Archives for posts with tag: Pac 12

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Welcome to Conference Championship Week, where the winners advance to the College Football Playoff–sometimes.  Sorry, Virginia-your reward if somehow you pull off an upset of defending national champ Clemson in the ACC Championship Game likely won’t even be a trip to New Year’s Day (due to an accounting move, the Orange Bowl will be played December 30 this year).  I know that’s not how it works in men’s basketball or lacrosse, or even in football at EVERY OTHER LEVEL (good luck James Madison against Monmouth).

The sport with the best regular season and most unwieldy postseason enters its cocoon stage.  Don’t worry-you loved the three month caterpillar and you’re going to enjoy the Championship Game butterfly next month. Bear with them.  First we get a slate of exhibitions that will determine which school gets into the New Orleans (Sun Belt Conference) or the Las Vegas (Mountain West Conference) Bowls.  Conference USA’s winner gets to pick from a group of games if they’re not the “Group of Five” team, while the MAC and AAC send schools to bowls based partially on geography (meaning the schools competing may already know their destination regardless of Saturday’s result).

Then the curtains close and the 13-member committee determines which four schools advance, and the dust settles on the rest of the 41 bowls (really-41??).  To take even more air out of the ball, Ohio State and LSU are expected to make the playoff even if they lose their respective title tilts.  There are those that want an eight-team playoff (I am one of them), and with five schools in the “Power Five” it almost makes too much sense.  But just like we had to sit through 20 years of the Bowl Coalition, Bowl Alliance and Bowl Championship Series, we’ve got the current system for a few years more.  You can always do fantasy fields of eight-team brackets like I do on cocktail napkins.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange just happen to reside in the “tough” ACC division, the Atlantic. While the Clemson juggernaut is dominating the league at this moment, don’t forget the dormant monster that is Florida State (2013 BCS winners).  It’s going to be tough to return to an era when SU won or shared five Big East titles from 1996 to 2012.

 

Friday’s Game-

Pac 12 : No. 5 Utah vs. No. 13 Oregon, 8 p.m., Santa Clara, CA. (ABC).

What’s at stake:  a potential playoff berth for the Utes if things drop right, or further proof that this league eats its own if the Ducks prevail.

Rematch?: the two schools didn’t play this year, although the Utes won the 2018 matchup in Salt Lake City 32-25.

Players to watch:  Utah defensive end Bradley Anae brings 12.5 sacks to the Bay Area, and his goal is to disrupt Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert (67% completion rate, 3,140 passing yards with at 31-5 touchdown to interception ratio).

Fun Fact:  the South Division is 1-7, with the lone victory coming when the South representative is the higher ranked team.  That’s the case this year.

Presto’s Pick: Utes make their case with a 35-30 win.  Will it fall on deaf ears?

 

Saturday’s Games-

Big 12: No 6. Oklahoma vs. No. 7 Baylor, noon, Arlington, TX (ABC).

What’s at stake: in theory this should be for an automatic berth in a six or eight team field, instead the winner won’t even have a headstart against Utah for “who’s number four?” if the Utes win the night before.  And heaven forbid if Georgia somehow wins…

Rematch: OU trailed 28-3 in Waco November 16 before dialing up a rally for the ages, storming back for a 34-31 win where Baylor threw a last-minute interception.

Players to watch: Sooners quarterback Jalen Hurts picked up where Kyler Murray left off, one year after Murray picked up where Baker Mayfield left off.  In other news, I am seriously thinking about transferring to Oklahoma in the offseason.  The Bears rely on the pass as well, but when they run John Lovett and JaMycal Hasty average over six yards per carry.

Fun Fact:  Oklahoma is 9-1 in this game, with their only defeat coming in 2003 when as the top-ranked team in the nation they were blasted 35-7 by Kansas State.  Ell Robertston is not walking through that door.

Presto’s Pick:  Sooners stir up the pot with a 41-22 whipping.

 

Meanwhile, the Sun Belt (UAB-Florida Atlantic), Conference USA (Louisiana-Appalachian State), MAC (Miami (OH)-Central Michigan), AAC (Cincinnati-Memphis), and Mountain West (Boise State-Hawaii) will play all of their games in the early to mid-afternoon shadows. These conference championship games have no playoff implications whatsoever, although the AAC champ and Boise State have shots at being the “group of five” team that plays in a “New Year’s six” bowl.  If the Big 12 game is a blowout, run your holiday errands at this time.

 

SEC: No. 2 LSU vs. No. 4 Georgia, 4 p.m., Atlanta (CBS).

What’s at stake: if the Bulldogs win, they’re in.  Alabama’s loss to Auburn makes LSU’s playoff inclusion a near-certainty, further cementing the college football theory that “every game matters”.

Rematch?: the two schools last met in 2018 when the Tigers tore through the Bulldogs 36-16.

Players to watch: LSU quarterback Joe Burrow (78% completion rate with 4,366 yards passing and 44 touchdowns) is the Heisman Trophy favorite.  Georgia runningback D’Andre Swift rushed for 1,203 yards but is bothered by a shoulder injury.

Fun Fact: this will be the fourth meeting in this game between these two schools, making it the second-most common matchup (Alabama & Florida have played for the title nine times).

Presto’s Pick:  Tigers triumph, 24-16.

 

ACC- No. 3 Clemson vs. No. 23 Virginia, 7:30 p.m. Charlotte, NC (ABC).

What’s at stake:  the unbeaten team nobody’s talking about looks to cement its spot after playing an underwhelming schedule, while the Cavaliers look to continue an incredible year that saw men’s basketball and lacrosse teams win national championships.  An upset would likely also pull the Tigers out of the playoff.

