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Lightbulbs went off over the heads of many in Charlottesville and Blacksburg this past Tuesday night.  Could Virginia or Virginia Tech crash college football’s New Year’s Bowl party?  Like many things in and around the sport with the best regular season and worst postseason, the answer is both yes and no.

The weekly College Football Playoff rankings release amuse me like few other things do. First, there’s the 13-member committee in place to select and seed four teams (spots five and six are akin to being named a top seed in the NIT).  Second, there’s the short-sightedness than comes with releasing playoff rankings when there are three or four games remaining in a 13-game audition (imagine people freaking out looking at the NFL standings December 1st when there is still a month to play).  Then there’s the weekly over-reaction that this Tuesday involved high fives in Baton Rouge (LSU rightfully No. 1 after their road win at unbeaten Alabama) as well as arguments in Tuscaloosa and Athens (Georgia’s loss in overtime to a 4-5 South Carolina not as impressive as losing to the Tigers).  And that’s just the SEC.  Shrugs by the Pac-12 and Big 12 while seeing their schools on the outside of a ridiculously small playoff party are almost expected at this time every year.

This week there was nervous anticipation in Charlottesville and Blacksburg.  Not that three-loss Virginia or Virginia Tech have any shot to make college football’s version of the final four, even if they win the ACC by beating an unbeaten Clemson.  But if the Tigers make the playoff field (at 10-0 they’re currently third and won’t be anything less than a double-digit favorite in any of their remaining games), somebody else from the sad-sack ACC has to go to the Orange Bowl.

Even in today’s College Football Playoff Era, there are some vestiges of 20th Century college football that still have value.  Along with the Sugar, the Orange Bowl is the second-oldest postseason game behind the Rose.  It’s one of five games that predate World War II (Cotton and Sun complete the trivia answer).  The brand still stands amidst the flood of 39 (!?) bowls that are played nowadays;  if you ask a Maryland fan about Ralph Friedgen’s ten-year run, they’ll most likely bring up the trip to the 2002 Orange Bowl.  And let’s be honest, even with the sponsor tag the “Capital One Orange Bowl” sounds much more impressive than the “Camping World Bowl” and “Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl”.

With Virginia and Virginia Tech on track to play for the Coastal Division crown in two weeks (Pitt can still play spoiler by beating the Hokies November 23) and Wake Forest suddenly slipping (the Demon Deacons have gone from 5-0 to 7-2 and are a 34.5 point underdog at Clemson Saturday), orange could be in more than the winner’s uniforms come January 1st.  Actually, the Orange Bowl that’s referred to by the College Football Playoff as one of the “New Year’s Six” Bowl will be played December 30 this year. Stupid progress.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange are on the precipice of postseason elimination as they visit a Duke team that somehow went into Blacksburg two months ago and beat Virginia Tech by 35.  That Hokie team and all of their turnovers was a major hot mess.  The Blue Devils’ other ACC win is against last-place Georgia Tech.  Those two league wins are two more than SU has this year.  But Duke has dropped three straight.  So…you’re saying there’s still a chance at a Pinstripe Bowl berth banner?

 

Virginia Tech (6-3, 3-2 ACC) at Georgia Tech (2-7, 1-5), 3:30 p.m. (ACCN Extra).

Like the Death Star’s tractor beam slowly sucking the Millennium Falcon towards it, the Hokies have been crawling towards a Coastal Division Crown since early October.  They’ve crawled out of the early-season ashes thanks to a defense that’s hitting its stride;  they held Notre Dame in check for 59 minutes in their loss at South Bend and shut down the previously high-scoring Wake Forest offense last Saturday.  Next up:  a Yellow Jacket team that scored 28 points at Virginia last week to tie their high for the season, but one that’s still at the bottom of the ACC in passing, total yards and scoring.  More importantly, Hendon Hooker is back at quarterback and even though the redshirt sophomore lost a fumble in their win over the Demon Deacons he’s yet to throw an interception this season.  His wheels will also be a nightmare to a Georgia Tech defense that’s the worst in the conference against the run.

Presto’s Pick:  Hokies handle the Yellow Jackets, 31-19.

 

No. 21 Navy (7-1) at No. 16 Notre Dame (7-2), 2:30 p.m. (NBC).

For two programs that have enjoyed plenty of recent success (the Mids will appear in their 15th bowl this century while the Fighting Irish have played in the BCS Championship Game and the College Football playoff this decade) this is the first time these annual foes are both ranked entering their showdown since 1978.  The series has actually turned into a rivalry with respect since the Mids ended their long losing streak to the Fighting Irish in 2007;  they’ve won four of the last 12 meetings with three of the eight losses coming by single digits.  Expect the Midshipmen to try to kill the clock like they did in their 2016 victory where Notre Dame had just six possessions.  A bigger test will be how Navy’s defense will fare against Fighting Irish quarterback Ian Book; the senior is coming off of a tour de force performance at Duke where he threw four touchdown passes while also rushing for a career-high 139 yards.  The much-improved unit has also had issues after halftime this fall, allowing 19 second-half points to Air Force, 21 in their loss to Memphis, and 24 in a last-second win over Tulane.

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen come up short, 34-21.

 

Virginia enjoys its second bye week of the season, meaning Kippy & Buffy have to find something to do to pass the time.  Apple picking and antiquing are on the morning docket (who doesn’t love sipping cider while checking out a chestnut armoire?), while pumpkin patch time takes up most of the afternoon.

