Presto’s college football picks: Red alerts

WASHINGTON — College football’s “Show Me Month” shows worlds turned upside-down in Lincoln and Tallahassee. Traditional powers Nebraska and Florida State are off to less-than-ideal starts with new head coaches.

While the Cornhuskers are not the program in the 21st century that they were during the glory run of Tom Osborne, this is a program that hasn’t been 0-2 since 1957. The coach that year was William Jennings, although it may just as well be William Jennings Bryan.

The idea when Nebraska hired Scott Frost away from Central Florida was that their former quarterback would be the magic potion for a program that hadn’t competed for a conference crown since the Big Ten boasted its ill-advised “Leaders” and “Legends” divisions. Instead, consecutive losses at home have the red-jacket-clad fan base wondering if two years at an AAC school was enough of a proving ground.

Thank goodness they’ve rescheduled an opponent to fill the void when the Akron game was cancelled: 0-3 Bethune–Cookman (from the MEAC) comes to Lincoln Oct. 27.

Any panic you may see in the Midwest pales in comparison to the horror on the Gulf Coast. The Seminoles’ come-from-behind win over Samford can hardly cover up an 0-2 ACC start in which the offense has scored just one touchdown. And this is an 0-2 start in the conference with Miami and Clemson still on the schedule. What happened to the program that posted double-digit wins every year from 2012–2016? And have visiting aliens kidnapped Deondre Francois?

Seriously, folks. As a freshman, the kid netted 8.4 yards per pass attempt (2 full yards better than what he’s doing this year), with a 20-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. (He’s thrown 3 TDs with 4 INTs so far this fall.) Perhaps Jimbo Fisher departed for Texas A&M just in time? The good news for FSU fans is that Willie Taggart has started slow in his previous stops as head coach before eventually delivering winners at Western Kentucky and South Florida. But will a fan base that views a 10-win season as a “bad year” have the necessary patience?

Saturday’s Games:

Maryland (2-1) vs. Minnesota (3-0), noon (Big Ten Network)
Can the Terrapins bounce back from last week’s ugly loss to Temple and begin conference play on the right note, providing positive momentum entering the bye week? Quarterback Kasim Hill needs to turn his season around: the redshirt freshman has seen his passing yardage decline from 222 to 121 to 56 this month. Golden Gophers coach P.J. Fleck brings a defense that allows an average of 9 points per game and ranks first in the Big Ten in passing efficiency. He also brings wide receiver Tyler Johnson (20 catches for 283 yards and 5 touchdowns) to apply pressure on a much-improved Maryland defense (tops in the Big Ten in getting off of the field on third down).

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins tumble, 27-17

Navy (2-1) at SMU (0-3), noon (ESPN News)

The two AAC West schools provide quite a contrast in coaching stability. Ken Niumatalolo is in his 11th season at the helm, while first-year coach Sonny Dykes is the Mustangs’ fifth in that span. It’s been a rough start for Dykes, with two of SMU’s losses coming against ranked foes and the other loss against unbeaten North Texas, which just stomped Arkansas in Fayetteville. It’s just as rough for third-year starting quarterback Ben Hicks, minus both of his top targets from last year — Trey Quinn is currently with the Washington Redskins and Courtland Sutton is playing for the Denver Broncos. Last fall, the Mids needed a last-second field goal to prevail in Annapolis.

So far this September, Navy boasts the best turnover margin (+7) in the conference and has a ground game that holds the ball more than 36 minutes per game.

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen handle the Mustangs, 31-14

Virginia (2-1) vs. Louisville (2-1), 12:30 p.m. (ACC Network)

The Cardinals own a three-game winning streak over the Cavaliers, but that was with Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson. This year has already brought a change at the position, with Malik Cunningham getting the nod instead of Jawon Ross this week. Virginia counters with dual-threat quarterback Bryce Perkins (fourth in the ACC in passing efficiency while averaging 80 yards rushing per game).

The first ACC game means Kippy and Buffy switch over from white to red wine … and there’s no better way to kick off conference play than with a bottle of A to Z Pinot Noir from Oregon. The 2015 vintage offers “striking aromas of black cherries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries … overlaid with a cornucopia of spices. As the wine moves across the palate, ripe, dusty tannins bracketed by juicy acidity give shape and definition to the powerful fruit flavors in harmony with a mineral quality, reminiscent of slate and graphite.” 

As we’re already in the Beaver State, Kippy and Buffy break out the Rogue Smokey Blue cheese on multigrain crisps.

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers come through, 28-20

Virginia Tech (2-0) at Old Dominion (0-3), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

The Hokies may be on the road, but Norfolk is well within the program’s footprint. Last year they turned FedEx Field into a sort of “Blacksburg North” for their game with West Virginia. Hopefully they’ve brought plenty of Lane Stadium turkey legs for their faithful to consume.

The Monarchs may be winless, but one benefit of having last Saturday off was coach Justin Fuente’s team had a chance to see multiple upsets. Tech won’t be taking ODU lightly, even with the Monarchs’ offense converting just 28 percent of their third downs.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies handle business on the road, 38-14

Howard tops Bethune–Cookman, Georgetown loses to Columbia, James Madison beats William & Mary, Richmond gets by Stony Brook, Morgan State comes up short at North Carolina A&T.

Last Week: 4-2 | Season: 16-8

Ed. Note: With legal sports gambling coming soon to a state near you, we’re including two more picks this year. Chris Cichon’s “The Big Chee’s” will pick a Top 25 game each week, while Noah Frank’s “Frankie’s Flyer” will pick an underdog of at least 7 points to cover and possibly spring an outright upset.

The Big Chee’s: Oklahoma State (-14) vs. Texas Tech

Last Week: Winner | Season: 3-0

Frankie’s Flyer: Kansas (+7.5) at Baylor

Last Week: Loser vs. spread, loser outright | Season: 1-2 vs. spread, 1-2 outright

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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