Presto’s Picks: All about conferences in NCAA football

WASHINGTON — While October is “moving month” in college football, it’s also a time for conferences to crow about how great they are.

You’ll hear how the SEC is back (did it ever really leave?), the Big Ten is top-heavy, and the fact that the name schools have struggled in the Pac-12 tells you how great of a league it is. Each of Power Five conferences has at least one unbeaten, while each league has a school they’d rather us not focus on.

SEC: Three schools in the Top 20, with Alabama and Georgia still unbeaten and a 5-6 record against the other Power Five schools. Best win: The Bulldogs went on the road and held on to nip then-No. 24 Notre Dame. Worst loss: LSU dropped their homecoming game with Troy. Something smells in Baton Rouge.

Big Ten: Four teams in the Top 10, with Maryland also receiving votes. The 7-5 mark against other Power Five schools include a tough loss at home by Ohio State. Best win: The Terps went into Texas and hung 51 on the Longhorns. Worst loss: Nebraska losing to Northern Illinois? Bad enough to get the athletic director 86’d in the fallout.

ACC: Four teams in the Top 20, with Clemson looking every bit as good as they did en route to last year’s national title. But the league is 5-8 versus Power Five schools. Best win: Virginia went to Boise State and somehow won on that blue field. Worst loss: Syracuse dropping a game at home to Middle Tennessee potentially dashed the Orange’s hopes for hanging a Pinstripe Bowl banner at the Carrier Dome.

Big 12: Two Top 10 schools with one major mullet in Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy’s mane. That can’t mask a 4-6 mark against the Power Five. Best win: Oklahoma went into the Horseshoe and beat the Buckeyes. Worst loss: Usually, one would say Baylor slipping to Duke would be embarrassing, but the Bears’ losses to Liberty and UTSA earn their own pages.

Pac-12: Even a 6-2 record against the Power Five can’t mask the fact that the two unbeatens are the wrong ones: Washington and Washington State do not have the star power that USC and UCLA possess. Best win: Cal went on the road to beat North Carolina and topped Ole Miss at home. That gives the Golden Bears something to be proud about while they run the conference gauntlet. Worst loss: The Bruins’ loss at Memphis is the classic “noon kickoff dooms West Coast team” defeat that we saw a week away.

Saturday’s games

Virginia (3-1) vs. Duke (4-1, 0-1 ACC), 12:20 p.m., (ACC Network). The Cavaliers come off their bye week to face a Blue Devils club that makes big plays happen on defense — their 20 sacks and nine interceptions pace the conference. But one that for the first time in years is having trouble moving the ball through the air (Daniel Jones is averaging under 10 yards per completion). Quarterback consistency has been the key for the Cavaliers, as Kurt Benkert is on his way to surpassing his numbers from 2016. The defense is also not scraping the bottom of the ACC barrel, and that little difference might just nudge UVa to a bowl. Conference play means Kippy & Buffy shift over to reds, and nothing says dealing with the ultimate “bro school” Duke like opening a bottle of Breaux Vineyards 2013 merlot: “jammy notes of black cherry and fresh fruit compote with hints of cocoa powder.” Strong suggestions of Gouda on Urban Oven crackers.

Cavaliers come through, 28-20.

Navy (4-0, 3-0 AAC) vs. Air Force (1-3), 3:30 p.m., (CBS Sports Network). Despite all of the hype Army-Navy (rightfully) gets each December, this is a sweet undercard rivalry in the race for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. The winner of this game has taken the trophy the last 20 years. And the home team has been a major factor: The Mids have won six of the last seven games played in Annapolis. Navy leads the nation in rushing offense (400 yards per game). Air Force, after shutting out VMI in their opener, has allowed 38 points per game and last week coughed up 363 yards on the ground to New Mexico.

Midshipmen make their first move toward another trophy, 37-21.

Maryland (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) at #10 Ohio State (4-1, 1-0), 4 p.m., (FOX). The Terps get Gus Johnson?!? This naturally means we’re sure to have a hail-Mary TD pass at the end of the first half. I can already hear the “BANG! CAN! YOU! BELIEVE IT!” The Buckeyes boast the best one-two punch in the league with senior J.T. Barrett completing 63 percent of his passes, while freshman J.K. Dobbins averages 7.6 yards per carry. Max Bortenschlager won last week on the road in the conference, but Minneapolis is a long way from Columbus. Third down performance will be key: Maryland ranks 13th in the conference at moving the chains on offense and 13th in getting off the field on defense.

Terrapins tumble, 38-17.

#16 Virginia Tech (4-1, 0-1 ACC) at Boston College (2-3, 0-2), 7:15 p.m., (ESPN2). Last weekend, the Hokies learned that they’re not as good as the defending national champs — and there’s nothing wrong with that. Can they bounce back against a BC team that is offensively challenged (last in the ACC in scoring, 13th in passing), to say the least? The Eagles have recently had the reputation of bad offense, good defense, but this year’s team is at the bottom of the conference at stopping the run. Is this the week VT’s consistently uneven ground game finds its groove?

Hokies handle the Eagles, 27-6.

The rest: Howard beats NC Central; Georgetown falls at Princeton; William & Mary loses at Elon; Richmond edges Albany.

Last Week: 5-2 | Overall: 28-10

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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