Once home, the evening is theirs.  And after enjoying pumpkin spice lattes on their way to apple picking, nothing’s better than post-pumpkin perusing than a glass of Chateau O’Brien Virginia Apple Wine“Made of apples grown and hand-selected from our neighboring Northpoint orchards, the wine is crisp with delineated flavors and possesses lush aromas of vibrant ripe apples. Full-bodied, elegant wine that captures the essence of apples at their peak of fall ripeness.”  During a season where the Cavaliers’ eye is on a Coastal Division Crown, it makes sense to go with the 2014 vintage that was selected by the 2015 Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition tasting panel as the “Best Sweet Fruit Wine”.

 

Georgetown falls at Bucknell, Howard is humbled at Florida A& M, James Madison beats Richmond, Towson tops William & Mary, Morgan State beats Virginia Lynchburg.

 

Last week: 7-2.

Overall: 70-30.

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College football gives us plenty of thrills on a weekly basis, and there’s nothing like the surprise of an upset percolating and then happening.  Especially when it involves an unbeaten or a conference leader falling to an unranked foe.  October saw top ten teams Georgia, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma get surprised by league foes;  very few had any falling-that’s why they’re called surprises.  But while the SEC and Big Ten brass simply moved on to the next week the Big 12 higher-ups were likely punching holes in their hats.  Because until we live in a world where there’s an eight-team playoff that gives all Power Five Conference champs automatic berths into the College Football Playoff, the last thing a league wants is to see its last unbeaten lose before November.  Just ask the Pac-12, a conference that’s eaten its own with a nine-game league schedule.  Saturday night No. 11 Oregon needed a last-second field goal to avoid upset against Washington State, and I’m sure the league office was holding its breath as one of its two one-loss teams drove the length of the field with under a minute to play.  As long as the 13-member committee is looking for “intangibles” when it puts together a four-team field, one of the best things the game has to offer is actually the worst that can happen for the conferences that have their eyes on the playoff participation payout (six million dollars for each team selected to the playoff).

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange continue their collision course with under .500 by losing at Florida State 35-17.  SU’s moving month turned into several steps backwards as the 0-3 October likely sentences the team to an early offseason.  The Ghosts of Seasons Past thinks of 1986, when the Orange finished 5-6 after reaching a bowl the previous fall.

 

Maryland (3-5, 1-4 Big Ten) went to No. 17 Minnesota with hopes that having running back Anthony McFarland and quarterback Josh Jackson healthy again could turn the tide of a season that was slipping away.  Unfortunately, the Golden Gophers lived up to their 7-0 record and torched the Terps 52-10.  Adding injury to insult, quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome left the game with a leg injury.  The quarterback carousel continues in College Park.

Terrapin Triumphs:  this team may be sub-.500, but they make big plays.  Javon Leake had a 59-yard catch and a 41-yard kick return, Tayon Fleet-Davis added a 33-yard run, and Marcus Lewis had a 40-yard interception return.

Terrapin Troubles: the passing game earned a failing grade, as the combination of Pigrome, Josh Jackson, and freshman Tyler DeSue combined to complete 10 of 23 passes for 131 yards and two interceptions.  The first INT set up the Golden Gopher’s first touchdown the other was returned for a score.  The defense allowed 321 yards rushing at 5.9 yards per carry.

Next: Saturday at noon against 6-2 Michigan.

 

Virginia (5-3, 3-2 ACC) continues to confound as the Cavaliers followed up an unexpected blowout of Coastal contender Duke with a 28-21 loss at rebuilding Louisville.  After taking a 14-7 lead, UVa went into an offensive funk that included 43 yards on its first 16 plays in the second half.  Thank goodness the Coastal is a quagmire-it’s the only division in FBS where the leader has two losses.

Cavalier Congrats: Hasise Dubois caught 7 passes for 93 yards, while Wayne Taulapapa ran for 55 yards and two touchdowns.  Eli Hanback had two sacks in his six tackles to power the pass rush that finished with four sacks.

Cavalier Concerns:  just 22 called runs, including only three carries for Taulapapa after halftime.  Bryce Perkins threw for 233 yards, but averaged under 10 yards per completion (and 5.5 per attempt).  The defense allowed 5.0 yards per carry and 227 on the afternoon.  Eight penalties for 70 yards made life that much tougher on the road.

Next:  Saturday at 7:30 against 4-4 North Carolina.

 

Navy (6-1,4-1 AAC) looked like it was in control against Tulane, only to let a 24-point first half lead evaporate after intermission.  They were able to prevail on a last-second field goal by freshman Bijan Nichols, but the 41-38 win will give head coach Ken Niumatalolo more questions than answers as his team focuses on the AAC West race in November and the Commander in Chief’s trophy in December.

Midshipmen Medals:  Jamole Carothers ran for 154 yards and three touchdowns while Malcolm Perry ran for 142 yards.  Diego Fagot notched eight tackles and returned an interception for a touchdown. Owen White averaged 47.3 yards per punt.

Midshipmen Miscues: the offense converted just 5 of 14 third downs as Perry completed 2 of 7 passes and was intercepted.  The defense had no solutions for Green Wave quarterback Justin McMillan in the second half and allowed the Green Wave to score the last four times they had the ball.

Next: Friday at 8 p.m. at 2-6 UConn.