Rematch?: the longtime conference foes haven’t met since November of 2013, a day in Charlottesville where Clemson won 59-10. For the record, Kippy & Buffy enjoyed a pregame tailgate Chateau O’Brien Malbec that day :”a medium-bodied wine with complex aromas of plum and fig, a velvety soft texture, and remarkable fruit flavor“–or as other expert tasting notes read: “Big Boat”.

Players to watch:  Tigers runningback Travis Etienne averaged over eight yards per carry while posting seven 100-yard rushing games; he’d have better numbers but sat a lot of second-half blowouts.  While Cavaliers quarterback Bryce Perkins wore the Superman’s Cape all year, their linebacking corps deserves notice: Zane Zandier (team-high 85 tackles), Jordan Mack (7.5 sacks), Noah Taylor (6.5 sacks with two interceptions) and Charles Snowden will have one tough task Saturday.

Fun Fact: Kippy & Buffy make their way to Charlotte, and it’s not just a first-ever Coastal Division crown they’re celebrating. Fellow alums Henry & Hildy live in the Ballantyne neighborhood, and Hildy was just made partner at her law firm. So a bottle of Chateau O’Brien’s 2012 Late Harvest Tannat will be opened at the tailgate;  it’s a non-fortified Port-style wine.  “During ripening, natural sugar accumulation reaches a level beyond the capacity of a natural yeast fermentation. No wine language can eloquently articulate the elegance of this wine.” We’ll go with “Big Boat”.

Presto’s Pick:  Cavaliers are gonna need a bigger boat, getting blasted 44-17.

 

Big Ten- #1 Ohio State vs. #8 Wisconsin, 8 p.m., Indianapolis (FOX).

What’s at stake- like LSU in the SEC, the Buckeyes are likely headed to the Playoff barring a 40-point loss.  The Badgers can tie OSU with a third victory in the nine-year old  title game.

Rematch?:  you bet. The Buckeyes bludgeoned the Badgers 38-7 in Columbus October 26. J.K. Dobbins-despite sounding like a character from a Charles Dickens story-rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns in the rout.

Players to watch:  Ohio State’s Chase Young posted four of his 16.5 sacks this season against Wisconsin during the October win; one assumes they’ll have a better plan this time. Jonathan Taylor may have led the Big Ten with 1,761 yards rushing, but he was held to 52 yards on 20 tries by the Buckeyes D in October.

Fun Fact: Michigan has appeared in as many Big Ten Football Championship Games as Maryland and Rutgers.

Presto’s Pick:  Buckeyes bring it, 31-10.

 

Last Week: 2-1.  I picked UVa the last two years and swore I wouldn’t again until they beat the Hokies. Congratulations.

Overall: 84-35.

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Only 28.2 miles stands between Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis and Maryland Stadium in College Park, but Saturday saw two seasons continue in opposite paths a world away.  Navy’s 35-28 win over No. 21 SMU continued the turnaround from last fall’s 3-10 disaster;  in the grand scheme of things amidst an era of bowl bids, conference contention and Commander-in-Chief’s Trophies 2018 will be regarded as an isolated incident.  That’s what you get with the sturdy foundation of a program that’s been in place for a decade-plus.  The Midshipmen still have bigger games:  the trip to Houston has AAC West implications and the annual game with Army means dealing with their recent slide in the rivalry, but head coach Ken Niumatalolo’s offseason mission- modify the program while embracing its culture-has been a successful one that has shown immediate results.

The road to recovery at Maryland is only just underway for head coach Mike Locksley, and despite a 2-0 start in September the reality is that this program is in a serious rebuild.  Saturday’s 54-7 loss to a slumping Nebraska fighting for bowl eligibility shined the spotlight on many deficiencies, the most apparent the turnovers and penalties that crop up at the most inopportune times. “You don’t win games when you beat yourself,” Locksley said. “And I’ll keep saying this: when we learn to not beat ourselves first that’s when we’ll start turning the corner, and get back to the winning football that we need to play.”  Winning football has been the isolated incident this decade, with the team not finishing over .500 in conference play since 2010.  And for the 16 seniors who played their last game in College Park Saturday, the culture has been one of upheaval.  A fifth-year senior has played for three head coaches and two interim coaches.  Nobody said it was going to be easy, and the road ahead for Mike Locksley will certainly have many more bumps, twists and turns before he has the program where he wants it.

 

National Notebook:  “You love her, and she loves him. He loves somebody else, you just can’t win.”  The Pac-12 completed its version of the J. Geils Band’s “Love Stinks” with No. 6 Oregon’s loss to Arizona State.  Perhaps I should have referred to Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” because the Pac-12 did not break it.  You see:  the Ducks lost to the Sun Devils, who fell to UCLA, who lost to Oregon State, who came up short against Utah, who lost at USC, who couldn’t beat Washington, who succumbed to Stanford, who came up short against Colorado, who wilted against Washington State, who fell to Cal, who lost to Oregon, who–we’ll we’re now back to square one.  Good news for Alabama, who despite not being able to play for their conference championship naturally is in the mix to play for the national one.  Bad news for the only conference that plays nine league games while also having a name that accurately refers to the amount of schools in its membership.  Utah at 10-1?  The 13-member committee snickers at the thought.  One thing’s for sure, Pac-12 love stinks.

