Presto’s Picks: High noon in Columbus

WASHINGTON — Even though it’s for a potential playoff berth instead of a place in the Rose Bowl, Michigan-Ohio State is the game that will define this weekend.

This is the showdown that will have everyone watching and then rehashing, even though it’s played at noon instead of in prime time. It’s a de facto elimination game because the winner is not assured of a playoff berth (or in Ohio State’s case even a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game), and the loser gets to practice their “No, playing in the (insert bowl’s name here) Bowl is not a letdown at all” speech.

But Ohio State-Michigan is a lot more than that.

College football is at its best when its premiere programs are producing, and even better when its major rivalries meet in high-stakes showdowns.

Although the era of 1968-80 (when either the Buckeyes or the Wolverines went to Pasadena) is long gone, these two teams are still at the top of the conference (as witnessed by Maryland — the Terps were outscored 121-6 over a two-week span by the duo). Yes, even if Penn State winds up playing Wisconsin for the actual Big Ten title.

Because you can win a tiebreaker in the standings, but you can’t upstage the horseshoe.

And when you look at the Buckeyes’ home field in Columbus, you see Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh on the sidelines along with Hall of Fame coaches Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler. You see JT Barrett and Jabrill Peppers, but you also recall the exploits of Heisman Trophy winners Archie Griffin and Desmond Howard. You hear “Hang on Sloopy” and “Hail to the Victors” … while seeing the dotting of the I in “script Ohio.” You look at the field in Columbus and are reminded that even when this game isn’t technically a big game, it’s a huge matchup. And you wish your school had a rival you loved beating and hated losing to even 10 percent as much as this one.

This week’s predictions:

Maryland (5-6, 2-6 Big Ten) vs Rutgers (2-9, 0-8), 12 p.m., ESPNews. A bowl bid is up for grabs as coach DJ Durkin’s team qualifies for postseason play if they win. And given the recent history of this series, “if” is the operative word. The Scarlet Knights blew a 31-10 first-half lead last year in a home loss. And the Terrapins coughed up a 35-10 lead at home two years ago. As bad as things have been for the Terps during their four-game slide, the Scarlet Knights have been shut out four times in conference play losing games 39-0, 49-0, 58-0 and 78-0. Quarterback Perry Hills and his shoulder remain in the land of limbo … but Rutgers is exactly the team you’d be OK facing with a backup QB. The Scarlet Knights are 13th in the Big Ten in yards and points allowed, 13th in sacks and 13th in defensive passing efficiency. And by the way, Rutgers’ offense is worse.

Terrapins Triumph, 30-18

Virginia (2-9, 1-6 ACC) at Virginia Tech (8-3, 5-2), 12 p.m., ESPN2. Have we mentioned that the Hokies have won this matchup 12 straight years? Last fall, they clinched bowl eligibility with a victory in Charlottesville. And this year, they can wrap up the ACC Coastal Division with a win or a North Carolina loss to NC State. It’s easy to call this matchup a tale of two quarterbacks. But even though Jerod Evans has had the season for Tech that U.Va. hoped Kurt Benkert would have, it’s more of a difference of defenses. Under longtime coordinator Bud Foster, the Hokies haven’t missed a beat. And some could say the defense has been better this fall. Bronco Mendenhall’s D in Charlottesville is earning one … The defense is ranked near the bottom in the ACC in just about every category. At the end of another season where the wins were rare but the great Virginia wine was plentiful, Kippy & Buffy go out in style enjoying a Chateau O’Brien 2011 Limited Reserve Tannat: “Full bodied, dense and concentrated — with black fruit flavors and a silky smooth finish.” Break out the garlic dill jack on club crackers.

Hokies make it a lucky 13 straight, beating the Cavaliers 28-10.

Richmond (8-3) vs North Carolina A&T (9-2), 2 p.m., ESPN3. While many schools are focused on finishing their regular seasons, the Spiders begin their postseason run with a home game against the Bulldogs. It’s a contrast of strengths: Richmond has made its money through the air this fall while NC A&T has dominated on the ground (ranking in the top 20 of FCS in both rushing offense and defense). In November, that takes a higher priority … and Richmond is also coming off a bad loss to William & Mary. But Kyle Lauletta has at least one more great game in him this year.

Spiders advance, 36-24.

Navy (8-2, 6-1 AAC) at SMU (5-6, 3-4), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. The Midshipmen have already locked up a berth in the AAC Championship Game, but a win against the Mustangs will further their ambitions of potentially playing in a New Year’s Day bowl. Actually, the New Year’s Day Bowls will be played on Jan. 2 this year because the NFL’s regular season wraps up on Sunday, the day before. Could anything derail the Mids? Actually, SMU can pass the ball (4th in the AAC) and Navy ranks last in the conference in defensive passing efficiency. But since October, only Air Force has held the runaway option to under 28 points. SMU won’t be the second.

Mids make it happen, 35-20.

Last Week: 8-2.

Overall: 77-33.

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up