 

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Some say timing is everything, and if it isn’t it certainly remains a pretty big factor.  College Football’s Power Five slate kicks off at 12 p.m. Saturdays with more chaff than wheat while its prime matchups are usually offered up to ABC, CBS, and ESPN in the coveted 3:30 p.m. window.  The late games kick off from 6 to 7:30 p.m., with a prime time showdown and the customary Pac-12 After Dark duel wrapping up the day’s action.  It should be easy to have everybody play at a reasonable time.

Except with dreaded noon eastern games in the Central Time Zone.  This Saturday there are four games involving ranked teams that begin at 11 a.m. local time:  Oklahoma-West Virginia, Wisconsin-Illinois, Auburn-Arkansas and Purdue-Iowa.  Earlier this fall to fit into the ACC Network’s grid, Pitt played Ohio at 11 a.m. EDT.

Last month Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban complained about a 12 p.m. EDT game against Southern Miss, which would kick off at 11 a.m. local time.  Saban was pounced on by some as being elitist, but I completely understand his thinking.  In a sport where empty seats are a pox and the final days of summer can be toasty, late-morning is the last time you want to gather 75,000 people outside in the sun.  On weekends the last thing many want to do is have to be anywhere by 11 a.m.; even though noon is just an hour later it feels a world away from late-morning.  College students waking up and getting anywhere on a Saturday morning by 11?  Right.  And even though college athletics is not always about the actual student athletes, a player’s body-clock can’t benefit from the morning start.

Leagues blame TV; one wants to show as many games to as many people as possible.  But if the SEC and Big Ten have their own networks, can’t they move the 11 a.m. Central games to noon/aka 1 p.m. Eastern?  It’s not like these channels don’t have pregame and highlight shows that could fill those slots.  So your SEC mid-afternoon game kicks off at 4:30 instead of 3:30…or the seven o’clock game starts at eight.  People will still watch–because it’s football.  Unless it’s Rutgers.

 

Alma Mater Update- major gut-check time for the Orange, who need three wins to become bowl-eligible.  First up is 4-2 Pitt, who’s coming off of three straight wins by a combined seven points.   But at least it’s at home–even if it’s on Friday night.  The offensive line that allowed eight sacks against NC State needs to find itself, and Tommy DeVito needs to put up quality yards instead of simply a quantity of yards.  I’m not confident that will happen this year.

 

Maryland ( 3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) vs. Indiana (4-2, 1-2), 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network). 

Speaking of early starts, how is this game not beginning at 12?  I thought “Maryland-Indiana” was French for “noon kickoff”.  Both schools suffer from the “Rutgers Inflation Effect”.  The Terps torched the Scarlet Knights by 41 points while the Hoosiers won by 35 against RU.  They’ve each been humbled by Big Ten foes not residing the state of New Jersey, Maryland getting outscored 99-14 while IU’s been pasted 91-41.  Indiana brings the Big Ten’s second-best passing game into College Park Saturday, and the Terps passing defense allows the most yards per game in the conference.  Hoosiers quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (69.5% completion rate) has the necessary counter-punch in running back Stevie Scott III (5.0 yards per carry) to keep opponents honest; sadly he lacks a “IV” on the roster.  Tyrrell Pigrome starts for the second week at quarterback as Josh Jackson’s ankle still isn’t right, and running back Anthony McFarland’s high ankle sprain looks to limit the sparkplug that gained over 1,000 yards last fall further (he notched four yards at Purdue and dropped a pass in the end zone).

Presto’s Pick: Terps tumble, 35-20.

 

Virginia (4-2, 2-1 ACC) vs. Duke (4-2, 2-1), 3:30 p.m. (ACC Network).

Easter may be in springtime, but last Friday the Cavaliers laid a major egg in their 17-9 loss at Miami.  So much for the “Season of Possibilities” (thankfully not trademarked yet). Early issues that won’t go away begin and end with an offensive line that can’t generate a running game (a league-worst 102 yards per game) or protect Bryce Perkins (13 sacks in their last two games).  Duke has already won in the Commonwealth this fall, but after scorching Virginia Tech by 35 they allowed 33 points in a loss at home to Pitt.  Quentin Harris  is also averaging fewer than 10 yards per completion in four of six games this fall;  UVa’s defense leads the ACC in sacks and will need to make him uncomfortable all afternoon.

Kippy & Buffy are more than comfortable going with an old standby for Duke week:  the ultimate “bro” school demands a bottle from Breaux Vineyards.  This year it’s the ”
Equation Red”, a blend that is 73% merlot with dashes of Petit Verdot, Chamborcin, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.  With aromas of “ripe cherry, plum, and chocolate” plus the taste of “juicy fruit, baking spices such as clove and nutmeg” the lingering dusty tannins will go great with some sauteed mushrooms plus Bleu Cheese on toast against the Blue Devils.

Presto’s Pick:  the Cavaliers find the right equation and defeat Duke, 24-20.

 

Virginia Tech (4-2, 1-2 ACC) vs. North Carolina (3-3, 2-1), 3:30 p.m. (ACC Network).

