Presto’s Picks: Here we go again…

WASHINGTON — Sports’ most important regular season kicks off this weekend as the tradition of college football is like none other and…hold on, the season actually began last weekend? With a game in Sydney, Australia?

In a sport where shifting criteria used by a 12-member committee determines a four-team playoff field, and a conference doesn’t even need to have divisions to have a Championship Game (thank you, Big 12), it almost makes sense. In a world where tradition is trumpeted, yet leagues change membership like shirts and schools have 75 different uniform combinations, college football is the fickle mistress that dazzles us one moment while confounding us the next. She knows we’ll be back — and we are once again. Special thanks to #2 Ohio State for rallying past Indiana Thursday — you saved me from having to completely rewrite my opening thoughts to the season. And good luck next week against 7th-ranked Oklahoma.


Navy at Florida Atlantic, 8 p.m. (WFED 1500 AM & ESPNU)

In our preseason preview, I marveled at how coach Ken Niumatalolo had been the head man for nine seasons while the rest of the AAC coaches had a combined eight years in their current jobs. They’ve got nothing on Lane Kiffin, who’s had five different gigs in the last 10 years. Kiffin was actually a head coach in the NFL with Oakland when Niumatalolo began his tenure in Annapolis. After being fired by the Raiders, Kiffin has held top jobs at Tennessee and USC while also serving as Alabama’s offensive coordinator. Exactly how long do the Owls expect him to stick around? Zach Abey takes over the reins at quarterback for the Midshipmen, but the junior is by no means a first-year starter after seeing action against Army and in the Mids’ bowl game last December.

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen begin with a bang, 38-21


Maryland at #23 Texas, 12 p.m. (FS1)

After taking most of summer workouts to determine who would start at quarterback (sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome gets the nod), the Terps tangle with a Longhorns team that’s coming off three straight losing seasons for the first time since 1938. But Texas returns 10 starters on defense and if there’s one thing Maryland did not do well in 2016 it was protect the passer — their 49 sacks allowed were the most in the Big Ten. Conventional wisdom says if somebody’s going to steal a win in Austin, it will happen while coach Tom Herman and staff are still installing their program and weeding out non-contributors. Can Herman translate what he did with Houston to sophomore QB Shane Buechele (60 percent passer with 21 touchdowns in 2016) against a defense that was near the bottom of the Big Ten in turnovers and total defense? These two teams last met in the 1978 Sun Bowl in a game the Longhorns won 42-0 behind three guys named Johnny Jones, known by the monikers: Lam, Ham and Jam. Oh, the good ole days.

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins tumble, 34-17

Virginia vs. William & Mary, 3:30 p.m. (ACC Network)

Something about facing in-state schools always makes the Cavalier faithful uncomfortable — they opened last year with a loss to Richmond and almost fell to William & Mary in 2015. UVa may have caught a break this year, though, as the Tribe will be starting a new quarterback and running back. More good news for the Cavaliers? They return eight starters on defense. The bad news? That defense had issues stopping the run (11th in the ACC) and pass (12th in yards, 14th in efficiency) in 2016. The best news is that there is stability at the quarterback position for the first time in eons. Kurt Benkert played well in stretches last fall, and with running backs Taquan Mizzell and Albert Reid both graduating, he’ll be leaned on a little more in his second season as a starter.

Back for another fun fall are my tailgating pals, Kippy & Buffy. After their tour of Virginia wineries exclusively in 2016 resulted in a 2-10 campaign, they’re branching out this fall…and beginning with Conundrum White. This “blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscat Canelli and Viognier lures you in with scents of apricot, pear and honeysuckle — and if you’re paying attention, orange and lemon meringue pie.”  Oh, we’re most definitely paying attention as we enjoy a glass with pepper jack cheese on Ritz crackers.

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers come through, 31-20


#21 Virginia Tech vs #22 West Virginia at FedEx Field, 7:30 p.m (ABC)

Former regional and conference rivals reunite. These two schools met 51 times between 1912 and 2005…and between them won 10 Big East conference titles from 1993-2011. Both teams will feature new quarterbacks — but while the Hokies are starting redshirt freshman Josh Jackson, the Mountaineers have ex-Florida starter Will Grier. The junior had the Gators cruising to a 6-0 start in 2015 when he was suspended for PED use. The legs of Justin Crawford (7.3 yards per carry last year) will make Grier’s transition easier. Justin Fuente rolled the dice correctly with transfer Jerod Evans last year, but that was with a veteran receiving corps at Evans’ disposal. Jackson faces an unorthodox defense (WVU runs a 3-3-5), but one that is loaded with inexperience (eight new starters, including the entire defensive line). Even though the Hokies own the Northern Virginia fan base (sorry, Kippy & Buffy), they don’t fare well in Landover: winless in three games against USC (understood), Boise State (makes sense) and Cincinnati (what?).

Presto’s Pick: Hokies come up short, 31-24

Richmond falls at Sam Houston State, James Madison beats East Carolina, Towson tops Morgan State, Howard loses at UNLV.

Last Year: 85-35

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).

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