 

Alma Mater Update- dreams of another Pinstripe Bowl banner went up flames with a 56-34 loss at Louisville.  Everything we knew about this season showed its face, from an offense that put up decent stats but converted just 6 of 15 third downs to a defense that allowed over 600 yards.  The Orange will wrap up their lost autumn by hosting Wake Forest;  the decade that saw three head coaches comes to a close the the verdict out on the Dino Babers era.

 

Virginia (8-3) came off of their bye week and took a while to find themselves before pulling away from Liberty, retaking the lead with two quick scores late in the first half to enter the locker room by ten before rolling 55-27.  The season of possibilities leaves them 60 minutes away from a Coastal Division crown.  We’ll worry about the ghosts of Octobers past later in the week.

Cavalier Congrats:  Bryce Perkins throws for two scores and runs for a third, while PK Kier nets 82 yards and a touchdown rushing.  DeVante Cross tallies two interceptions, returning the picks back for 35 and 52 yards to set up a pair of TD’s. Aaron Faumui notches a sack and a half.  Seneca Milledge shines on special teams, averaging 32.5 yards per kickoff return.

Cavalier Concerns:  the defense that began the season by holding three of its first four foes to under 20 points has allowed 29 points per game over the last month.

Next: Friday at 3:30 p.m. against Virginia Tech. Actually, it’s not to early to worry.

 

Virginia Tech (8-3, 5-2 ACC) continues to play the tortoise to UVa’s hare, setting up a showdown in Charlottesville for the Coastal Division crown with a 28-0 shutout of defending division champion Pitt.  That’s back to back shutouts for the first time since 2005, or the first year they won the Coastal.

Hokie Highlights:  can we salute retiring Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster one more time?  The defense held the Panthers to 2.2 yards er carry, 39% passing, and 3-15 on third down.  Rayshard Ashby notched 7 tackles and 1.5 sacks.  Norell Pollard returned a fumble for a touchdown.  Hendon Hooker completed 10-13 passes for 153 yards and two touchdowns while freshman sparkplug Tayvion Robinson had a 32 yard run and a 71 yard catch.

Hokie Humblings:  the running game ran aground, gaining just 110 yards on 48 tries.  Even adjusted for sacks, the ground attack averaged 3.0 yards per carry which contributed to moving the chains on 3 of 12 third downs.  Seven penalties for 54 yards certainly won’t go unnoticed by head coach Justin Fuente.

Next: Friday at 3:30 in Charlottesville against Virginia. Many Hokies fans count this as a home game.

 

Maryland (3-8, 1-7 Big Ten) had two weeks to prepare for a slumping Nebraska team that had lost four straight while allowing 35 points per game during that slide.  But the Terps never got in gear, as two lost fumbles put 10 first quarter points on the board and the Cornhuskers would score on four of their first vie drives en route to a 54-7 rout.

Terrapin Triumphs:  Javon Leake scored the Terps’ lone touchdown on a 58-yard scamper for a score. Nick Cross kept even more Nebraska points off of the board with an interception in the end zone.  Keandre Jones led the defense with 10 tackles and Colton Spangler averaged 41.8 yards per punt.

Terrapin Tumbles:  Javon Leake lost three fumbles while freshman quarterback Lance LeGendre lost a fumble as well; the freshman QB’s drop occurred on the same play he injured his non-throwing shoulder.  Three other quarterbacks would see action, with the quartet completing 7 of 21 passes for 57 yards while getting sacked six times.  Josh Jackson also got banged up.  The defense allowed 305 yards rushing while permitting the Cornhuskers to complete 63% of their passes.  Special teams saw a fumbled kickoff and a leaping penalty during a punt;  each led to Nebraska scores.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at 5-6 Michigan State.

 

Navy (8-2, 6-1 AAC) may have finished 6-0 at home this year, but they certainly kept the home fans on the edge of their seats this fall.  While the comeback in the final minute against Air Force avenged last year’s loss in Colorado Springs and the field goal in the final seconds to top Tulane made them bowl eligible, the 35-28 win over No. 21 SMU put the Midshipmen in position to win the AAC West.  If they’re able to win at sub-500 Houston and Memphis falls to 9-1 Cincinnati, the Mids advance to their second AAC title game in four years.

Midshipman Medals:  Malcolm Perry rushes for 195 yards and two touchdowns (including the 70-yard game winning scamper) while also completing 9 of 15 passes for 162 yards and a TD.  This was the expanded passing game we were told about in August, and it picked the perfect time to show itself.  the Mids rush for 378 yards while maintaining possession for over 39 minutes.

Midshipman Miscues- a pair of big plays kept this one close:  the defense allowed a 61 yard touchdown pass while special teams surrendered a 100-yard kickoff return for a TD.  The offense converted just 6 of 17 third downs. Five penalties for 31 yards doesn’t seem like a lot, but they were flagged more than the Mustangs.

Next: Saturday at 7 p.m. on the road against 4-7 Houston. 

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If September is “Show Me Month” for individual programs and teams, it’s “Crow Me” month for conferences.  Leagues can dine out on their fat won-loss record in the season’s first month–even though many of those games are buyouts with FCS or lower-tier FBS schools.  Alabama has had two such games so far this fall-and coach Nick Saban has wondered aloud why the students haven’t been in their seats for an 11 a.m. local time kickoff with the likes of Louisiana-Lafayette.  Forgive me coach, but most 18-22 year olds are thinking about getting brunch in the dining hall at that time on Saturday-especially if there’s an omelet or waffle bar at their disposal.  Hyphenated schools aren’t going to pull them away from Monte Cristo sandwiches.  That said, the Southeastern Conference is the leader of the pack in our annual October conference call:  this week we look at the Power 5 conferences, from the contenders to the underbelly.