Past is present in Chapel Hill, as Mack Brown returned to the program he led to 69 wins from 1988 to 97 (including consecutive 10-win seasons that wrapped up his tenure).  Behind freshman quarterback Sam Howell (15 touchdowns and 3 interceptions) the Tar Heels began the season with thrilling wins over South Carolina and Miami, before dropping one-possession games to Wake Forest, Appalachian State, and then-No. 1 Clemson.  While a 16-point win at 1-5 Georgia Tech doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, look at the Hokies: they led Rhode Island by seven in the fourth quarter and it was just as close in wins against Furman, Old Dominion and Miami.  Cause for confidence:  VT is 2-0 since going with turnover-free Hendon Hooker at quarterback.  What’s helped the sophomore is the presence of a running game, with Deshawn McClease emerging as the primary ground threat.

Presto’s Pick:  Hokies come up short, 26-20.

 

Navy (4-1, 2-1 AAC) vs. South Florida (3-3, 1-1), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).

The Midshipmen are coming off of their first road win in over two years, while the Bulls are .500 at midseason despite returning 15 starters.  The sizzle for the Mids is often its option offense, and quarterback Malcolm Perry is directing an attack that leads the nation in rushing.  But major strides have been made so far this year on defense:  the team leads the AAC in stopping the run as well as fewest yards and points allowed.  USF has had major issues protecting the quarterback (a league-high 24 sacks allowed) as well as moving the chains (second-worst in the conference).

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen move one step closer to bowl eligibility with a 31-17 win.

 

Georgetown beats Lafayette, James Madison wins at William & Mary, Richmond gets by Yale, Towson beats Bucknell, Morgan State slips to South Carolina State.

Last Week: 5-5.  Overall: 44-19.

 

Blame the Nationals playoff run.  Blame the ongoing college football season plus the start of mens’ and womens college basketball, plus the NHL opener and the NBA’s preseason.  Somehow on the way to documenting what went right and wrong in the Redskins’ 24-3 loss to the New York Giants the Skinsanity got lost in the shuffle.  Because how they fared on third down (both offensive and defensive units rank 31st in the NFL) and which penalties hurt them the most (45 flags over five weeks has the team as the third-most whistled unit in the league) is such a micro thing.  Those are fundamental flaws in a team, but those are bad fruits that are the byproduct of poor soil and worse gardening.

So over the last weeks after watching this team play that way I tried to crank out the usual analysis, but each post died amidst busy days at the ballpark and voting for All-Big Ten and Top 25 polls.  The failed flights are below; consider this a “director’s cut”…:

 

“This just in:  the Redskins are going nowhere.  The 0-4 Burgundy and Gold mess are headed to another last place finish in the NFC East, barring disasters elsewhere.  Sunday’s 24-3 loss to the New York Giants extinguished whatever remaining playoff hopes there were, and who knows how bad things will get between now and the end of the season.”

 

“For those hoping for an October surprise Sunday, you should have turned your TV off after Cam Sims’ 65-yard touchdown run. Just like you should have moved on after Vernon Davis’ 48-yard TD catch against Philadelphia and Adrian Peterson’s triumphant one-yard plunge against Dallas.  But in the NFL, they play a full 60 (sometimes more) and once again the Burgundy and Gold glass is far from half-full.  The 33-7 loss to New England results in an 0-5 start as well as a coaching change; Jay Gruden leaves having lost 11 of his last 12 games.”

 

Okay, now we’re past that.  What now?  Bill Callahan takes over on an interim basis; he’s the first to be in that post here since Terry Robiskie took over for Norv Turner.  While you could argue that the 2000 Redskins were close to contention, as all six losses were one-possession affair, this year’s team is nowhere near respectable.  Even the Eagles loss looked closer than it actually was because of a garbage-time touchdown. This team is in meltdown mode, even judged against other meltdowns this century: Jim Zorn’s 4-12 disaster started the year 2-2 and Mike Shanahan’s 3-13 farewell was 3-5 at one point.  This year’s club could have a date with 2-14 or 1-15 destiny.

Meanwhile, the failed Gruden regime gets buried under an avalanche of losses.  If one takes away his period of adustment (a 4-12 rookie season in 2014) and Gruden’s final 16 game stretch (4-12 as well-how symmetrical!), the team went 25-25-1.  And yes, I count the playoff loss to Green Bay- after all, it was the high-water mark of the era.  What was in 2016 the most stable coach-quarterback combination in the NFC East (https://wtop.com/washington-redskins/2016/09/redskins-new-identity-continuity/) didn’t take long to unravel, and the familiar coach & quarterback carousel is back.

But the quarterback & head coach are merely hood ornaments;  one wonders how long the engine of the current Redskins regime stays in Ashburn.  Bruce Allen came to the franchise almost ten years ago with promises of accountability and a rescue from the Vinny Cerrato era/error.  Just like the peasants who cheer the departure of one ruler, Redskins fans had no idea that Allen would oversee a decade where the team would get worse, as in 59-89-1.  As in currently the fourth-worst mark in the NFL this decade (during a decade dominated by Vinny, the Skins were a robust 71-92, good enough for 23rd).  As in the only franchises who have been worse this decade have been Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Cleveland.

Allen is reportedly working on getting a new stadium deal for the franchise;  as the FedEx Field fiasco is one of the factors that has turned this team from one that dominated the district into a squad that regularly plays at home in front of opposing fans-dominated stands, this is the silver bullet (Coors Light reference not intended) just like the return of Joe Gibbs in 2004 was the Burgundy and Gold bullet that undid previous miss-steps.  But he’s also in charge of the football operations, and for the last decade we’ve seen that patient suffer on the operating table.

