Once again, West Virginia is off to a hot start. Can the Mountaineers finally put together a finish worthy of a Big 12 title?
WASHINGTON — It feels like this happens every year.
West Virginia is off to a 5-0 start for the third time since joining the Big 12 under coach Dana Holgorsen. And with Oklahoma’s 48-45 loss to Texas, the Mountaineers are at No. 6 in the nation and the conference’s lone unbeaten team.
Preseason All-American quarterback Will Grier is completing 71 percent of his passes and is on pace to blow past the total of 34 touchdowns he tossed as a junior. The triple tailback attack features three kids who are averaging 6.0, 5.8 and 5.2 yards per carry. Bowie, Maryland’s Marcus Simms is scorching secondaries (26 catches for 490 yards).
But what makes this year’s edition different is its defense. While previous units have coughed up more than 25 points per game in four of the previous six seasons, the 2018 edition allows a stingy (for the Big 12) 18.6 points per outing (25th nationally but the fewest in the league).
Led by disruptive linebacker David Long Jr., coordinator Tony Gibson’s unit appears to have turned the corner, ranking second in the Big 12 against the run, pass and overall. Do the Mountaineer faithful dare dream knowing they’ve produced finishing kicks of 2-4, 5-5, 1-6 and 2-6 this decade? If Matthew McConaughey can win an Oscar for Best Actor, there’s no reason his look-alike coach can lead West Virginia to the Big 12 title. All right, all right, all right…
Maryland (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) vs. Rutgers (1-5, 0-3), noon (Big Ten Network)
For some reason, I think “Maryland-Rutgers” is French for “noon on the Big Ten Network.” The conference’s two newest members are a combined 11-46 in league play since 2015. And while the Terps are attempting to scrape together three more wins for a second bowl berth in that span, the Scarlet Knights are already on an expressway to the East Division cellar. Where to begin? They currently rank last in the conference in scoring, yards gained, stopping the run and getting off of the field on third down, as well as offensive and defensive passing efficiency. Redshirt sophomore running back Raheem Blackshear is the bright spot, leading Rutgers in rushing yards and receptions. It’s also Homecoming in College Park, which means my Terp tailgating tandem of Matt & Stacia will be breaking out the shrimp dip and Fritos. While the likes of Anthony McFarland and Ty Johnson are giving each other high-fives on the field, my stomach will be doing the same in the press box.
Presto’s Pick: Terrapins triumph, 36-13
Navy (2-3, 1-1 AAC) vs. Temple (3-3, 2-0), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
The Owls are one tough team to get a handle on this year. First they lose to FCS Villanova and Buffalo before blasting Maryland in College Park. They then cough up 45 points to offensively challenged Boston College (75th in the nation in passing) before keeping East Carolina out of the end zone. The Mids have been consistently able to run the ball this fall — their 310.4 rush yards per game ranks second in the nation — but the air attack is far from being the spark/mixer needed to keep foes honest. The loss at Air Force was the first time they’ve been held to single digits in almost five years. Defensively, Navy hasn’t been able to consistently stop — or even slow down —opponents, allowing 33.4 points per game (101st in FBS). It’s a good thing Temple is a team that can stop itself (12 turnovers in six games), but they’re not that counterproductive.
Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen sink, 27-16
Virginia (3-2, 1-1 ACC) vs. No. 16 Miami (5-1, 2-0), 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s team has had two weeks to prepare for the Hurricanes … and they could have used a third to get ready for this defense. Miami ranks No. 1 in the ACC against the run and the pass, as well as getting off of the field on third down and sacks. Since going with freshman quarterback N’kosi Perry, the Canes have averaged 35 points per game, but the Cavs’ D may be the toughest one he’s faced this fall (no offense, Savannah State).
Just like college football bluebloods Notre Dame, Alabama, and Ohio State look down their noses at Miami as “nouveau riche” (even though they’ve been a force for over 30 years), Petit Verdot is a varietal that’s been around forever (the Romans enjoyed it) but only recently getting its due as a stand-alone varietal. Trinchero Napa Valley’s Central Park West Vineyard Petit Verdot “presents a deep, inky purple color, supported by beautiful black fruit and floral aromas reminiscent of lavender and lilac. With layered blueberry and blackberry flavors, this wine’s ripe tannins lead to a sensual, round mouthfeel.” Kippy & Buffy concur.
Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers come up short, 31-12
Virginia Tech (3-2, 2-0 ACC) at North Carolina (1-3, 1-1), 7 p.m. (ESPNU)
Despite a pair of defeats in which they’ve allowed more than 40 points, the Hokies remain in the driver’s seat of the Coastal Division. The Tar Heels? Under the wheels of the ACC after a 1-3 start — ranking last in the conference in third-down conversions as well as turnover margin will do that to a team. It’s amazing to realize the Tar Heels played for an ACC Championship only three years ago. Since winning the 2015 Coastal Division, Larry Fedora’s team is 12-19 and 6-11 in the conference. The only thing the Heels appear to be able to do is stop the pass (third-best in the conference), but VT quarterback Ryan Willis is fresh off consecutive 300+ yard efforts. After not being able to run the ball against Duke, Tech was able to move the ball on the ground and in the air against Notre Dame. And UNC is no UND.
Presto’s Pick: Hokies handle the Heels, 38-10
Georgetown tops Lafayette, Howard defeats Delaware State, James Madison beats Villanova, Towson tops William & Mary, Richmond falls at Albany.
Last Week: 5-4. Moving Month begins with a whimper …
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: No. 22 Texas A&M (-2.5) at South Carolina
Last Week: Loser | Season: 3-3
Frankie’s Flyer: Colorado (+7) at USC
Last Week: Winner vs. spread, winner outright | Season: 2-4 vs. spread, 2-4 outright
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