Archives for posts with tag: sports

The Nats’ ten-game roadtrip is now in their rear-view mirror.  The 3-7 finish was less than ideal but not as disastrous as it could have been.  From getting swept in Milwaukee to getting shut out twice in Los Angeles.  From a comedy of errors in the field against the Brewers to a silent outing by the bats in almost getting no-hit by the Dodgers.  This team returns to DC a little healthier (Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto are both back) but far from full-strength.  And just as far from successful:  they’ve not won consecutive games since April 18 and have had just a pair of two-game winning streaks.  Things won’t get any easier as they face fellow NL East contender New York (more on the Mets in a moment) and the NL East-leading Cubs.  Can things get turned around by Memorial Day?

 

Dissecting the Division- Philadelphia (23-16) won four of six games and took both of their series last week; the Phils are led by the twin arms of Zach Eflin and Jake Arrieta this year while Rhys Hoskins (11 homers with 35 RBI) has been the primary producer at the plate.  Atlanta (21-20) lost four of seven to hover near the .500 mark as Nick Markakis (.299) is threatening to hit .300 for the first time since his second season in the bigs.  The New York Mets (19-20) won three of five behind the one-two youth movement of rookie Pete Alonso (12 HR with 32 RBI) and Jeff McNeil (his .360 batting average is second best in the majors).  The Marlins?  Drifting at 10-29…and after splitting their four game set with Colorado have won just one series in 2019.  And yes, that series was against the Nationals.

 

Harper’s Weekly- Bryce batted .200 last week while bringing his average down to .229 for the year (his career low? .243 in 2016).  The former face of the franchise has scored 25 runs while driving in 25 (he’s roughly on a pace to reach 100 in both categories this year).  He’s also on a pace (51 strikeouts over 39 games played) to shatter his career high in K’s–with a chance to reach 200 for the season.  Good thing the Phillies are winning-for now.

O’s Woes- another homestand, another two series lost.  The Birds are 6-15 at home, tied with Miami for the worst in the majors.  Last week the heartache was Trey Mancini getting robbed by Jackie Bradley Jr. making a game-saving catch well over the wall.  There is hope, however: even though the team ranks 30th in team ERA they’re 14th in that category since April 30th.  This week they visit the New York Yankees (24-16 despite all of the injuries) and Cleveland (21-18 and owning the third best team ERA this season).

 

Last Week’s Heroes- Patrick Corbin ended the team’s four game losing streak by tossing seven scoreless innings while Max Scherzer struck out 17 over two starts, winning for the first time in over a month.  Newcomer Gerardo Parra hit a grandslam in Saturday night’s win while ending a no-hit bid by the Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu Sunday afternoon. Howie Kendrick’s homer helped the Nats snap the slide, and he led the team with seven RBI last week.

Last Week’s Humbled- Anthony Rendon came off the injured list and hit .136 with seven strikeouts.  He’s not alone-as none of the regulars hit over .250 last week. The catching combination of Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki went 1-for-25 with 10 strikeouts.  Jeremy Hellickson allowed six runs over four innings of work while Kyle Barraclough and Matt Grace each posted a 13.50 ERA.  That of course pales in comparison to Dan Jennings’ 40.50 blemish.

 

Game to Watch- Friday night Max Scherzer pitches against Cole Hamels.  While the Nats have won just two of Max’s nine starts this year, Scherzer is beginning to hum as he’s lowered his ERA for the season in four straight.  Hamels leads the Cubs in innings pitched and is 3-0 to start the year.  It’s the series opener against a red-hot team (Cubs have won 12 of 14 entering this week).

Game to Miss- Thursday afternoon Anibal Sanchez (0-6, 5.27 ERA) take to the mound against Zack Wheeler and his 4.35 ERA.  While Sanchez’ winless string isn’t as compelling as Trevor Rosenthal’s outless streak, it’s still concerning that he’s yet to notch a victory this deep into the season.

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Even with Maryland no longer in the ACC, there’s still a little residual disgust in and around the district towards a private school located in Durham, NC.  And with all of the people who have moved to the Washington area who brought their Yankees and Cowboys fandom with them, there’s a healthy Duke contingent in the area.  Beltway basketball fans, prepare of two months of dread–because the Blue Devils are likely en route to Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s sixth National Championship, turning this into the Duke Decade (they beat Butler in 2010 and edged Wisconsin in 2015).