Will they fix this mess?  The immediate road ahead is a nightmare.  After a trip to Miami their pre-bye week foes are a combined 11-3.  After the hiatus, the Skins face just a pair of teams that currently have losing records (the New York Jets and Giants).  Back to the Dolphins- this 0-4 team isn’t just bad, they’re Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1976 bad.  The team that can’t even wear the right color of aqua or position its dolphin correctly on the helmet ranks 32nd in the NFL in scoring, points and yards allowed, rushing offense and defense, offensive and defensive passing efficiency, sacks for and third down defense.  They rank 31st in total passing and total offense as well as passing defense.  A loss would tempt many to clamor for relegating the Redskins into the CFL or something.  Hail…

 

 

 

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Finally.  After the non-conference and FCS schedule-stuffer season (also known as the apple picking & antiquing window), we’ve got a Saturday filled with showdowns.  A few are traditional matchups that have seen better days (Notre Dame-USC and Clemson-Florida State) while others carry conference and College Football Playoff implications (Penn State-Iowa, LSU-Florida).  Oklahoma-Texas checks off both boxes, while adding in the Texas State Fair for those who feared our nation’s deep-frying industry was in trouble. For example, this year’s fare includes a “Southern Fried Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo Ball” and for those who are health-conscious, the “Texas Cream Corn Casserole Fritters”.

Lost in the shuffle of rivalries, conference clashes and questionable calorie counts is a top five FCS matchup just down the road (actually two, if you take I-66 and then turn right at I-81).  Second ranked James Madison (5-1, 2-0 CAA) hosts No. 5 Villanova (5-0, 3-0) with the inside track to the conference title and a first-round bye in the upcoming FCS Playoffs up for grabs. The two teams rank 1-2 in the CAA in scoring, stopping the run, sacks and third down efficiency.  Each has been pushed to overtime on the road: JMU escaped Stony Brook last weekend while ‘Nova’s 52-45 September shootout at Towson moved the Wildcats from pretender to contender.

The program’s resurgence is especially sweet for third-year head coach Mark Ferrante;  the longtime offensive coordinator took over when Andy Talley retired after 32 seasons in 2016 and the team posted consecutive losing campaigns for the first time since the 1990’s.  But his Wildcats have yet to face the triple-back attack like the Dukes’ Percy Agyei-Obese, Solomon Vanhorse and Jawon Hamilton: the power trio combine for 1051 yards per game on 5.4 a carry.  The Dukes’ big challenge will be getting to Villanova quarterback Daniel Smith (17 touchdown passes) as the Wildcats have allowed just three sacks all season.  Kickoff in Harrisonburg is slated for 1:30 p.m., or if you’re at the Texas State Fair around the time you’ve moved on to dessert and are trying the “Deep Fried Bayou Fruit Bites”.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange drop to 3-3 with Thursday’s 16-10 loss at NC State.  Tommy DeVito got sacked eight times and averaging just over ten yards per completion.  The stat book says he threw for 300 yards, but his numbers once again feel like empty calories.  Twelve penalties didn’t help.  And now the remaining schedule is a combined 21-11, with formerly a mess Florida State looking sharp and surprising Wake Forest no longer the pushover we expected.  Can they scrape together wins against Pitt, Boston College and Louisville?

 

Friday’s Game-

No. 20 Virginia (4-1, 2-0 ACC) at Miami (2-3, 0-2), 8 p.m. (ESPN).

There was never a Hurricane warning this fall as the U got off to an 0-2 start, followed by wins over Bethune-Cookman and Central Michigan before last week’s disaster against Virginia Tech.  While the ‘Canes lead the ACC in passing yardage (315 per game), the Cavaliers boast the second best pass defense in the conference and are second best at getting to the quarterback (27 sacks in five games);  Miami has allowed a league-high 25 sacks this fall.  Head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s team has had a week to digest their loss at Notre Dame and refocus, while Manny Diaz’s eyes likely fell out while watching the game film of last Saturday’s loss to Virginia Tech.

Kippy and Buffy have their eyes on great tailgating as always, and South Florida means they’ll be serving Cuban pork sandwiches.  Nothing goes better with the pork than a bottle of 2016 Limerick Lane Russian River Zinfandel.  Aromas of “blackberry, raspberry, bramble, cocoa leaf and wet stones” (yes–an actual tasting note from the vineyard website) get the palate ready for the taste of “strawberry, black pepper and blueberry pie crust” (again, one cannot make this up), delivering a “long finish with laser-focused acidity”.

Presto’s Pick:  Cavaliers are laser-focused on a first-ever Coastal Division title, and come away with a 27-16 win.

 

Saturday’s Games-

Maryland (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) at Purdue (1-4, 0-2), noon (Big Ten Network).

There’s a switch at quarterback-sort of. Josh Jackson was listed as the starter in the press notes, but head coach Mike Locksley said that Jackson’s ankle injury suffered at Rutgers has the junior day-to-day and Tyrrell Pigrome would start against the Boilermakers.  Pigrome may not have the passing polish Jackson possesses, but he’s a much better runner and with an offensive line that’s banged up might be just the right fit for the present.  Purdue has long been called the “Cradle of Quarterbacks” thanks to All-Americans like Bob Griese, Mike Phipps and Mark Hermann; Drew Brees was shut out by the likes of Chris Weinke, Josh Heupel and George Godsey(?).  This year’s team was no different, until quarterback Elijah Sindelar and his top target Rondale Moore were injured on the same play against Minnesota.  Neither saw the field last Saturday against Penn State.  Defensively, Purdue ranks 13th or 14th in the Big Ten in every category (except in sacks where they’re currently ninth).

