Archives for posts with tag: Spartans

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

2019 has been a year to remember in Charlottesville, with Virginia winning National Championships in Men’s College Basketball as well as Men’s Lacrosse. They’ve even had a chance to bask in the Nationals’ World Series run, as Ryan Zimmerman and Sean Doolittle played their college ball for the Cavaliers.  How do you top that?  There’s only one answer–and that’s a win over Virginia Tech in football that would result in a Coastal Division crown.

The Cavaliers entered the year the lone Coastal team without an appearance in the ACC Championship Game, and with the other six schools taking turns representing the division the previous six years it almost made sense to pencil UVa in this year.  Thankfully the softest Power Five Conference division with multiple schools in rebuild or revamp mode provides the Cavaliers with the perfect avenue to complete what would be one crazy seven-year run for the Coastal.  But they have to get past their nemesis-if you haven’t heard or read before, Virginia has not beaten Virginia Tech in football since the Hokies entered the ACC in 2004.  That’s not just a small snapshot, but a tapestry of tragedy that ranges from routs (52-14 in 2005 and 52-10 in 2016) to heartbreak (17-14 in 2008 and last year’s 34-31 overtime loss).  That’s fifteen straight years of woe instead of “Wahooha!”.

At the University of Virginia, they eschew terms like “freshmen” and “seniors” for “first year” and “fourth years” because in theory you’re always learning (or at least paying tuition).  Factoring a four-year stay on “the grounds” (never “campus”), no current fourth-year student has attended the University with anyone who’s gone to school with anyone who’s been a student with anyone who’s been in classes (I hope they don’t have a special name for “classes”) with a fellow student who was at Virginia the last time they beat Virginia Tech.

Since arriving in Charlottesville in 2016, head coach Bronco Mendenhall has turned around a program that posted eight losing seasons in ten years to one that will make its third straight bowl.  He’s established stability at the quarterback position that was previously a revolving door and has the Cavaliers one step shy of a first-ever Coastal Division crown.  More than just a step, a win Friday would represent a giant leap for the program and complete a year to remember.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange wrap up the season Saturday by hosting Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons are a lot like SU: a private school fish swimming in a sea of public school sharks.  The Atlantic Division will long be the domain of Clemson and Florida State as long as those schools refrain from bad coaching hires, but there is evidence that a school like Wake Forest can be competitive.  Moving forward, the Orange need to take that cue.

 

Friday’s Game:

No. 23 Virginia Tech (8-3, 5-2 ACC) at Virginia (8-3, 5-2), noon (ABC).

Despite the streak being almost old enough to drive, close games have been the rule recently with four of the last seven games decided by one possession (with two more decided by ten points).  Two months ago this had all of the signs of being the year, but that was before the Hokies defense found its teeth and Hendon Hooker became the starting quarterback (the sophomore still has yet to throw an interception).  Since getting smacked by Duke 45-10 head coach Justin Fuente’s team has won six of seven, averaging 35 points per game.  They’ve gotten better in college football’s closing month, outscoring foes 109-17 the last three weeks.  You could say UVa peaked in their 48-14 October win over the Blue Devils;  they’ve coughed up 114 points in the four games since and have trailed in the first half of each game. Yes, even against Liberty.  Despite an inconsistent running game that ranks 13th in the ACC and an offensive line that allows over three sacks per game, Cavaliers quarterback Bryce Perkins has responded down the stretch with heroics on a weekly basis.  Can he dial it up one more time?

Kippy & Buffy try to dial up some magic from the last time UVa beat the Hokies:  this week they’ll be enjoying a bottle of 2003 Chateau Lynch Bages. “Blending power, concentration, style and charm. Forest floor, cedar wood, fennel, smoke and cherry liqueur scents start off the concentration of flavor, supple, round tannins and a sweet, finish filled with ripe cherries and crème de cassis.”  Lynch Bages is a wine for patient wine lovers, as it often needs 15-20 years in the top vintages to show its best.

Presto’s Pick: Kippy & Buffy have to be a little more patient, as the Cavaliers come up short 24-14.  Can you say “back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back”?

 

Saturday-

Maryland (3-8, 1-7 Big Ten) at Michigan State (5-6, 3-5), 3:30 p.m. (FS1). 

Call this the Disappointment Bowl:  both teams were ranked in September before dropping three-point games in week three.  The Spartans can still secure bowl eligibility with a win and are coming off of a shutout of Rutgers.  They also have a senior quarterback in Brian Lewerke who they’ve been able to protect (a Big Ten-low 17 sacks allowed).  The Terps rank 14th in the conference defending the pass and are second-worst at getting off of the field on third down. They’ve also been hamstrung on offense thanks to multiple injuries at quarterback (they played four in the Nebraska loss) and runningback (Anthony McFarland was never right this fall).  Head coach Mike Locksley referred to this season as “Year Zero”, and he’ll have meetings with players and coaches Sunday and Monday.  While that won’t prevent his team from putting forth maximum effort Saturday, their limitations will prevent the sendoff they desire for their seniors.

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins tumble, 38-14.

 

No. 24 Navy (8-2, 6-1 AAC) at Houston (4-7, 2-5), 7 p.m. (ESPN2). 