Duke may not currently be #1 in the nation;  Tennessee has held the top spot since the Blue Devils’ loss to Syracuse and as the Volunteers haven’t lost since, let’s just say pollsters can act in a glacial manner when it comes to moving teams up and down.  But the team to beat and as well as the one everyone is talking about is Coach K’s collection of NBA-in-waiting freshmen Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Tre Jones.  They remind me of the 1998-99 Duke team (Elton Brand) that went unbeaten in the ACC and finished 37-2, dropping an early-season game to Cincinnati (during an era when Bob Huggins had the Bearcats in the top ten annually) and the National Championship game to UConn (Rip Hamilton was just a little too much).  Every time that Duke team took the floor you weren’t thinking they would win–you were wondering if it would be a blowout.

This year’s team is 7-1 against ranked foes;  last Saturday they went to Charlottesville and out-executed a #3 Virginia team that out-executes everyone–with Williamson’s skying- blocked shot the highlight burned into our minds.  The Blue Devils then turned around and rallied from 23 down in the second half at #16 Louisville.  While they still have #8 North Carolina twice on their schedule and visit #22 Virginia Tech, those who dislike Duke (and there are a few out there) are feeling some discomfort.  Especially with this year’s Final Four in Minneapolis–the site of their 2001 championship where the Blue Devils rallied from 22 down to beat Maryland in the semifinals.

Alma Mater Update- one rough road loss for the Orange at NC State that felt similar to their home defeat to Florida State the week before.  Another rally from an early deficit…and then running out of gas in the second half before another double digit defeat.  The 8-4 start in ACC play is nice, but after taking this weekend off SU plays #16 Louisville, #2 Duke and #8 North Carolina over a seven day period.  Gulp…

Saturday’s Games:

#24 Maryland (19-6, 9-4 Big Ten) at #6 Michigan (22-3, 11-3), 12 p.m., FOX.  The Terps head to Ann Arbor after their most impressive win of the season:  they rallied from 11 down in the first half to beat #12 Purdue 70-56, holding the Boilermakers to 17% shooting after intermission.  The Wolverines?  Steaming from a loss at Penn State (previously 1-11 in league play)…much like Dr. David Banner, you don’t want to make coach John Beilein’s team angry.  But Michigan can be beaten on the boards (the Nittany Lions outrebounded them by ten) and no team is better on the glass in the Big Ten this winter than Maryland.

George Washington (7-17, 3-8 Atlantic  10) at Duquesne (16-9, 7-5), 12 p.m., NBCSN.  Both teams have been sliding down the standings over the last few weeks: while the Colonials have lost six of seven the Dukes have dropped four of six, losing all four games by six points or less.  GW’s descent began January 20th when they fell at home 91-85 in overtime to Duquesne;  Michael Hughes led the Dukes with a season-high 21 points while Colonials big man Javier Langarica had 19 that day.  Their two paths have diverged since:  Hughes is hitting 64% of his shots this month while Langarica has made just 13-of-33 attempts since that afternoon.

#4 Virginia (21-2, 9-2 ACC) vs. Notre Dame (13-11, 3-8), 2 p.m., ACC Network.  The Cavaliers bounced back in fine fashion from their home loss to #2 Duke by beating #8 North Carolina two days later in Chapel Hill to improve to 6-2 against top 25 teams (the two losses coming to the Blue Devils).  The Fighting Irish’ 0-5 mark against ranked foes this season includes January 26th’s 82-55 loss to UVa in South Bend.  How sharp were the Cavaliers?  They committed just a pair of turnovers.  Irish junior forward John Mooney is averaging a double-double but isn’t getting a ton of help:  ND ranks 14th in the ACC in field goal percentage and 13th in rebounding margin.