Uniform note:  the Boilermakers will be wearing special uniforms commemorating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.  Not only is the late Neil Armstrong an alumnus, but the late Gene Cernan (the Apollo 17 astronaut who was the last person to leave the lunar surface) was as well.

Presto’s Pick:  the Terrapins make another small step towards bowl eligibility with a 38-14 landing.

 

Virginia Tech (3-2) vs. Rhode Island (1-4), 4 p.m. (ACC Network).

There are complaints from many in the area who don’t have the ACC Network on their local cable system, but for the Hokies this fall that might be a good thing.  Even in their wins, this team has been one tough watch.  Only this year’s team could turn a 28-0 second half lead at Miami into a fourth quarter nailbiter.  Enter a Rams team that may be 0-3 in the CAA, but one that has lost three one-possession games.  One week after coughing up 28 second half points to Miami, the Hokies will have their hands full as URI quarterback Vito Priore completes 65% of his passes.  Priore’s top two targets, Aaron Brooks and Isaiah Coulter, each average over 100 yards per game receiving and are just the kind of tandem that turns suspect secondaries into sludge.  After a September saw a torrential downpour of turnovers, the Hokies dried things up last week with redshirt sophomore quarterback Hendon Hooker.  The dual-threat (184 yards and three touchdowns passing plus 76 yards and a touchdowns rushing against Miami) didn’t throw an interception or lose a fumble, and no giveaways means Hooker stays first-string.  He’ll face a rather accomodating Ram defense, one that allowed 41 points in their other game against an FBS school.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies make it two straight, 34-24.

 

Navy (3-1, 1-1 AAC) at Tulsa (2-3, 0-1), 7:30 p.m. (ESPNU).

Last Saturday’s win over Air Force was exactly the kind of game last year’s Midshipmen would lose.  The other nightmare from 2018 involved an 0-6 road record (0-8 in games not played in Annapolis).  For those curious, Navy’s last road win was September 30, 2017 against…Tulsa.  The Golden Hurricane went 2-10 that year and have already equaled that win total in the first month of this season.  But they still can’t stop the run (11th in the AAC) and if there’s one thing that the Mids do well it’s move the ball on the ground (an FBS-best 312 yards per game).  But they also lead the conference in offensive passing efficiency as well as rushing and total defense.  Head coach Ken Niumatalolo’s team is also the least-penalized unit in the league; as fate would have it the most-flagged Golden Hurricanes commit twice as many infractions per game.

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen make it happen on the road, 28-20. 

Howard loses to Norfolk State, Georgetown gets by Fordham, James Madison beats Villanova, Richmond edges Maine, Towson tops Albany, Morgan State loses to Delaware State.

 

Last Week: 7-3. Overall: 39-14.

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Sometimes the leaves turn earlier than one expects.  After the start to a season where all four area FBS schools received national notice (Maryland and Virginia were ranked at points this past month, while Navy and Virginia Tech each received votes along the way), the final weekend of the month saw the four all go down in flames.  Just like no two leaves when they change colors look exactly alike, the status of each of the four teams is markedly different.  Some fractures are hairline, and some are compound.  With the bulk of the conference season ahead, what can be salvaged? That’s for October to decide. Isn’t fall foliage great?

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange routed Holy Cross 41-3 to enter their bye week 3-2, but Tommy DeVito gets banged up. I did not watch, meaning that Cuse has crushed foes 106-20 when I’m not watching/listening…and they’ve been bludgeoned 120-37 when I do.  At 3-2 SU is halfway to a Pinstripe Bowl bid.  Prepare the space for another banner!

 

Navy (2-1, 1-1 AAC) got the weekend of woe underway by taking a 20-7 first half lead at Memphis, only to lose 35-23.  It was a tale of two halves as Tigers were just too much after intermission, outgaining the Mids 203 yards to 81.

Midshipman Medals: Keoni Makekau rushed for 101 yards while Malcom Perry added 91 on the ground.  The defense held the Tigers in check for most of the first half, allowing just 98 yards of offense and holding Memphis to 0-3 on third down.  Owen While averaged 45.2 yards per punt. Nizaire Cromartie recovered a fumble.

Midshipman Miscues: it all began on special teams when the Mids allowed a kickoff return late in the first half that turned a double-digit lead into a single-possession game.  The offense converted just 1 of 7 third downs after halftime, and the running game was held to 74 yards on 23 tries following the break.  The defense also had issues in the third and fourth quarters;  after holding Brady White to 12 yards passing in the first half the Tigers quarterback completed 10 of 13 passes for 185 yards and three touchdowns the rest of the way.  Six penalties, an interception and a fumble lost didn’t help either.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against 3-1 Air Force.

 

Maryland (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten) kicked off conference play Friday night, and things did not end well.  Actually, things didn’t even start well as Josh Jackson was intercepted on the fifth play from scrimmage and Penn State cashed in with a quick touchdown.  A three and out then set up a 58-yard touchdown pass by the Nittany Lions.  It appeared as though the Terps regained themselves and were about to put points on the board but then Jackson threw another interception at the Penn State goal line.  The ensuing 11-play, 95 yard march put the visitors up 21-0 with 13:23 left in the 2nd quarter.  The student section looked like a guy with male pattern baldness as the quarter (along with more Penn State points) progressed, and resembled actor Bruce Willis after halftime.  The 59-0 loss was the school’s worst since 2017 when Penn State last came to College Park and rendered a 66-3 bludgeoning. They’re on the schedule again next year, right?

