Presto’s college football picks: Passing fancy in Columbus

WASHINGTON — Perception is often reality. Even when the facts differ.

The New York Yankees are always going to have sluggers, the Los Angeles Lakers will always have stars, and Duke basketball will always somehow be able to find really dislikable players. It’s their brand.

Ohio State’s brand was forged by 28 years of “three yards and a cloud of dust” with Woody Hayes. Yes, it’s been 40 years since Hayes roamed the sidelines in Columbus. And they have passed the ball once or twice in the interim — just look at 2006 Heisman Trophy Winner Troy Smith. But this year, the Buckeyes’ road to the status of early Big Ten front-runner is through the air: Dwayne Haskins leads the conference in passing yards by 41 yards per game and passer efficiency by a similar significant margin.

The sophomore from Potomac, Maryland, is completing over 70 percent of his passes. Isn’t that something the Buckeyes should leave for the likes of Purdue? Like it or not, these scarlet and gray impostors once again remain the Big Ten’s best candidate for the College Football Playoff…so embrace the “thirteen yards and a whiff of air” 21st century Buckeyes. Perception may be reality, but when that reality is dominating a Power 5 conference, appearances go out the window.

Saturday’s Games

Maryland (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) at No. 19 Iowa (5-1, 2-1), noon (ESPN2)

The Hawkeyes are sort of a “Michigan Light” — near the top of most defensive categories and boasting a one-two punch on the defensive line from AJ Epenesa and Anthony Nelson (the duo have combined for half of the team’s 10 sacks, second most in the conference). Junior quarterback Nate Stanley is coming off throwing a career-high six touchdowns at Indiana, and his line is great at keeping him upright: their six sacks allowed are the fewest in the Big Ten. For the Terps on the road it may come down to the little things. While they own the best turnover margin (+9) in the conference, Maryland commits the second-most penalties (58) and averages over 90 penalty yards per game. Little things loom large on the road in the Big Ten.

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins tumble, 24-13

Virginia (4-1, 2-1 ACC) at Duke (5-1, 1-1), 12:30 p.m. (ACC Network)

Their upset of Miami turns the Cavaliers from Coastal Division pretenders into contenders. They also, for some reason, have played well against Blue Devils quarterback Daniel Jones, holding the junior to 14-of-42 passing last year while intercepting Jones five times in 2016. Bryce Perkins is coming off his worst outing this fall, and while Duke is no Miami they’re still one of stronger teams in the ACC against the pass. This game is also on the road…where the Cavs are 0-2 this year and 3-10 during the Bronco Mendenhall era. Kippy & Buffy prepare for facing the ultimate “bro” school by once again tailgating with Breaux Vineyards — this time they break out the Cabernet Franc. “Redolent of dark fruits and sweet spice (cardamom) and somewhat woodsy. Full and juicy with loads of fruit and spice on the palate. The drying tannins accompany a long juicy finish.” Sadly, the finish this Saturday will be somewhat sour.

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers come up short, 31-21

Navy (2-4, 1-2 AAC) vs. Houston (5-1, 2-0), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

To say the Midshipmen have rough seas ahead would be a major understatement — their next four foes are a combined 24-1. While the Cougars are the one team in that group with a loss and have built their resume on the likes of Texas Southern, Tulsa and Rice (a combined 3-16), they do bring the highest-scoring offense (48.7 points per game) in the conference to Annapolis. Navy’s defense remains a work in progress, with plenty of issues in stopping the pass, as the Mids have the fewest sacks in the AAC and are 11th in defensive passing efficiency. While they can run the ball — it’s more than just perception: their 303.7 yards per game ranks fourth in FBS — Houston is sneaky-good at stopping the run, allowing just 2.9 yards per carry.

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen can’t tame the Cougars, 34-20

Georgetown gets by Lehigh, Howard handles Morgan State, William & Mary wilts at Maine, Towson tops Albany.

Last Week: 7-2

Overall: 38-20

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: Missouri (-9) vs. Memphis

Last Week: Winner | Season: 4-3

Frankie’s Flyer: NC State (+17.5) at Clemson

Last Week: Loser vs. spread, loser outright | Season: 2-5 vs. spread, 2-5 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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