Navy, Maryland, Va. Tech all face biggest tests thus far

WASHINGTON — With postseason baseball about to hit the area and the two local NFL teams squaring off in Baltimore Sunday, college football may get pushed to the back burner for many sports fans this weekend. That’s a shame, since three area schools are facing their biggest tests of the season to date Saturday afternoon, in what should be a trio of great games.

Maryland (4-0) heads to Happy Valley at noon to take on a 3-2 Penn State squad in front of what promises to be an enormous crowd. The Terps have cruised in their two home games, while gutting out a 30-24, double-overtime road win at UCF in their toughest test to date. The Nittany Lions may not be the toughest test the Terps will face all year, but they’ll have a good shot at a spot in the Top 25 with a win.

For those who have forgotten, this series has been wild since Maryland’s move to the Big Ten. The Terps stole a thrilling, one-point road win two years ago, only to drop the rematch last year in Baltimore, also by a single point. If Saturday’s showdown is anything close to the prior two, we could be in for another thriller.

Meanwhile, Navy (3-1) suffered its first loss of the season last week at Air Force, but it returns to Annapolis Saturday to face No. 6 Houston at 3 p.m. at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, where the Midshipmen haven’t lost since 2014. That home winning streak faces its toughest challenge to date, with Navy opening as a 17-point underdog, but the environment and the elements may conspire to give the Mids a fighting chance.

With an eye on the forecast and Hurricane Matthew, Houston’s high-flying offense may have to play primarily on the ground, where Navy thrives. Navy ranks 14th in the nation with 251.5 rush yards per game. Houston, meanwhile, averages just over 300 yards a game passing, more than 60 percent of their overall offensive output. If the weather helps make Greg Ward and company more one dimensional, Navy will be in better position to pull the upset.

Finally, Virginia Tech (3-1) has rebounded from its early loss against Tennessee with convincing home victories over Boston College and East Carolina, outscoring their opponents, a combined 103-17. With an extra week to prepare, the No. 25 Hokies find themselves heading into a showdown of ranked teams as they visit No. 17 North Carolina in Chapel Hill at 3:30 p.m.

Carolina is coming off dramatic, back-to-back victories over Pitt and Florida State, the latter coming on a last-second field goal in Tallahassee. The Tar Heels opened as nearly touchdown favorites, but that line has dropped under a field goal. With two emotionally and physically draining weeks in a row coming in, UNC may be vulnerable.

So yes, enjoy the NLDS and the local rivalry on NFL Sunday, but save some time and adrenaline for the college games this weekend. If Saturday’s slate is anything like last week’s, you’ll be happy you did.

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