Navy (8-16, 5-8 Patriot League) vs. Army (12-14, 7-6), 2:30 p.m., CBSSN.  The Midshipmen are 4-2 in Annapolis during conference play thus far while the Black Knights have lost four of five.  But they did beat the Mids in West Point last month by 11 as Navy’s offensive issues (10th in the Patriot League in scoring and shooting) emerged when they were held to 18% from three-point range.  Tommy Funk had 22 points that day for Army; after a drought where he was held to single-digit scoring in four of six games the junior appears to have regained his swagger by netting 17 in Wednesday’s win over Boston University.

American (13-11, 7-6 Patriot League) vs. Colgate (16-10, 8-5), 4 p.m.  The difference between third and fourth place in the conference is a 73-69 win by the Raiders January 6th in Hamilton, NY.  Sophomore guard Jordan Burns tallied 18 points with 6 rebounds and 10 assists that afternoon;  an ankle injury sidelined him for five games and he’s just getting back into rhythm–scoring 9 points on 2-of-13 shooting over the Raiders’ last two games.  AU is coming off a heartbreaking 86-84 loss at Bender Arena to Loyola (MD) where they were outscored 17-6 over the final three minutes of regulation and the Greyhounds’ winning points came thanks to free throws with one second left.

Howard (12-13, 6-4 MEAC) vs. North Carolina A&T (13-11, 8-2), 4 p.m.  Two straight wins move the Bison into the upper half of the league as R.J. Cole is fresh off of a season-high 32 points at Bethune-Cookman.  While Cole leads the league in scoring (and is 30th in Division I) with 21.2 points per game, junior Charles Williams isn’t far behind at 18.8.  The Aggies are focused more on quality than on quantity, ranking seventh in scoring while leading the MEAC in field goal percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio.  And they don’t have a player averaging even ten points per game.

VCU (18-6, 9-2 Atlantic 10) at Dayton (16-8, 8-3), 4 p.m., NBCSN.  Immovable object meets unstoppable force as the Rams allow the fewest points per game in the A-10 while the Flyers lead the league in scoring.  Defense prevailed in the January matchup as VCU won 76-71 as they held Dayton to one basket over the final four minutes of regulation.  Marcus Evans scored 17 points that night, including the Rams’ last seven points.  Flyers leading scorer Josh Cunningham scored 13–but is shooting 64% against VCU during his career.  Coach Mike Rhoades’ Rams are coming off of an 81-60 rout of Richmond that snapped a two game losing streak to the Spiders.

#12 Virginia Tech (19-5, 8-4 ACC) at Pitt (12-13, 2-10), 4:30 p.m., ACC Network.  The Hokies are one win shy of a fourth consecutive 20-win season, their longest such streak since the early 80’s against Charles Moir.  Coach Buzz Williams also knows they are less than a week removed from stubbing their toe at Clemson, and even though the Panthers have dropped eight straight let the record show their two conference wins have come against teams currently in the top 20 (Louisville and Florida State).  Tech remains the best three-point shooting team in the conference (42% from outside the arc) and is coming off a win over Georgia Tech where they notched 20 assists on 25 field goals.

Sunday’s Game:

George Mason (15-10, 9-3 Atlantic 10) at St. Bonaventure (10-14, 6-5).  If you’re desiring a compelling conference race as the regular season winds down, look no further than the A-10:  one game separates first from fourth place and a half game is the difference between sixth and ninth.  The Patriots needed late-game heroics at home to put away La Salle (a 14-7 finishing kick) and UMass (down four with a minute left in regulation).  The Bonnies have won four of six, losing only to A-10 co-leaders VCU and Davidson.  Mason took the January meeting after outscoring St. Bonaventure 26-9 over the game’s final ten minutes.  Justin Kier notched 15 points and 14 rebounds in the win, one of his seven double doubles this season.