Terrapin Triumphs: Brandon Gaddy and Colton Spangler each averaged 42.8 yards per punt, although whenever one leads this category with the punter it’s not a good thing.  Nick Cross had a sweet sideline interception that kept the Nittany Lions from scoring on every one of their first half possessions, so there’s that.  The lone genuine highlight of Friday’s game was the welcoming back of former head coach Ralph Friedgen;  the honorary captain won 75 games and led the Terps to seven bowls during his 10-year tenure.  It’s just a shame the game was out of hand when they honored Fridge on the field.

Terrapin Troubles: Jackson’s two interceptions represented a 10-point swing at best and a 21 point swing at worst.  He was also sacked four times and completed just 10 of 21 passes for 65 yards.  They weren’t helped with eight penalties for 70 yards-in the first half.  Both sides of the ball were dominated on third down:  Penn State converted 9 of 13 while the Terps were held to 4 of 15.  The offense tallied just a pair of first downs in the second half.  And the defense just couldn’t contain Sean Clifford all evening.

Next:  Saturday at noon on the road against 1-3 Rutgers.

 

Virginia Tech (2-2, 0-2 ACC) took a 3-0 lead over Duke with a first quarter field goal, but it was all downhill from there as the Blue Devils scored touchdowns on their final three drives of the first half.  To prove that wasn’t an aberration the visitors reached the end zone on their final three possessions of the second half, and the Hokies were handed a 45-10 loss- their worst since falling 48-7 at No. 2 LSU in 2007.  The 35-point margin was their worst at home since 1974 when they got blown out 49-12 by Houston (gotta love the late Bill Yeoman and the veer offense).  Interesting note:  current Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians was the quarterback for that Hokies team.  Another note:  this year is turning into one major nightmare for the Blacksburg brethren.

Hokie Highlights: Deshawn McClease ran for 102 yards on 17 carries. Damon Hazelton had an impressive 72-yard catch for the team’s lone touchdown. Reggie Floyd and Rayshard Ashby each tallied eight tackles.  Hezekiah Grimsley notched a 25 yard punt return while Oscar Bradburn averaged 41.2 yards per punt.

Hokie Humblings:  the defense failed to get a sack as Blue Devils quarterback Quentin Harris completed 20 of 27 passes.  The D also allowed 5.7 yards per carry and coughed up points on seven of Duke’s final eight possessions.  Ryan Willis completed just 7 of 18 passes, and if you take away his TD strike to Hazelton he averaged under six yards per completion.

Next: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at 2-2 Miami.

 

No. 18 Virginia (3-1) wrapped up the trend of taking a first half lead to put hope in the hearts of its fans, only to come up short in a 35-20 loss to No. 10 Notre Dame.  The defndefense that had been responsible for come-from behind wins against Pitt, Florida State and Old Dominion couldn’t survive a pair of crucial second half fumbles.  The first led gave the Fighting Irish the ball on the UVa seven and they scored two plays later; the second was returned for another touchdown.

Cavalier Congrats: Bryce Perkins threw for 334 yards and two touchdowns, with Hasise Dubois (9 catches for 143 yards and a score) doing the most of the damage.  Joey Blount led the defense with 10 tackles and a fumble recovery, and the defense notched four sacks.  Brian Delaney connected on both of his field goal attempts.

Cavalier Concerns: the offensive line allowed eight sacks, leading to three Bryce Perkins fumbles. Perkins also threw a pair of interceptions, and the Fighting Irish were able to turn those five turnovers into 28 points.  The running game went nowhere again, generating just 59 yards on 21 carries after accounting for sack yardage.

Next: Friday October 11 at 2-2 Miami.

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More isn’t always better; sometimes it’s just more.  College football rules the roost on Saturdays between Labor Day and Thanksgiving weekend, and Thursday night football has been a fixture for over 20 years.  As previously mentioned in this space, college actually does Thursdays better because more often than not the teams playing are coming off of bye weeks and even those that aren’t have had four days off instead of the NFL’s three (and with a larger roster to eat up snaps).  Expansion to Friday only seemed the next logical move, and when it comes to Friday games I don’t count Labor Day’s opening weekend nor do I count the day after Thanksgiving due to the fact both are “holiday Fridays”.  But it’s not necessarily better, nor welcome.  Instead of the Thursday night island, distinct enough of an entity to have its own sense of place; Friday night feels like the sand bar at low tide.  And just like Sundays belong to the NFL, Fridays should belong to high school football.  I mean, has nobody read the book or watched the movie/TV show “Friday Night Lights”?   (Aside: if you stopped watching the show during season two’s murder storyline, I’d understand).

