Presto’s Picks: Last Maryland fan to leave, please turn out the lights …

WASHINGTON — Maryland is in its fourth Big Ten season, meaning every fourth-year senior attending the school has known no other conference.  But there’s still an ACC feel to the university on game days: The men’s and women’s basketball crowds are robust and the football crowds are lacking. Instead of a “blackout,” a “whiteout” or a “gold rush,” there seem to have been “gray ghost” games, in which the fans are disguised as stadium seats.

Attendance this fall has averaged 37,636 — 13th in the Big Ten, just ahead of Northwestern. One could blame stadium size — Maryland Stadium is the third-smallest in the conference — but in percentage of capacity, the Terps’ 72.7 percent capacity is ahead only of Illinois. Since joining the Big Ten in 2014, the school has gone from 10th to 12th to 13th in putting people in the seats.

A couple of reasons come to mind for the decline:

  • Despite an enrollment over 30,000, the students have earned a reputation as fair-weather followers of the team — packing the place after the ACC Championship but staying away in droves after the 2-10 years.
  • Without ACC rivals such as Virginia on the slate, there’s a generation of fans who now feel a disconnect and can’t really get motivated for the likes of Northwestern and Purdue.
  • You can also blame the recent phenomenon of multiple November men’s basketball home games: There’s plenty of crossover between both sports’ fan bases, forcing alums, students and boosters to choose between a .500 football team or a hoops team loaded with possibilities and promise.

Now Maryland die-hards have to ask themselves which they prefer — a half-empty stadium on one that’s three-quarters full because of a slew of opposing fans. Opponents with big fan bases such as Ohio State and Michigan can turn College Park into Ann Arbor South or Columbus East. Last Saturday against the Wolverines, there was a flood of Maize and Blue in the stands. One could even hear UCF fans shout “Knight” during the national anthem when they came to College Park in September. Brace yourselves, because Penn State fans will likely be holding a “whiteout” of their own at Maryland Stadium next Saturday.

Virginia (6-4, 3-3 ACC) at No. 3 Miami (9-0, 6-0), noon (ABC)

The Cavaliers’ November gauntlet continues as they face the resurrected Hurricanes. How will their run defense, 11th best in the ACC, hold up against Travis Homer (146 yards rushing against Notre Dame and a 6.7 yards per carry average for the season)? U.Va. quarterback Kurt Benkert has thrown an interception in four straight games, and he’ll be facing a Hurricane secondary that leads the conference with 16 picks.

Kippy and Buffy pick a red blend for the tailgate, and against the “Convicts” school of the Catholics & Convicts, what better to enjoy than a 2016 bottle of The Prisoner: “enticing aromas of Bing cherry, dark chocolate, clove, and roasted fig. Persistent flavors of ripe raspberry, boysenberry, pomegranate, and vanilla linger harmoniously.”

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers win the tailgate but lose the game, 38-15

Virginia Tech (7-3, 3-3 ACC) vs. Pittsburgh (4-6, 2-4), 12:20 p.m. (ACC Network)

The Hokies need to get right before their annual Commonwealth clash with Virginia. Quarterback Josh Jackson hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since before Halloween; he’ll face a rather accommodating Panthers defense that has allowed the most passing yards in the ACC.

Despite allowing 28 points in each of the last two weeks, the Hokies’ defense remains first against the pass and in points allowed as well as in getting off of the field on third down. They’ll be tested on the ground, as Darrin Hall is averaging 162 yards over his last three games.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies make it happen, 28-16

Navy (6-3) at No. 8 Notre Dame (8-2), 3:30 p.m. (NBC)

This isn’t the walkover it used to be: The Mids have won four of the last 10 meetings and came within a touchdown on two other occasions. The Fighting Irish can still secure a New Year’s Day bowl berth with wins this weekend and at Stanford, while Navy appears to be bound for the Military Bowl in Annapolis — leave it to the USNA to save the government money in travel expenses.

Navy’s had a pair of quarterbacks run for more than 200 yards this fall, but both Zach Abey (shoulder) and Malcolm Perry (ankle) are questionable for Saturday, which could put Garret Lewis in the driver’s seat of the option offense. The junior has 46 total yards rushing this fall.

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen come up short, 44-17

Maryland (4-6, 2-5) at No. 17 Michigan State (7-3, 5-2), 4 p.m. (FOX)

The Terps need a win to keep their bowl hopes alive, while the Spartans are smarting after a 48-3 loss to Ohio State. MSU’s offense may be middle-of-the-road (seventh in the 14-school Big Ten in rushing, passing and total yardage), but Maryland’s defense has been roadkill over the last two months, allowing 31 or more points in each of the six league games while coughing up 38 or more twice in nonconference play.

Quarterback Max Bortenschlager (still not specified whether it’s a shoulder, head or hangnail injury) remains a question mark for the Terps, and while Ryan Brand played better as the Michigan game progressed there’s something to be said about instability (even injury-induced) at the game’s most important position.

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins tumble, 31-17

Howard makes Mike London the MEAC Coach of the year with a victory at Hampton, Georgetown ends its autumn by falling to Colgate, Richmond edges William & Mary, Towson tops Rhode Island, and James Madison escapes upset at Elon and enters the FCS Playoffs as the top seed.

Last Week: 6-2

Overall: 64-23

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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