 

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At the beginning of February, most conferences have set their course for 2019.  The ACC (seven ranked teams) and Big Ten (five schools in the top 25) have earned top-heavy reputations, while the rest of the Big 12 is getting in position for Kansas to win the league yet again (I think the Jayhawks could spot anybody a three-game lead Super Bowl weekend and still find a way to capture the conference’s regular season title).  Even the Pac-12 has effectively fallen off the west coast (they’ll wash back in with the next high tide, I believe).  The Big East?  While it  remains the dominion of defending national champ Villanova (Wildcats after early stumbles currently stand atop the league) and while Marquette is a top 10 team, there’s a rugby scrum among the bottom eight.  The week began with one-half game separating third from last place.  Seton Hall and St. John’s have both had turns in the top 25, and are now both securely on the NCAA Tournament bubble, while recent tournament regulars like Providence, Creighton and Xavier are in danger of seeing their respective streaks of making the Big Dance end.  If things hold, be prepared to break out the conference tiebreakers for seeding the upcoming Big East Tournament in March.  And beware– the fifth tiebreaker is a coin flip.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange are a part of a top-heavy ACC one month into the schedule…and have a chance to make a move with five straight games against schools at .500 or below in the conference.  Problem is, two are currently ranked (Florida State & NC State) and there are no easy outs in this league this winter.  Hopefully coach Jim Boeheim won’t be tossing his jacket in frustration anytime soon (he’s done it six times this winter according to nunesmagician.com).

 

Friday’s Game:

#21 Maryland (17-5, 8-3 Big Ten) at #24 Wisconsin (15-6, 7-3), 9 p.m., Big Ten Network.  The last time these two teams played we saw the ceiling and floor of this winter’s Terrapins:  they led the Badgers 33-15 at the half before shooting 5-for-19 with five turnovers after intermission while hanging on to a 64-60 victory.  Since that night the Badgers have won four straight (including an upset of then-#2 Michigan) while holding opponents to 52.8 points per game.  Ethan Happ has been averaging 15 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists during that stretch and one hopes this battle of big men will be better than the one in College Park:  Happ was held to 10 points on 5-of-10 shooting while Bruno Fernando was hampered by foul trouble (21 minutes played).  Fernando’s more than bounced back from that effort, posting four straight double-doubles.

 

Saturday’s Games:

#12 Virginia Tech (17-3, 6-2 ACC) at #23 NC State (16-5, 4-4), 12 p.m., ACC Network. Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts led the program to the NCAA Tournament in his first year at the helm;  this winter despite losing four players to graduation and three more to transfer he has the Pack ranked for the first time in six years.  The overtime loss Tuesday to #3 Virginia was just the appetizer in the “Are the Pack for real?” meal; after Saturday’s entree against the Hokies they get dessert next Tuesday at a #9 North Carolina team they lost by to by eight at home.  And rest assured, coach Buzz Williams’ team is more than mere filler between UVa and UNC:  five of their six league wins are by double-digits.

 

#3 Virginia (19-1, 7-1 ACC) vs. Miami (9-11, 1-7), ACC Network.  The Hurricanes are led by Mitchellville, MD product Chris Lykes (16.6 points and 3.5 assists per game) but they won’t have big man Dewan Hernandez Saturday or any other day for that matter.  The 6-foot-11 center was the team’s returning leading scorer and rebounder but has been ruled ineligible by the NCAA for the rest of this year and 40% of next season for entering into an agreement and accepting benefits from an agent.  His absence is one of the reasons why coach Jim Larranaga’s team ranks last in the ACC in rebounding, and as Hernandez heads to the NBA Draft he takes whatever remaining postseason hopes the Hurricanes had with him.

 

American (11-9, 5-4 Patriot League) vs. Holy Cross (12-10, 3-6), 2 p.m.  It’s an iron man matchup as AU’s Sam Iorio and Sa’eed Nelson along with Caleb Green and Josh Grandison comprise the conference’s top four players in minutes per game (Green’s #1 with 37.7 while the other three each average 34+).  The Eagles have won three straight and enter a stretch where they play four of five at Bender Arena.  While Crusaders senior Jehyve Floyd leads the conference in shooting (69%) and blocked shots (2.3 per game), the 6-foot-8 forward doesn’t get a ton of help on the glass as Holy cross ranks last in rebounding.  And AU’s great at making their opponents miss, leading the league in field goal defense as well as defending the three.