 

SEC: 33-5 with six of 14 schools in the AP Top 25.  Contenders:  #1 Alabama, #2 Georgia, #5 LSU & #8 Auburn.  Kentucky’s 5-0 start, after further review, is not an accounting error and Florida has half of its wins from lower-tier schools Charleston Southern & Colorado State.  Sadly, those are the only Division I schools with the initials “CS”–so Idaho will make the short flight from Moscow in November.  Underbelly:  Missouri is 3-1 and averaging over 40 points a game?  The third best Tiger team in the league is the early surprise.  Woe are the Magnolia State schools:  Ole Miss and Mississippi State are a combined 0-4 in league play.  Thank goodness for the Egg Bowl.

 

Big 12:  21-7 with four of 10 schools in the Top 25.  Contenders:  #7 Oklahoma and #9 West Virginia are unbeaten, while #19 Texas continues to kick itself for the Longhorns’ loss to Maryland and #25 Oklahoma State continues to be embarrassed by coach Mike Gundy’s mullet.  Underbelly:  TCU couldn’t hold on to leads against Texas or Ohio State…while Kansas is 2-3!?!  That’s like an 8-win season in Lawrence.

 

ACC: 32-11 with four of 14 schools in the Top 25.  Contenders: #3 Clemson needed a fourth quarter rally to beat Syracuse at home, while #17 Miami got exposed by LSU Labor Day weekend.  NC State (#23) is unbeaten, but lost a huge chance to develop street cred when their game against West Virginia was cancelled by Hurricane Florence.  Underbelly: while Duke and Syracuse are defying their “basketball school only” stigma with 4-1 starts, North Carolina is playing up to that stereotype at 1-3.

 

Pac-12: 23-11 with four of 12 schools in the Top 25.  Contenders: #10 Washington lost a tough “neutral site” game to Auburn in Atlanta, while #21 Colorado is the league’s last remaining unbeaten.  The Buffaloes will be tested with consecutive road games at USC and the Huskies.  Underbelly:  we knew the transformation wouldn’t be immediate under coach Chip Kelly, but I don’t think anyone thought UCLA would start 0-4 while allowing 38 points in consecutive losses to Fresno and Colorado.

 

Big Ten: 27-13 with five of 14 schools in the Top 25.  Contenders:  #3 Ohio State is the league’s last unbeaten after rallying to beat #11 Penn State in Happy Valley, but the Nittany Lions, #15 Michigan and #16 Wisconsin are each 4-1 with the path to the College Football Playoff in their hands.  Does anyone think that one-loss teams like Indiana, Iowa, Maryland and Minnesota are capable of making a move?  As always, the jury is out on #20 Michigan State.  Underbelly:  Rutgers (1-4) has a better record than Nebraska (0-4).  Let that sink in for a while…as there are those who will remind you how great the Cornhuskers were last century.  Just like the Scarlet Knights dominated the first ever college football game played in 1869 (a 6-4 win against Princeton).

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange take their 4-1 record to Pitt Saturday in the ACC Network’s 12:20 p.m. Bojangles Battle.  This month will be a big barometer for how far this program has come under coach Dino Babers:  so far this year they’ve played better than the 2-3 Panthers.  SU also has home games with 1-3 North Carolina and unbeaten NC State this month…there’s a great chance that October could be a treat instead of a trick for Syracuse.

 

Saturday’s Games:

Maryland (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) at #15 Michigan (4-1, 1-0), noon (ABC).  The Terps come off the bye week by going to the Big House…and take the Big Ten’s least productive passing game into Ann Arbor to face a Wolverines defense that ranks first in the conference against the pass and overall (they may rank #3 against the run in the league but are 7th overall nationally).  Keep your eyes on Chase Winovich;  the senior defensive linemen leads the team in sacks and is second in tackles.  Maryland will go as far as its running game that has shown a propensity to make the big play (touchdown runs this season include scampers of 36, 64 and 81 yards)–but they’ll be minus the injured Lorenzo Harrison and his 8.4 yards per carry.  When Michigan has the ball, watch out for Karan Higdon (6.3 yards per carry and 119.8 per game)…a tough test for a Terps D that leads the league in getting off of the field on third down.  Terrapins tumble, 26-10.

 

Navy (2-2) at Air Force (1-3), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).  The Mids have won just once in Colorado Springs this decade, and they needed overtime to do so in 2012.  Offense is not a problem for the Falcons, who have scored 25 or more points in each of their four games.  The Midshipmen have had issues stopping everybody this year, allowing 21 or more points whether their foe was a FCS Lehigh, a Hawai’i team that’s off to a 5-1 start or an SMU squad that was 0-3 when they met.  Both teams can run the ball, as the Midshipmen lead the nation by averaging 355 yards on the ground and the Falcons rank 11th (254.8).  But Air Force also ranks 11th nationally in stopping the run, allowing 98.5 yards per game.  They won’t handcuff Navy’s option, but they’ll slow the fleet of backs just enough.  Presto’s Pick:  Midshipmen come up short, 28-24.

 

#24 Virginia Tech (3-1) vs #6 Notre Dame (5-0), 8 p.m. (ABC).  Which Hokies team will we get in Blacksburg Saturday- the one that went into Durham and defeated then-unbeaten Duke or the one that allowed 35 points in the second half at then-winless Old Dominion?  After three one-possession games to start the season, the Fighting Irish appear to have turned the corner behind quarterback Ian Book.  Pick your poison, VT defense:  the junior threw for four touchdowns against Stanford one week after running for three scores at Wake Forest.  It’s the second start for Ryan Willis, who will find the Catholic school’s defense a little less forgiving than the Blue Devils.  Life is amusing that way.  Hokies go down fighting, 27-20.