The Midshipmen will know by kickoff if this game is for the AAC West;  No. 18 Memphis meets No. 19 Cincinnati Friday afternoon and if the Tigers tumble there will be a window of opportunity open to the Mids for their first division title since 2016. The Cougars won the inaugural AAC Championship Game in 2015 but that was two head coaches ago:  Tom Herman bolted to Texas, and his successor Major Applewhite was fired after 2018’s 8-5 finish.  When Applewhite was hired, University President Renu Khator told faculty and staff at her annual holiday party, “The winning is defined at University of Houston as 10 and 2…we’ll fire coaches at 8 and 4”. That’s a tall order for a program that’s produced five nine-victory campaigns seasons since 1990.  Even a taller order for first-year coach Dana Holgorsen, who posted one such season in his last seven years with West Virginia.  He’s been accused of tanking his first season on campus by having his best players redshirt. This is the kind of program Navy wants to share the field with?

Presto’s Pick: Mids make it happen, 44-20.

Last Week: 5-4.

Overall: 82-34.

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.

 

 

Maryland is in its fourth Big Ten season, meaning every fourth-year senior attending the school (I know not everybody gets out in four–aka “seven years of college down the drain”) has known no other conference.  But there’s still an ACC feel to the university on gamedays–as the men’s and women’s crowds are robust and the football crowds are lacking.   Instead of a “blackout”, whiteout” or a “gold rush” it appears as there have been “gray ghost” games–where the fans are disguised as stadium seats.

Attendance this fall has averaged 37,636–which ranks 13th in the Big Ten, just ahead of Northwestern.  One could point to the small stadium size as Maryland Stadium is the third-smallest in the conference, but when grading for percentage of capacity the Terps’ 72.7% is only ahead of Illinois.  Since its inaugural season of 2014, the school has gone from 10th to 12th to 13th in putting people in the seats.   No longer having ACC rivals like Virginia on the slate can’t help as there’s a generation of fans who now feel a disconnect and can’t really get motivated for the likes of Northwestern and Purdue.  And for the opponents with big fan bases like Ohio State and Michigan, College Park becomes “Ann Arbor South” or “Columbus East”.  Last Saturday against the Wolverines there was a flood of Maize and Blue in the stands.  One could even hear UCF fans shout “Knight” during the National Anthem when they came to College Park in September.  Brace yourselves, because Penn State fans will likely be holding a “white-out” of their own at Maryland Stadium next Saturday.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange need a win over Louisville to stay in contention for a bowl game.  Yes, the Cardinals that are currently carving their way through the back end of a schedule after early stumbles.  Last year Lamar Jackson led Louisville to 62 points at the Carrier Dome–and he’s found that groove again this fall.  Meanwhile, there’s basketball.

 

Virginia (6-4, 3-3 ACC) at #2 Miami (9-0, 6-0), noon (ABC).  The Cavaliers November gauntlet continues with the resurrected Hurricanes:  how will their 11th best in the ACC run defense hold up against Travis Homer (146 yards rushing against Notre Dame and a 6.7 yards per carry average for the season)?  UVa quarterback Kurt Benkert has thrown an interception in four straight games- he’ll be facing a Hurricane secondary that leads the conference with 16 picks.  Kippy & Buffy pick a red blend for the tailgate, and against the “Convicts” school of the Catholics & Convicts what better to enjoy than a 2016 bottle of The Prisoner: “enticing aromas of Bing cherry, dark chocolate, clove, and roasted fig. Persistent flavors of ripe raspberry, boysenberry, pomegranate, and vanilla linger harmoniously.”  Cavaliers win the tailgate but lose the game, 38-15.

 

Virginia Tech (7-3, 3-3 ACC) vs Pitt (4-6, 2-4), 12:20 p.m. (ACC Network).  The Hokies need to get right before their annual Commonwealth clash with Virginia.  Quarterback Josh Jackson hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since before Halloween-he’ll face a rather accommodating Panthers defense that allows the most passing yards in the ACC.   Despite allowing 28 points in each of the last two weeks, the Hokies defense remains first against the pass and in points allowed as well as in getting off of the field on third down.  They’ll be tested on the ground as Darrin Hall is averaging 162 yards over his last three games.  Hokies make it happen, 28-16.

 

Navy (6-3) at #9 Notre Dame (8-2), 3:30 p.m. (NBC).  This isn’t the walkover it used to be:  The Mids have won four of the last ten meetings and came within a touchdown on two other occasions.  The Fighting Irish can still secure a New Year’s Day bowl berth with wins this weekend and at Stanford, while Navy appears to be bound for the Military Bowl in Annapolis–leave it the USNA to save the government money in travel expenses.  Navy’s had a pair of quarterbacks run for over 200 yards this fall, but both Zach Abey (shoulder) and Malcolm Perry (ankle) are questionable for Saturday–potentially placing Garret Lewis in the driver’s seat of the option offense.  The junior has 46 total yards rushing this fall.  Midshipmen come up short, 44-17.

 

Maryland (4-6, 2-5) at Michigan State (7-3, 5-2), 4 p.m., (FOX).  The Terps need a win to keep their bowl hopes alive, while the Spartans are smarting after a 48-3 loss to Ohio State.  MSU’s offense may be middle of the road (seventh in the 14-school Big Ten in rushing, passing and total yardage), but Maryland’s defense has been roadkill over the last two months-allowing 31+ points in six league games while coughing up 38+ twice in non-conference play.  Quarterback Max Bortenschlager (still not specified if it’s a shoulder, head or hangnail injury) remains a question mark for the Terps;  and while Ryan Brand played better as the Michigan game progressed there’s something to be said about instability (even injury-induced) at the game’s most important position.  Terrapins tumble, 31-17.

Howard makes Mike London the MEAC Coach of the year with a victory at Hampton, Georgetown ends its autumn by falling to Colgate, Richmond edges William & Mary, Towson tops Rhode Island, James Madison escapes upset at Elon…and enters the FCS Playoffs as the #1 seed.
Last Week: 6-2.

Overall: 64-23.