 

Howard (10-12, 4-3 MEAC) vs Norfolk State (12-10, 7-0), 4 p.m.  The Bison have won three straight conference games thanks in part to the emergence of junior Chad Lott (18 points per game on 57% shooting), a fantastic compliment to the 1-2 punch of R.J. Coles and Charles Williams (the most recent MEAC Player of the Week).  But they’ll find the first-place Spartans a little tougher than the trio that is a combined 3-18 in league play.  Junior Nic Thomas may lead NSU in scoring, but Derrik Jamerson Jr. has been red-hot from three-point range, making 49 percent of his shots from outside the arc.

 

Richmond (8-13, 2-6 Atlantic 10) vs. La Salle (5-14, 3-4), 6 p.m., ESPN+.  Perhaps the snooze alarm the Spiders hit last winter after a 2-10 start was delayed a month this year: Wednesday they defeated A-10 preseason favorite Saint Louis 84-81 thanks to 58% shooting and going 17-of-18 at the free throw line.  The Explorers have won two straight, but two of their three league wins have come against 13th place UMass and the other was against last place Fordham.  La Salle also sports the toxic combination of being the conference’s worst shooting team with allowing the most points per game. They do have an all-name team guard in leading scorer Pookie Powell, however.

 

George Mason (13-8, 7-1 Atlantic 10) at VCU (14-6, 5-2), 6:30 p.m., NBCSN.  It’s one thing to play well in the A-10, quite another to go down to the Rams’ home gym and leave with a victory.  But hold on–the Patriots did just that last year in an 81-80 thriller at the Siegel Center.  Ian Boyd was the hero that day, hitting a game-winning shot with one second left.  Boyd’s back, and so is Otis Livington II who has a buzzer-beater to his credit  against Fordham earlier this month.  Can Boyd, Livingston and breakout star Justin Kier get good looks against a Rams team that leads the conference in field goal defense as well as containing the three?

 

Navy (6-14, 3-6 Patriot League) vs. Loyola (Maryland) (8-14, 4-5), 7 p.m.  Two teams headed in opposite directions meet as the Greyhounds have won four of six while the Midshipmen have lost six of seven.  Loyola also brings the league’s leading scorer to Annapolis in Andrew Kostecka, although the junior hasn’t had a ton of success against the Mids (25 points over four games on 9-19 shooting) in his career.  If Kostecka and the Greyhounds get hot, the Navy offense that ranks last in the Patriot League in shooting and scoring will be ill-pressed to keep up.

 

Sunday’s Game:

Georgetown (14-7, 4-4 Big East) at #18 Villanova (17-4, 8-0), 12 p.m, FS1.  The Hoyas’ come from behind 80-73 win over Xavier puts Patrick Ewing’s team in sole possession of third place in the conference…but still one and a half game out of league basement.  Even with the consistently uneven season thus far (including a loss to Furman), the Wildcats are the team to beat in the conference.  For the Hoyas recently, Nova’s been the team they can’t beat:  since the re-formation of the “New Big East” they’ve lost 10 of 11 to the Wildcats (eight by double digits).  The defending national champs are led by fifth-year senior Phil Booth in scoring and assists (the Baltimore native also connects on 42% of his three-pointers) who if he needs any motivation can recall a 20-point loss to the Hoyas his team suffered when Booth was a freshman in 2015.  And for the record, Hoyas freshmen James Akinjo (23 points in the second half against the Musketeers) and Mac McClung (27 points against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden) have never lost to Villanova in their careers.

 

This year we lost a lot of “friends in the field”, from John McNamara at the Annapolis Capital Gazette to Rich Tandler at NBC Sports Washington.  From former WTOP anchor Sean Hall to Indiana basketball beat reporter Terry Hutchens.  I’ll miss each one.  Also passing this past year was Chris Chase, the writer of USA Today’s “For the Win”.  Chris and I connected on our affection for sports movies, good and bad.  Our last conversation concerned his list of top ten sports movies.  Here’s the list I contributed…and one raises the question, are these the best films ever made?  No.  But each is interesting in their own way.  Just like the friends I lost this past year.
Rocky III- from Thunder Lips to the amazingly quotable Clubber Lang, this has it all.  And Apollo shows he was the true soul of the series.  Sadly, I’ll never run on the beach the same way again.
 