 

Virginia (3-2, 1-1 ACC) is idle, but don’t you dare think Kippy & Buffy will be taking it easy this weekend.  Bye weeks are for shuttering up the cottage in the Outer Banks-and there’s no better way to wave goodbye to summer than by enjoying a 2010 bottle of JM Gobillard et Fils Millesime Champagne.  “Straw color, lovely aromatics (violets and strawberries), persistent perlage (meaning the bubbles are evocative of pearls), and pleasant mix of fruity and pastry-like notes.”   Break out the Black Diamond Hackleback Caviar on toast points (the lighter toasted, the better).

 

Georgetown falls at Fordham, Howard beats North Carolina Central,  James Madison beats Elon, William & Mary loses to Albany, Richmond falls to Delaware, Towson shocks Stony Brook.

Last Week: 6-1.  “Show Me Month” ends with an exclamation point…

Season: 26-14.  What will “Moving Month” bring us?

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There’s another weekend before the bowls?  Really?  Conference championships are decided Friday and Saturday with the area schools mostly idle-unlike last December when Virginia Tech was bettered by eventual national champ Clemson and Navy lost to Temple (ugh) at home (double ugh).  At least we have James Madison (unbeaten and top ranked defending champ James Madison, that is) in FCS Playoff Action.  So even though one’s school might not be in action this weekend, you can still insert yourself into the conversation.

 

Friday’s Game:

Pac-12 Championship- #10 USC (10-2) plays #12 Stanford (9-3), 8 p.m. (ESPN).

At stake: neither has a great shot at making the College Football Playoff, and with the Rose Bowl serving as one of the semifinal games the winner won’t even get a trip to Pasadena.  Plus, this game is at 5 p.m. local time…on a Friday?  Even the MAC gets a Saturday kickoff.

Rematch?:  USC won 42-24 September 10th.

Who to Watch: Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold began the year as the Heisman favorite, and Cardinal runningback Bryce Love is a strong contender for the honor.  Both have nightmares of being drafted by Cleveland.

Notable Fact: unlike the other leagues, the Pac-12 name actually reflects its membership number.

Presto’s Pick:  Trojans triumph, 31-17.

 

Saturday’s Games-

AAC Championship- #14 UCF (12-0) vs #20 Memphis (10-1), noon (ABC).  

At stake: the right to be the really angry “group of five/Mid-Major” school left out of the playoff despite a conference title and a great record.  Plus the winning coach takes a leap in the “hot coaching commodity contest”.

Rematch?: UCF won 40-13 September 30th.

Who to Watch: UCF’s McKenzie Milton sounds like a shirt from Vineyard Vines…but the dual threat quarterback is averaging 326 yards passing per game this month and has run for a TD in five straight games.  Tigers QB Riley Ferguson is just as impressive.

Notable Fact:  both teams beat Navy and the Knights routed Maryland in College Park.

Presto’s Pick: Knights tame the Tigers, 37-28.

 

Big 12 Championship- #3 Oklahoma (11-1) vs #11 TCU (10-2), 12:30 p.m. (FOX)

At Stake:  Sooners need a win or they’d likely slip behind Alabama and out of the playoffs. Horned Frogs need a win plus a measles epidemic to make the Final Four.

Rematch?:  Oklahoma won 38-20 November 11th.

Who to Watch: OU quarterback Baker Mayfield is on his way to the Heisman Trophy, while TCU defensive linemen Ben Banogu and Ross Blacklock will try to keep him off-balance.

Notable Fact:  the Big 12 is the only conference to have a championship game despite not having divisions, which is why the conference championship game was created in the first place.

Presto’s Pick:  Sooners stumble, 44-38.

 

FCS Second Round-#1 James Madison (11-0) vs #10 Stony Brook (10-2), 2 p.m. (ESPN3)

At Stake: a berth in the quarterfinals and bragging rights between conference foes that haven’t met since 2015.

Players to Watch: Bryan Schor led the Dukes to the National Championship last year and picked up where he left off this fall.  Seawolves running back Donald Liotine led the CAA in scoring.

Notable Fact: home teams went 5-3 last weekend in the first round of the tournament after going 17-5 in 2016.

Presto’s Pick:  Dukes dominate, 34-16.

 

SEC Championship- #2 Auburn (10-2) vs #6 Georgia (11-1), 4 p.m. (CBS).

What’s at Stake:  automatic berth for the winner…with the knowledge that Alabama will be sweating until Tuesday evening.  Loser knows they had a chance and blew it.

Rematch?:  Auburn won 40-17 November 11th.

Who to Watch:  Kerryon Johnson ran for 167 yards against Georgia three weeks ago, while Bulldogs tailback Nick Chubb was held to 27 yards on 11 tries.

Notable Fact:  CBS announcer Brad Nessler used to call Atlanta Falcons games at their old stadium–not the Georgia Dome but Fulton County Stadium in the 1980’s.

Presto’s Pick:  Tigers by a nose, 23-20.

 

ACC Championship- #1 Clemson (11-1) vs #7 Miami (10-1), 8 p.m. (ABC).

At Stake:  the winner makes the Playoff while the loser should be cursing their loss to a sub-500 Syracuse or Pitt.

