe Jr.).  The process has been slow yet steady as the Wildcats have gone from two to five to seven wins thus far…and now Kentucky will host Georgia Saturday with a trip to the SEC Championship Game on the line.  What’s this about basketball?

 

Alma Mater Update- talking about droughts ending…the Orange find themselves ranked (#22) for the first time since 2001 after a 51-41 win over NC State.  SU is bowling for the first time since 2013–and unlike that fall the Orange are assured of postseason play before Thanksgiving.  Fans get to celebrate Eric Dungey’s final month as the quarterback of the Orange and get occasional peeks at the future QB in Tommy DeVito.  Winnable games with Wake Forest and Louisville arrive before they face Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium.

 

Virginia Tech (4-3, 3-1 ACC) turned the Coastal Division race upside-down with a 49-28 loss to Georgia Tech.  Every fear or nightmare one has entering a game against an option team like the Yellowjackets came true.  It’s a good thing Navy isn’t on Tech’s schedule this fall.  Hokie Highlights:  Ryan Willis threw two touchdown passes while Damon Hazelton caught 6 passes for 81 yards and a score.  Khalil Ladler made a team-high 12 tackles.  Oscar Bradburn averaged 41.5 yards per punt.  Hokie Humblings:  the Yellowjackets chewed up yardage and the clock all night- holding the ball for 42 minutes while gaining 465 yards on the ground.  The offense converted just 2 of 8 third downs and gained just 19 yards on its first 11 plays from scrimmage in the second half.   Eight penalties for 87 yards didn’t help either.  Next:  Saturday at 3:45 against 6-2 Boston College.

 

Virginia (6-2, 4-1 ACC) clinched bowl eligibility for the second straight year by beating North Carolina 31-21.  The Cavaliers also move into first place of the Coastal Division, something that might not sit well in Blacksburg if they didn’t have their own problems to deal with.  Cavalier Congrats:  Bryce Perkins threw for 217 yards and three touchdowns while running for 112 yards and another score.  Olamide Zaccheaus notches 10 catches (setting the career mark at UVa) for 108 yards.  Juan Thornhill tallied seven tackles to pace the defense that held the Tar Heels to 4-of-14 on third down.  Just one penalty on the day.  Cavalier Concerns:  Lester Coleman averaged just 34.5 yards per punt, and the return game (17 yards per kickoff return, 1.4 yards per punt return) was somewhat lacking.  Next:  Friday night at 7:30 p.m. against 4-4 Pitt.

 

Maryland (5-3, 3-2 Big Ten) moved within one victory of bowl-eligibility with its 63-33 rout of Illinois.  The big play was the thing as five of the Terps’ nine touchdowns were by more than 40 yards.  Terrapin Triumphs: Javon Leake ran for 140 yards and three touchdowns while scoring a fourth on a 97-yard kickoff return.  Kasim Hill threw for a career high 265 yards and three touchdowns.  The offense converted 12 of 15 third downs while holding the Illini to four field goals on four trips to the red zone.  Terrapin Troubles: after two and a half quarters of lock-down defense, Maryland went into break-but-don’t-bend mode by allowing touchdowns of 61, 89 and 84 yards.  The team was penalized seven times–once in the pregame warmups while another was a targeting penalty that resulted in linebacker Tre Watson’s ejection.  Next:  Saturday at noon against 6-3 Michigan State.

 

Navy (2-6) dropped its fifth straight game in a 44-22 loss to #3 Notre Dame…and it could have been a textbook case for the 2018 season.  The offense struggled in the first half- gaining just 62 yards on 24 plays from scrimmage-while the defense allowed four touchdown drives of 67 yards or more.  Now the Mids are in danger of missing postseason play for just the second time in coach Ken Niumatalolo’s tenure.  Midshipman Medals: After a disastrous first half, they actually outscored the Fighting Irish 22-16 the rest of the way.  Malcolm Perry ran for 133 of the team’s 292 yards.  Taylor Heflin led the defense with 14 tackles.  Midshipman Miscues:  the offense was held to 2-for-12 on third down.  Meanwhile, the defense was unable to slow down the Fighting Irish:  quarterback Ian Book completed 82% of his passes for 330 yards while Dexter Williams ran for 142 yards.  Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at 7-1 Cincinnati.

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

Thursday night football is a sore spot for me nowadays.  The NFL version resembles supermarket fish sticks cooked in the oven from the burned exterior/frozen middle standpoint:  teams are playing on short rest, meaning they’re overworked (four days after playing in a car collision-type sport) and underprepared (three actual days to implement a gameplan in today’s three dimensional chess-like NFL?).  You’re going to get a couple of gems here and there (Rams-Minnesota last month) but more often than not the consumer will be treated to games where you spend half the night wishing you were watching “Night Court”, “Dear John” or “Suddenly Susan”.

