Presto’s Picks: Waist deep in the big muddy of college athletics

WASHINGTON — What did Benjamin Franklin say? “Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half-shut afterward?”

As somebody who’s been a fan of college football and basketball most of my life, I am not unfamiliar with programs playing loose with the rules. Back in the day, the joke was that the SEC stood for “So Everyone Cheats” — and it wasn’t completely inaccurate. Conference winners occasionally didn’t play in bowl games because of probation, and one year the Pac-10 was reduced to five eligible schools because of shenanigans. A whole league once imploded because of cheating (RIP, Southwest Conference) and SMU is still recovering from receiving the “Death Penalty” in 1987.

Which is why this week’s FBI investigation into bribery and corruption isn’t just a men’s college basketball story — it’s one that bleeds into the football world, as well. Because every time a non-blue blood improves beyond expectations there are whispers. Anytime a hot recruit spurns the local powerhouse to attend the league’s black sheep, there are double-takes. Whenever a school is associated with a shoe company (see: Oregon/Nike) there is head-scratching when the vast majority of their recruits are from outside what should be their primary recruiting area.

And anytime a school that has been flagged for violations in one sport, one wonders if there could have been corner-cutting in the school’s other revenue sport.

Four schools were named in the federal investigation … and they’re all name schools: USC, Auburn, Oklahoma State and Arizona have had varying success over the years on the court while each has run afoul of the NCAA on the football field. The first head coach to lose his job (even though he technically is on “unpaid leave”) is with a school that was in the report but not even named — and barring something going down at Duke, Rick Pitino will be the biggest fish caught in this net. As a graduate of a school (Syracuse) that has been popped more than once for coloring outside the lines, I’m uneasily nervous. And as someone who has enjoyed covering college football and basketball for the majority of my life, I’m sickened.

One of my favorite stories as a kid was about “Harry the Dirty Dog” … where a white dog with black spots rolls around in coal and becomes a black dog with white spots. I always knew that college athletics was a world that didn’t bathe all the time. This week’s revelations lead me to believe that it’s going to be some time before this animal we’ve all grown to love will be clean again.

Saturday’s games

Maryland (2-1) at Minnesota (3-0), noon (FS1)

The Terps will be using their third, different starting quarterback in four games … and unlike the transition from dual threat Tyrrell Pigrome to Kasim Hill, the move from Hill to Max Bortenschlager will be a little more marked. As in, Max is not nearly as nimble on his feet. That’s not ideal when you’re facing a Golden Gophers defense that leads the Big Ten in stopping the run. Max needs more than DJ Moore to throw to (the WR has over 50 percent of the team’s catches, 57 percent of the receiving yards, and 80 percent of the team’s TD receptions this fall) while also needing to stay upright (five sacks allowed by the Terps against UCF). Minnesota’s main threat offensively is running back Rodney Smith. The junior is coming off his first 100-yard effort of the season and ran for 144 yards and two touchdowns last year against the Terps.

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins tumble, 24-17

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

Expect the turf of Skelly Field at H.A. Chapman Stadium to get a major workout. The Mids rank second in the nation running the football, while the Golden Hurricane are fourth in Division I FBS. But while Navy allows fewer than 100 yards per game on the ground, Tulsa coughs up 294.5 per game and 6.9 yards per carry. The Golden Hurricane have also lost games to the likes of Toledo (a 54-51 shootout) and New Mexico (a 16-13 defensive duel). In addition, the two quarterbacks they’ve used this year are named “Chad President” and “Luke Skipper.” Leadership is always important … no word on if Tulsa is also recruiting prospects “Greg Governor” or “Pete Pilot”.

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen win, despite the customary ill-timed fumble and missed field goal, 35-26

No. 12 Virginia Tech (4-0) vs. Clemson (4-0, 2-0 ACC), 8 p.m. (ABC)

Not only is this a rematch of last year’s conference title game, it’s also a showdown of the league’s two highest-ranked teams. Kelly Bryant isn’t necessarily making people forget DeShaun Watson, but the junior is completing 68 percent of his passes while rushing for over 60 yards per game. Despite ranking seventh in the ACC against the run and the pass, the Hokies defense has pitched a pair of shutouts and allowed just over 10 points per game. Josh Jackson isn’t playing like a redshirt freshman (leading the ACC in passing efficiency), but he’s yet to face a defense like the Tigers, one that is the stingiest in the conference against the pass and overall. As much as I wish there was a blocked punt or a kickoff return for a score to spring the home team Saturday night, one has the feel the smoked turkey legs won’t be as tasty.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies come up short, 21-16

Virginia (3-1) has the week off … and that means Kippy & Buffy are in the Outer Banks to shut down the cottage for the winter. Just like it’s not a tailgate at Scott Stadium without the best wines, cheeses and crackers, it’s not technically Champagne unless the bubbly comes from the Champagne region of France. That’s why the Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label is on ice: “Offering smoky pear and nectarine flavors and a hint of honey … finishes on a gently spicy note, with very good cling and a touch of bitter lemon pith.” Where’s the tin of D’Artagnan caviar?

Georgetown loses to Harvard (at RFK Stadium), William & Mary gets by Stony Brook, Towson tumbles to Villanova, James Madison defeats Delaware.

Last Week: 5-3  Overall: 23-8

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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