Rematch?:  No.  Although in 2015 the Tigers torched the Hurricanes 58-0 in Al Golden’s final game as coach. Enter Mark Richt.

Who to Watch: can Miami QB Malik Rosier bounce back from his subpar effort against Pitt?  Clemson DE Clelin Ferrell had 8 sacks to finish second in the ACC…and will have a say in Rosier’s play.

Notable Fact: this is Miami’s first-ever trip the ACC Championship Game–while Virginia Tech has been to the most (3-3 in six appearances).

Presto’s Pick: Tigers triumph, 30-22.

 

Big Ten Championship- #4 Wisconsin (12-0) vs #8 Ohio State (10-2), 8 p.m. (FOX).

At Stake:  a Badgers win would lock up a playoff berth as welll as quiet naysayers about their soft schedule.  A Buckeyes victory would likely send Alabama to the Playoff-making OSU fans whine about not being included despite winning their league (a criteria ignored last year when they made the playoff and Penn State was excluded).

Rematch?: they didn’t meet this year-but the Buckeyes butchered the Badgers 59-0 in 2014.

Who to Watch:  OSU QB JT Barrett led the Buckeyes to the national title as a freshman–he’ll play Saturday despite having “minor” knee surgery this week.  Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor is the league’s leading rusher, averaging 7 yards per carry and 150 yards per game.

Notable Fact:  Maryland has as many conference championship game appearances as Michigan.

Presto’s Pick:  Buckeyes blow up the bracket, 24-20.

 

Playoff Party—

#1 Clemson vs #4 Oklahoma

#2 Auburn vs #3 Alabama

 

Last Week: 2-1.

Overall: 74-25.

 

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While October is “moving month” in college football, it’s also a time for conferences to crow about how great they are.  You’ll hear how the SEC is back (did it ever really leave?), the Big Ten is top-heavy and the fact that the name schools have struggled in the Pac 12 tells you how great of a league it is.  Each of Power Five conferences has at least one unbeaten–while each league has a school they’d rather us not focus on.

SEC:  three schools in the top 20…with Alabama and Georgia still unbeaten and a 5-6 record against the other Power Five schools.  Best Win: the Bulldogs went on the road and held on to nip then-number 24 Notre Dame.  Worst Loss:  LSU dropped their Homecoming Game with Troy.  Something smells in Baton Rouge.

Big Ten: four teams in the top ten…with Maryland also receiving votes.  The 7-5 mark against other Power Five schools include a tough loss at home by Ohio State.  Best Win:  the Terps went into Texas and hung 51 on the Longhorns.  Worst Loss:  Nebraska losing to Northern Illinois?  Bad enough to get the AD 86’d in the fallout.

ACC: four teams in the top 20…with Clemson looking every bit as good as they did en route to last year’s national title.  But the league is 5-8 versus Power Five schools.  Best Win:  Virginia went to Boise State and somehow won on that blue field.  Worst Loss:  Syracuse dropping a game at home to Middle Tennessee potentially dashed the Orange’s hopes for hanging a Pinstripe Bowl banner at the Carrier Dome.

Big 12:  two top ten schools with one major mullet in Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy’s mane.  That can’t mask a 4-6 mark against the Power Five.  Best Win:  Oklahoma went into the Horseshoe and beat the Buckeyes.  Worst Loss:  usually one would say Baylor slipping to Duke would be embarrassing, but the Bears’ defeats to Liberty and UTSA earn their own pages.

Pac 12:  even a 6-2 record against the Power Five can’t mask the fact that the two unbeatens are the wrong ones- Washington and Washington State do not have the star power that USC and UCLA possess.  Best Win: Cal went on the road to beat North Carolina and topped Ole Miss at home.  That gives the Golden Bears something to be proud about while they run the conference gauntlet.  Worst Loss:  the Bruins loss at Memphis is the classic “noon kickoff dooms west coast team” defeat that we saw a week away.

Alma Mater Update- HOMECOMING!  Who’s ready for Pitt?  Last year 134 points went up on the scoreboard.  The proud Panthers have taken their lumps this season but the Orange are more than accommodating at home this fall (witness the Middle Tennessee).  One hopes the alumni in town are able to enjoy themselves early and often…especially with a 12:30 kickoff.

Virginia (3-1) vs Duke (4-1, 0-1 ACC), 12:20 p.m., (ACC Network).  The Cavaliers come off their bye week to face a Blue Devils club that makes big plays happen on defense (their 20 sacks and nine interceptions pace the conference)…but one that for the first time in years is having trouble moving the ball through the air (Daniel Jones is averaging under ten years per completion).  Quarterback consistency has been the key for the Cavaliers, as Kurt Benkert is on his way to surpassing his numbers form 2016.  The defense is also not scraping the bottom of the ACC barrel, and that little difference might just nudge UVa to a bowl.  Conference play means Kippy & Buffy shift over to reds, and nothing says dealing with the ultimate “bro school” Duke like opening a bottle of Breaux Vineyards 2013 Merlot:  “jammy notes of black cherry and fresh fruit compote with hints of cocoa powder”.   Strong suggestions of Gouda on Urban Oven crackers.  Cavaliers come through, 28-20.

 

Navy (4-0, 3-0 AAC) vs Air Force (1-3), 3:30 p.m., (CBS Sports Network).  Despite all of the hype Army-Navy (rightfully) gets each December, this is a sweet undercard rivalry in the race for the Commander in Chief’s Trophy.  The winner of this game has taken the Trophy the last 20 years.  And the home team has been a major factor:  the Mids have won six of the last seven games played in Annapolis.  Navy leads the nation in rushing offense (400 yards per game) and Air Force after shutting out VMI in their opener has allowed 38 points per game…and last week coughed up 363 yards on the ground to New Mexico.  Midshipmen make their first move towards another trophy, 37-21.