However, college football on a Thursday night has far from that feel.  For the fan, the most recent Power Five Conference game was the late-Saturday Pac-12 extravaganza, meaning you’ve had four full days to recharge your college gridiron batteries.  As opposed to the NFL’s tight turnaround where it feels like you’re being force-fed shrimp cocktail fifteen minutes after enjoying one of those molten chocolate cakes (with Dulce De Leche ice cream, of course).  For the teams, the college game also sets up its Thursday night schedule smartly:  the two teams playing are coming off a bye week more often than not (and if they aren’t, it’s on four days rest instead of the three in the NFL-and that one day is one huge difference).  Coming off a bye, both teams are fully recovered as well as thoroughly prepared for their opponent.  Since the NFL has insisted on forcing the Thursday night package upon us, can’t they at least do right by the teams involved as well as the consumers who just want quality football? Until then, Thursday night college football is the “Seinfeld” to the NFL’s “Veronica’s Closet”.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange can clinch bowl eligibility Saturday when NC State comes to the Carrier Dome.  Let that sink in…three of the last four times SU has gone bowling they’ve had to win their final regular season game to do so.  To lock up that Pinstripe Bowl berth in October?  A dream come true.  While the 22nd ranked Wolfpack were unbeaten entering last Saturday’s showdown with then-#3 Clemson, it should be mentioned that they lost 41-7 and their unbeaten start was aided by having their game against West Virginia cancelled due to Hurricane Florence.  This week there’s been talk that redshirt freshman Tommy DeVito could start instead of senior Eric Dungey– one simply hopes we can hang on to what we’ve got.

 

Thursday Night-

Virginia Tech (4-2, 3-0 ACC) vs. Georgia Tech (3-4, 1-3), 7:30 p.m. (ESPN).  The Hokies may be 19-8 on this evening during the regular season this century, but they’re just 3-3 at home over the last ten seasons.  The Yellowjackets bring their highly-touted option offense to Blacksburg, one that leads the ACC with 352 yards per game (and 6.2 yards per carry).  There’s something to be said about getting extra time to prepare for Paul Johnson’s offense:  since 2009 Virginia Tech is 0-4 against Georgia Tech on Saturdays but 5-0 on Thursday nights (with the previous weekend off, meaning they’ve had almost two weeks to focus on the option offense).  The other game?  A 20-17 season-opening victory where they had the entire month of August to gameplan for the Yellowjackets.  Hokies use the extra prep time to their advantage in a 32-21 win.

 

Saturday-

Virginia (5-2, 3-1 ACC) vs. North Carolina (1-5, 1-3), 12:20 p.m. (ACC Network).  The Cavaliers can clinch bowl eligibility for a second straight season, something that hasn’t happened since the high point of the Al Groh era when Marques Hagans was the ultimate dual-threat quarterback.  Fast-forward 13 years as Bryce Perkins is destroying opponents with his arm and legs…and the Tar Heels have had issues all fall stopping the run and the pass.  What’s worse, they’re mistake-prone offense (-8 in turnover margin ranks last in the ACC and 126th overall in FBS) plays right into the hands of a Cavaliers defense that is much better than expected (3rd overall in the ACC, 4th against the pass and 5th against the run).  Kippy & Buffy would be more than happy to tell you that the 2015 Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot also exceeds expectations, “underscored by polished tannins, the juiciness of the entry evolves into a lush, silky texture that carries the flavors to a long, generous finish marked by notes of freshly ground coffee beans with a splash of ripe, red cherry.”   Cavaliers make their splash into the bowl eligibility pool with a 27-13 victory.

 

Maryland (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten) vs. Illinois (3-4, 1-3), 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network).  How is this game not being played at noon?  This feels like Rutgers II:  the Sequel.  The Terps attempt to bounce back from a tough road loss against a ranked foe while facing an offensively challenged squad.  While the Fighting Illini boast runningback Reggie Corbin (Upper Marlboro, MD) who averages 7.9 yards per carry, their defense ranks either last (yards allowed and passing efficiency) or second to last (points, passing and rushing yards given up) in the league.  A lot of focus will be on Terps linebacker Tre Watson:  the graduate transfer played four years for the Illini and has been the lynchpin for a Terps defense that has more than held its own this fall.  Watson just happens to lead the Big Ten with 75 tackles and is tied for the conference lead with four interceptions.  Elementary…Terrapins triumph, 38-14.

 

Navy (2-5) vs. #3 Notre Dame (7-0), 8 p.m. (CBS).  What sort of year has this been for coach Ken Niumatalo’s team?  This is technically a home game, but one that will take the Mids over 2,600 miles away from Annapolis.  Not ideal in any circumstance, but when you’ve lost four straight and have been unable to allow fewer than 21 points all season taking on a juggernaut like the Fighting Irish might not be ideal.  Could Notre Dame overlook the Mids?  Not likely, as they’ve lost four of the last eleven in the series- with two of their wins by seven points or fewer.   Their defense  also has two weeks to prepare for Navy’s option offense.  Midshipmen meet their maker in a 45-12 loss.

Georgetown falls to Colgate, Howard handles South Carolina State, James Madison gets by Stony Brook, William & Mary falls to Rhode Island, Towson tops Delaware.

Last Week: 5-2. 

Overall: 43-22.