One of the reasons I was happy Syracuse was leaving the Big East was that at the time the ACC didn’t have Friday night games.  Now they do, as is the case with everybody but the SEC (even the ten-member Big 12 has Kansas playing on a Friday night this year).  And this is the third season of Friday night football in the tradition-rich Big Ten; it was only a matter of time before Maryland would have to close down its campus for classes on a Friday and host one of these games.  I get it. For schools and conferences that aren’t major brands it’s a great way to be in the spotlight as opposed to being buried as one of 50+ games on a Saturday.  But just because one can play games on a night previously reserved solely for the feeder system to your sport doesn’t mean you should for some TV bucks.  And just because I’m not a fan of the 21st Century version of Friday Night Lights doesn’t mean I won’t watch when teams I cover or root for are playing. Clear eyes, full hearts. Right?

Alma Mater Update- the Orange host Holy Cross Saturday at noon.  I do believe “Syracuse-Holy Cross” is Greek for “noon kickoff”, although I’ve been wrong before. I’ve also been wrong in supporting my school this fall. As I realized over the weekend, SU is outscoring foes 65-17 when I’m not watching/listening (thank you 1180 AM in Rochester for your long reach after dark) while I’ve witnessed them getting outscored 120-37.  Surely I can cut into that deficit while watching the Orange roast an FCS team, right?  I’m still on the fence–it’s been one of those years.

 

Thursday’s Game:

Navy (2-0, 1-0 AAC) at Memphis (3-0), 8 p.m. (ESPN). 

Both teams are off to dominant starts, but while the Midshipmen are outscoring the opposition 87-17 those wins have come against Holy Cross (1-2 with a three-point win over New Hampshire) and East Carolina (winless against FBS schools).  The Tigers have beaten an SEC school (Ole Miss counts, believe it or not) and have also won on the road (South Alabama isn’t the Crimson Tide, but the Jaguars are in FBS).  They also finally decided the “Brady Brawl” at quarterback:  Brady White starts while Brady McBride transferred to Texas State.  Even with last year’s one-point loss in Annapolis, the Tigers won the AAC West and they look better this season.   And while Navy’s much better than last year’s 3-10 nightmare, a prime time game on the road might be too much to ask.

Presto’s Pick: Mids come up short, 35-24.

 

Friday’s Games:

Virginia Tech (2-1, 0-1 ACC) vs. Duke (2-1), 7 p.m. (ESPN). 

After a week off, the Hokies rollercoaster ride continues with a date against the Blue Devils.  Both schools lost Labor Day weekend, but while the Hokies coughed up a winnable game at Boston College the Blue Devils were blown out by No. 2 Alabama (somewhere there has to be that oddball who roots for Duke football and Alabama basketball).  Duke has also dominated in its two wins while Virginia Tech has struggled to scrape past Old Dominion and Furman.  Daniel Jones may be off to the NFL, but Quentin Harris is completing 73% of his passes and unlike ODU’s Sterling Smartt or Furman’s Darren Grainger actually saw action on the field last year.  The Blue Devils also keep Harris upright:  Duke has allowed an ACC-low eight sacks this fall while the Hokies pass rush has been somewhat lacking.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies are humbled, 21-16.

 

Maryland (2-1) vs. No. 12 Penn State (3-0), 8 p.m. (FS1).

The rivalry that isn’t has two Eastern schools in a Midwest-based league kicking off conference play.  The Terps’ tumble at Temple robs what could have been some serious buzz around this game.  Instead, prepare yourselves for a Penn State invasion:  College Park is the closest Big Ten campus from Beaver Stadium and there are plenty of alumni and Nittany Lion fans inside the beltway (including one or two that work at WTOP).  Maryland owns the conference’s top-ranked running game and the defense that ranks second-best in sacks is also third best in getting off of the field on third down.  Penn State’s led by first-year starting quarterback Sean Clifford, and while he’s put up decent numbers (facing Idaho and Buffalo will do that) the sophomore is directing an offense that ranks last in the Big Ten on third down conversions.

Presto’s Picks: Terrapins tumble, 24-17.

 

Saturday’s Games:

No. 18 Virginia (4-0) at No. 10 Notre Dame (2-1), 3:30 p.m. (NBC).

The Fighting Irish are coming off of a six-point loss at No. 3 Georgia, just the kind of tough defeat that may have actually helped their chances at getting into the College Football Playoff.  As crazy as this sounds, the Cavaliers are currently the highest ranked foe remaining on their schedule (Michigan has dropped to No. 20 and USC is No. 21).  Ian Book threw for 275 yards in the loss to the Bulldogs.  Even though UVa’s defense has allowed just three second-half touchdowns this fall (and two were while holding a 30-plus point lead over William & Mary), Book is better than any of the four QB’s they’ve faced.  Bronco Mendenhall’s ground game took a step back against Old Dominion (27 carries for 85 yards when accounting for sacks), and that’s a shame because Notre Dame allows over 200 yards per game rushing.

Kippy & Buffy realize if you can’t beat them, tailgate with them.  Knowing that Irish are stereotypically redheads, their plan is to enjoy a bottle of Mount Veeder 2017 Chardonnay: “On the nose, beautiful and delicate floral aromas of jasmine marry with sweeter notes of honeysuckle and candied ginger. A very subtle hint of vanilla creme and toffee from the oak aging emerge on the lingering finish.”  Let the record show that Kippy & Buffy are cool with redheads, as Thomas Jefferson founded the University.

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers linger into the second half but come up short, 30-18.

 

Howard slips to Bethune-Cookman, Georgetown loses at Columbia, James Madison beats Elon, Towson tumbles at Florida, Richmond beats Fordham, William & Mary edges Albany.

Last Week: 4-2. Overall: 25-8.