 

Maryland (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) at #10 Ohio State (4-1, 1-0), 4 p.m., (FOX).  The Terps get Gus Johnson?!?  This naturally means we’re sure to have a hail-mary TD pass at the end of the first half…I can already hear the “BANG!  CAN!  YOU!  BELIEVE IT!”  The Buckeyes boast the best one-two punch in the league with senior J.T. Barrett completing 63% of his passes while freshman J.K. Dobbins averages 7.6 yards per carry.  Max Bortenschlager won last week on the road in the conference, but Minneapolis is a long way from Columbus.  Third down performance will be key:  Maryland ranks 13th in the conference at moving the chains on offense and 13th in getting off the field on defense.  Terrapins tumble, 38-17.

 

#16 Virginia Tech (4-1, 0-1 ACC) at Boston College (2-3, 0-2), 7:15 p.m., (ESPN2).  Last weekend the Hokies learned that they’re not as good as the defending national champs-and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Can they bounce back against a BC team that is offensively challenged (last in the ACC in scoring, 13th in passing) to say the least?  The Eagles have recently had the reputation of bad offense, good defense–but this year’s team is at the bottom of the conference at stopping the run.  Is this the week VT’s consistently uneven ground game finds its groove?  Hokies handle the Eagles, 27-6.

 

Howard beats NC Central, Georgetown falls at Princeton, William & Mary loses at Elon, Richmond edges Albany.

Last Week: 5-2.

Overall: 28-10.

 

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

This past weekend was won by Penn State in their 24-21 upset of #2 Ohio State…there’s nothing quite like a fourth quarter Buckeye collapse that includes a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown.  While the Nittany Lions team that almost lost to Minnesota a few weeks ago is back in the East Division race…the major beneficiary might just be the Pac-12 and their new bully, Washington.  The Huskies have had one game this fall decided by fewer than 24 points (a 35-28 win at Arizona)…and under coach Chris Peterson are reminding fans of the Don James era when they regularly went to the Rose Bowl (six times in 16 years from 1978 to 93, with more than a few near-misses).  They plucked Peterson from nearby Boise State to replace Steve Sarkisian (who imploded at USC)…and he proved that his success with the Broncos wasn’t a fluke.  After going .500 over his first 24 games in Seattle, the Huskies have now won ten straight dating back to last year.  This October they’re #4 in the newest rankings with a big game against #16 Utah on the horizon. Prolific offense?  Sophomore Jake Browning is completing 68% of his passes (with 14+ yards per completion) while throwing for 26 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.  Devastating defense?  In an offensive era they’re allowing just under 15 points per game.  Blame the 10:30 p.m. starts and Friday game with #7 Stanford that should have been a 3:30 Saturday showcase…but be on notice that Washington is for real.

Alma Mater Update- a 28-20 win over Boston College keeps the Pinstripe Bowl dream alive at 4-4…even though their final four opponents are a combined 21-7.  The season-long redemption tour of Amba Etta-Tawo continues (the senior caught 10 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown against the Eagles)…as the senior has more catches this fall (66) than he did his three years combined at Maryland (61).  The Orange get this weekend off before going to face #3 Clemson, hoping the Tigers are spent from facing 12th ranked Florida State.  They might need longer than one week off…

 

Maryland (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) bounced back from two straight losses to beat Michigan State 28-17.  It seemed as though the turnover & penalty bug that infected the Terps last week was alive and well on the other sideline…as the Spartans were flagged 7 times (5 in the first quarter), had a player ejected, turned the ball over twice in the red zone and ran a misguided fake field goal that took more points off the board.

Terrapin Triumphs: Perry Hills comes back from a shoulder injury to throw for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns.  The tailback tandem of Ty Johnson (115 yards) and Lorenzo Harrison (105 yards) gets it done on the ground.  Shane Cockerille tallies 15 tackles while the defense notches two takeaways inside their own ten yard line.

Terrapin Troubles: the defense did cough up 270 yards on the ground to the tune of 6.1 yards per carry.  With Will Likely definitely out for the season thanks to a torn ACL the return game managed minimal punch.  And the Darth Vader “black helmets, black jerseys and black pants” unis were the same ones worn against Minnesota.  I find your lack of variety disturbing.

Next:  Saturday at Indiana (3-4, 1-3), 3:30 p.m.

 

Virginia (2-5, 1-2 ACC) had a rough week on and off the field.  A federal lawsuit alleging hazing and bullying from this summer took the headlines away from its showdown with the Tar Heels…before UNC ran roughshod at Scott Stadium in a 35-14 rout.  Fans might put up with bullying or a loss to the Heels…but not both.

Cavalier Congrats:  Taquan Mizzell tallies 106 yards rushing and 7 catches.  Safety Quin Blanding led the defense with 13 tackles.  Nicholas Conte averaged 45.6 yards per punt…landing four inside the 20-yard line.

Cavalier Concerns:  the team converted just 3 of 19 third downs…and after stretching the field in the passing game previous weeks, averaged under seven yards per completion.  The defense was buried by the big play…allowing touchdown passes of 40 and 46 yards.  Although one was to a guy named “Bug Howard”.  Being allowed to say Bug Howard takes a little of the pain away…

Next: Saturday vs #7 Louisville (6-1, 4-1), noon.

