For a special Thursday edition of Presto's Picks, Dave Preston explains why college football has Thursday night football figured out much better than the NFL.
WASHINGTON — Thursday night football is a sore spot for me nowadays.
The NFL version resembles supermarket fish sticks cooked in the oven, from the burned exterior/frozen middle standpoint. Teams are playing on short rest, meaning they’re overworked (four days after playing in a car collision-type sport) and underprepared (three actual days to implement a gameplan in today’s three dimensional chess-like NFL?). You’re going to get a couple of gems here and there (Rams-Vikings last month) but more often than not, the consumer will be treated to games where you spend half the night wishing you were watching “Night Court,” “Dear John,” or “Suddenly Susan.”
However, college football on a Thursday night has far from that feel. For the fan, the most recent game (Ed. Note: Other than Tuesday night Fun Belt action – we see you, Troy) was the late-Saturday Pac-12 extravaganza, meaning you’ve had four full days to recharge your college gridiron batteries. As opposed to the NFL’s tight turnaround where it feels like you’re being force-fed shrimp cocktail 15 minutes after enjoying one of those molten chocolate cakes (with Dulce De Leche ice cream, of course).
For the teams, the college game also sets up its Thursday night schedule smartly — teams playing are coming off a bye week more often than not (and if they aren’t, it’s on four days rest instead of the three in the NFL-and that one day is one huge difference). As a result, both teams are fully recovered as well as thoroughly prepared for their opponent. Since the NFL has insisted on forcing the Thursday night package upon us, can’t they at least do right by the teams involved as well as the consumers who just want quality football? Until then, Thursday night college football is the “Seinfeld” to the NFL’s “Veronica’s Closet.”
Virginia Tech (4-2, 3-0 ACC) vs. Georgia Tech (3-4, 1-3), 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
The Hokies may be 19-8 on this evening during the regular season this century, but they’re just 3-3 at home over the last 10 seasons. The Yellow Jackets bring their highly-touted option offense to Blacksburg, one that leads the ACC with 352 rushing yards per game (and 6.2 yards per carry). There’s something to be said about getting extra time to prepare for Paul Johnson’s offense. Since 2009, Virginia Tech is 0-4 against Georgia Tech on Saturdays but 5-0 on Thursday nights (with the previous weekend off, meaning they’ve had almost two weeks to focus on the different attack). The other game? A 20-17 season-opening Hokies victory where they had the entire month of August to game plan for the Yellow Jackets.
Presto’s Pick: Hokies use the extra prep time to their advantage in a 32-21 win
Virginia (5-2, 3-1 ACC) vs. North Carolina (1-5, 1-3), 12:20 p.m. (ACC Network)
The Cavaliers can clinch bowl eligibility for a second straight season, something that hasn’t happened since the high point of the Al Groh era, when Marques Hagans was the ultimate dual-threat quarterback. Fast-forward 13 years … Bryce Perkins is destroying opponents with his arm and legs, and the Tar Heels have had issues all fall stopping the run and the pass. What’s worse, their mistake-prone offense (-8 in turnover margin ranks last in the ACC and 126th overall in FBS) plays right into the hands of a Cavaliers defense that is much better than expected (third overall in the ACC, fourth against the pass and fifth against the run).
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Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers make their splash into the bowl eligibility pool with a 27-13 victory
Maryland (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten) vs. Illinois (3-4, 1-3), 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
How is this game not being played at noon? This feels like Rutgers II: Electric Boogaloo. The Terps attempt to bounce back from a tough road loss against a ranked foe while facing an offensively challenged squad. While the Fighting Illini boast running back Reggie Corbin (from Upper Marlboro, Maryland) who averages 7.9 yards per carry, their defense ranks either last (yards allowed and passing efficiency) or second to last (points, passing and rushing yards given up) in the league. A lot of focus will be on Terps linebacker Tre Watson — the graduate transfer played four years for the Illini and has been the linchpin for a Terps defense that has more than held its own this fall. Watson just happens to lead the Big Ten with 75 tackles and is tied for the conference lead with four interceptions. Elementary…
Presto’s Pick: Terrapins triumph, 38-14
Navy (2-5) vs. No. 3 Notre Dame (7-0), 8 p.m. (CBS)
What sort of year has this been for coach Ken Niumatalo’s team? This is technically a home game, but one that will take the Midshipmen over 2,600 miles away from Annapolis. Not ideal under any circumstance, but when you’ve lost four straight and have been unable to allow fewer than 21 points all season taking on a juggernaut like the Fighting Irish could mean real trouble. Could Notre Dame overlook the Mids? Not likely, as they’ve lost four of the last 11 in the series, with two of their wins by seven points or fewer. Their defense also has two weeks to prepare for Navy’s option offense.
Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen meet their maker in a 45-12 loss
Georgetown falls to Colgate, Howard handles South Carolina State, James Madison gets by Stony Brook, William & Mary falls to Rhode Island, Towson tops Delaware.
Last Week: 5-2
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 seven points to cover and possibly spring an outright upset.
The Big Chee’s: NC State (-1.5) at Syracuse
Last Week: Winner | Season: 5-3
UCLA (+10.5) vs. Utah
Kansas (+13.5) vs. TCU
Kentucky (+7) at Missouri
Last Week: Loser vs. spread, loser outright | Season: 2-6 vs. spread, 2-6 outright
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