Damn Yankees- this past year I swore Nats rookie Juan Soto was the second coming of Joe Hardy.  Gwen Virdon in petal-pushers easily boasts a WAR of 10+.  And the teacher from Fast Times at Ridgemont High is the devil. Makes perfect sense.
 
Victory- combining soccer, Stallone and a World War II prison camp escape.  Pele elevates the soccer sequences with the patented bicycle kick…and speaks the pivotal line of the film.  It’s in the net…
 
North Dallas Forty- from watching Nick Nolte drag himself out of bed to the “these aren’t the Cowboys” casting of coach and quarterback, a spot-on look at the NFL of the 70’s.  Favorite quote, from a team executive looking to show Nolte he’s obsolete: “Do you speak Canadian?”
 
Big Wednesday- coming of age surfing film in the 70’s trailing three friends through the Vietnam era. Great camera work, plus Gary Busey’s character was nicknamed “The Masochist”.  And he delivers.
 
The Naked Gun-  Enrico Polazzo ruined me for being serious during the National Anthem for 3-5 years.  And what team in their right mind bats Jay Johnstone leadoff?  Word is Reggie Jackson improvised his “robot” mannerisms for his big scene (“I must kill…the Queen”).
 
Teen Wolf-  We all knew Jimmy Chitwood would hit the shot, but could Scott when he wasn’t the wolf?  And how did NIKE not get in on sponsoring the Beavers or the Dragons?  “Win—in the End!” is a great song too.
 
Karate Kid- if Daniel is so bummed about leaving New York, why is he wearing a Wes Chandler jersey?  Front-runner.  And there are theorists on YouTube who say that Daniel was the real villain.  Worth a watch or 20.
 
Miracle- “THIS IS YOUR TIME!” works on me every time.  I invite you to check out the quickie TV movie made in the early 80’s with a 70-something Karl Malden playing a 40-something Herb Brooks, Steve Guttenberg as Jim Craig and Marsha Brady’s husband from the “Brady Brides” as an Olympic hopeful.
 
Eight Men Out- the good guys don’t always win.  And there they double-cross the game as well as themselves.  Fantastic performances by a who’s-who of “that’s the guy from…”
 

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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?

The NFL is a week-to-week, snapshot league.  Teams will put forward 16 regular season efforts…and just like nobody is as good as their best, no one is as bad as their worst.  So while one was encouraged but tempered last week after the win in Arizona, one should feel that the Skins can’t possibly be as bad as they were in their 21-9 week two loss at home to Indianapolis.  So in theory they’re somewhere in between.

Burgundy and Gold, I mean White- okay, I’ll say it.  I blame the white pants the Skins wore…what happened to the George Allen-era gear at home?  Almost as unsettling as white jerseys with gold pants on the road.  Again, I’m blaming the pants.

Mr. Smith goes to Checkdown- Alex Smith threw for 292 yards while averaging 8.8 yards per completion.  Not per attempt but per completed pass.  Tough to move the chains and sustain drives that way.

Captain Kirk’s Continuing Voyage- the former franchise tagged one threw for 425 yards and four touchdowns while rallying Minnesota back to tie Green Bay.  So far this season Cousins has thrown for 669 yards with 6 touchdowns and 1 interception (passer rating 108.7) while Smith has 547 yards with 2 touchdowns and no INT’s (passer rating 100.1).

Running Aground- the Skins managed just 65 yards rushing on 22 carries.  And that was with a 25-yard scamper from Jamison Crowder.  The wide receiver actually led the team in rushing…a far cry from last week when the thunder and lightning backfield made it rain.  This week Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson combined for 21 yards on attempts.

Better to Receive- Thompson tallied a team-high 13 catches for 92 yards.  He also took some monster hits in space.  Can his diminutive stature take the pounding over 16 weeks?

Third and one third- the Skins converted on 33% of their money downs, moving the chains on 4 of 13 passes and 1 of 2 runs.   Josh Doctson was the #1 option (4 targets, 2 catches and 2 conversions).  Yardage breakdown:  3-4 on third and short (1-3 yards needed), 0-5 on third and medium (4-6 yards necessary) and 2-6 on third and long (7+).