 

Virginia Tech (5-2, 3-1 ACC) routed Miami 37-16 to reassert its place in the Coastal Division race and show how awesome Blacksburg on Thursday night remains.  Fire up the smoked turkey legs to the sounds of Metallica.

Hokie Highlights: Travon McMillan gained 131 of the team’s 251 yards rushing.  Jerod Evans  threw for two touchdowns while running for another score.  Woody Baron tallied 2.5 of the team’s eight sacks…as VT held Miami to 3-15 on third down.

Hokie Humblings: one week after getting ripped for 405 yards passing by Syracuse, the defense allowed 323 yards through the air (at 14 yards per completed pass).  The offense had issues (1 for 7 on third down in the first half) early as well.

Next: Thursday at Pitt (5-2, 2-1), 7 p.m.

 

#24 Navy (5-1, 4-0 AAC) shooed away West Division contender Memphis with a 42-28 victory.  Halfway through their conference slate the Mids are the only team in either division unblemished.

Midshipmen Medals:  Will Worth runs for 201 yards and three touchdowns…while passing for two more scores.  The quarterback takes over for the injured Maryland Terrapin Will Likely as “most headline-friendly name in college football”.  The offense converts 8 of 13 third down attempts.  DJ Palmer leads the Mids defense with two sacks.

Midshipmen Miscues:  the kicking game was less than ideal, with a missed 32-yard field goal, a kickoff returned for a touchdown and 34 yards per punt the red flags.  One also wonders how often the “bend but don’t break” defense can continue to bend…allowing 32 points per game the last three weeks.

Next: Friday at South Florida (6-2, 3-1).

 

Colleges and conferences have to decide what’s more important:  dollars or eyeballs.  One is tangible–you can actually count money, believe it or not–but the other is tough to get a handle on until it’s too late.  Right now the Pac-12 is penny rich but pound foolish.  Their TV deal with FOX gives them exposure that the Utahs and Colorados crave–but forces their prime properties into the back alley of the viewing landscape.  Oregon put 59 points on the board against Cal– but in  a Friday night game that kicked off at 10pm.  On Fox Sports 1…wherever that is on your cable system this week.  The issue the Pac-12 has had over the years is that the East Coast media doesn’t see their games and thus undervalues their teams.  How does playing 10 and 10:30pm games on Thursday and Friday night change that?  Arizona’s upset of Oregon earlier this year should have been heralded as one of the games of the year–instead it’s a postcript to a bleary-eyed Friday morning.

 

Alma Mater Update– the Orange embark on a trip to #21 Clemson in a battle of oranges…although the Tigers often wear purple and the Orange sport who knows what befits them this week.  The race to six wins and that Pinstripe Bowl (two banners already hanging proudly in the Carrier Dome, thank you) would get a huge boost with a victory at Clemson– although I think even the most diehard SU fans have had an L in pen next to this game since the schedules came out.  Which means a 3-1 finish will be needed to go bowling this fall.

 

Forgive me, I had to pick myself up off the floor after laughing at the possibility this team could finish 3-1.

 

Maryland (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) visits Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1)– somehow the Terrapins have gone from roadkill to road warriors: after losing 9 of their first 11 games away from Byrd in the Randy Edsall era, the school’s won 5 straight road games.  But Camp Randall Stadium in Madison packs a little more punch than Memorial Stadium in Bloomington.  The Terps can also clinch bowl eligibility with a victory…and it’s not a big story like the pursuit of six wins was last year.  That represents progress.  Stopping the run has been a major concern for the Terps D this year (they rank 13th in the Big Ten in rushing defense)…and the Badgers average 343 yards a game on the ground while boasting Division I’s second leading rusher in Melvin Gordon (174 yards a game at 7.9 yards per carry).  Can CJ Brown avoid mistakes in a raucous Camp Randall Stadium?  Bowl eligibility likely waits one more week as the Terps tumble, 24-19.

 

Virginia (4-3, 2-1 ACC) entertains North Carolina (3-4, 1-2)– tailgating tandems Kippy and Buffy welcome their UNC version Meredith and Peyton (I still don’t know which one’s the guy or the girl, but they let me enjoy all the crab dip I can eat). The holier than thou Tar Heels come to Charlottesville under the cloud of academic hijinks that involve classes taken by student-athletes that entailed never actually going to class.  Their defense drops by Scott Stadium allowing over 43 points per game…even against Liberty they were gashed for 29.  Coach Mike London once again invites the possibility that he might use both Matt Johns and Greyson Lambert at quarterback against the Tar Heels after last weekend’s experiment with having two of his wide receivers throw passes.  Break out the Magic Eight Ball.  Cavaliers come up big, 34-18.

 

Navy (3-4) hosts San Jose State (3-3)– the Midshipmen after a week off look to get one step closer to bowl eligibility– and the Spartans are one of two teams remaining on their slate without a winning record (Army is the other).  A week off may add more rust than rest– Navy hasn’t won following its early/midseason bye since 2007.  Keenan Reynolds likely returns after missing the game against VMI–and although Tago Smith filled in well, this team rises or falls on Reynolds play. San Jose State is 1-2 on the road…getting outscored 93-47.  Shame one can’t pick a tie because neither team inspires a world of confidence.  Midshipmen need overtime to stop the Spartans, 23-20.

 

Georgetown loses to Bucknell, James Madison falls at Charlotte, William & Mary slips to Delaware, Richmond routs Elon, Morgan State loses to Villanova, Old Dominion defeats Western Kentucky.

 

Last Week: 4-3.

Overall: 55-19.