D earns a C- a mixed bag saw the Skins allow the Colts a game-opening 75 yard march on 11 plays, but then hold the visitors three and out over three of their next five possessions.  A day where D.J. Swearinger tallied a pair of interceptions but the defense was only able to sack Andrew Luck once.

Special Situations- Dustin Hopkins converted three of four field goal attempts, missing a 49-yarder at the end of the half.  Tress Way put three of his five punts inside the Colts 20 with no touchbacks while averaging 36.4 yards per kick.  Rookie Greg Stroman returned a kickoff for 16 yards and had a six yard punt return.

Flying Flags- seven infractions for 90 yards gives the Skins 16 (tied for ninth in the league) for 153 yards (seventh most in the NFL) after two weeks.  Three on offense, two on defense and two on special teams.  Trent Williams (both false starts) was whistled twice while both kicking game penalties were holds.  The most costly flag?  A second quarter pass interference against Fabian Moreau for 37 yards that moved the Colts from their 36 to the Skins’ 27. They’d score shortly thereafter to take a 14-3 lead.

Dissecting the Division- Philadelphia’s loss to Tampa drops the Eagles, Redskins and Dallas into a three-way tie for first. The Cowboys’ win over the New York Giants gives them the temporary divisional tiebreaker…and the Eagles own the common-games edge with the Skins.  The New York Giants at 0-2 own last place for the moment.

The Wizards/Bullets and Capitals used to have a nice benefit of being a DC resident- their slow starts for years were often ignored because of the area’s obsession with all things Redskins.  We called it “Skinsanity” and it ruled the roost between August and December…meanding the Wiz and Caps didn’t have to really get their act together until Christmas.  Not so with the Nationals– who since the night the Capitals won the Stanley Cup are 26-38.  Not to diss the Valor, Spirit, Kastles or DC United, during the time the Nats have had the stage to themselves they’ve resembled a last-place team (.406 may be good for Ted Williams, but translates to 65-97).  A roster that includes multiple All Stars has been less than the sum of its parts…and the team continues to take on water.  When does the NFL season start?

Dissecting the Division- the Nats trail Atlanta by seven games for the NL East lead and are six and a half behind second-place Philadelphia.  While neither the Braves nor the Phillies are pulling away in a manner that should have a team playing tag with the .500 mark like the Nats overly concerned, it’s a slow boil and even though there are games to be played against both clubs the window of opportunity is sliding slowly.  The elimination number for both the division and the wildcard is 32.

O’s Woes- the Birds are just a week and a half removed from being eliminated from playoff contention…and now stare into the face of a 100-loss campaign.  The O’s need to finish 26-12 to do so…and that is so ridiculous one just wants to wonder what it will take to avoid the worst-ever season in Baltimore.  That’s a 55-107 record…meaning the Birds need an 18-20 finish.  Not impossible, but for a team that hasn’t been two games under .500 since April–not exactly attainable.

Last Week’s Heroes- Bryce Harper hit .379 with two homers and eight RBI.  Matt Wieters hit .368 with four RBI and Anthony Rendon batted .348 while scoring five runs. Max Scherzer struck out seven in his only start of the week while Tanner Roark won his fourth straight decision and helped the Nats avoid a sweep in St. Louis.

Last Week’s Humbled- Gio Gonzalez went 0-2 with an ERA of 13.50…and has won just once since May.  Trevor Gott and Koda Glover post posted double-digit ERA’s last week, while Sammy Solis was charged with two runs and didn’t record an out.  Trea Turner hit .182 while Michael A. Taylor batted .125.

Game to Watch- I know that Stephen Strasburg is returning Wednesday night, but Thursday afternoon Max Scherzer (16-5, 2.11 ERA) starts against the Phillies’ Ivan Nola (14-3, 2.24) in a series finale that could feature a revitalized Nats team or one that is looking to avoid getting swept at home.  Either way, he’ll be working on six days rest.  

Game to Miss- Friday Jefry Rodriguez pitches against the New York Mets as the Nats’ band-aid to a battered rotation.  It’s also the final Friday before Labor Day weekend:  do yourself a favor and enjoy one last sunset over the Key Bridge while enjoying a fried clams basket at Tony & Joe’s.  You’ll thank me…