WASHINGTON — It was brought to my attention after I praised Northwestern’s run to the Big Ten West that their division is subpar, and that’s absolutely right.
The West is far from being the best this fall, as has been the custom since the conference put “Leaders & Legends” into the trash can where it belonged. But the Big Ten’s division discussion is far from unique, as each of the Power Five Conferences has long boasted a Darryl Hall as well as a John Oates (or, depending on your age and interest: Paul Simon/Art Garfunkel, George Michael/Andrew Ridgeley, Kix Brooks/Ronnie Dunn, Big Kenny/John Rich). Even the 10-member Big 12 had that issue, as the South won 12 of 15 championship games.
At least the Big Ten West has a ranked team in the Wildcats. That’s not the case in the ACC’s Coastal, where a four-loss Pitt is all but headed to Charlotte for a showdown with unbeaten Clemson (that will certainly end well). The Atlantic Division has won seven straight and is 9-4 in a league set up for Miami and Florida State to face off for the title (they’ve yet to do so). Despite the imagined edge, the Atlantic and Coastal have won an equal amount of inter-divisional games this fall.
The Pac 12 division of fortune is similar, with two ranked schools in the North and just one in the South (No. 19 Utah, which has three league losses). The North has won six of seven championship games and this year looks like more of the same, with a 5-4 South champion an extreme possibility. The North owns a two-game edge inter-divisionally, with everyone wondering when USC and UCLA will get their respective acts in gear.
You’d expect the SEC to have a marked difference, especially with the West winning seven of eight titles this decade (although it was 5-5 the previous decade and the East dominated the ‘90s). But the East has actually taken seven of 12 inter-division games. Even Vanderbilt is getting into the act. Of course, everybody — in the East and West — is and will be chasing Alabama now and for some time. My only issue is that Missouri is west of the Mississippi River yet plays in the East Division.
Which brings us back to the Big Ten. This year, there are three East Division teams in the top 14 with Northwestern repping the West at No. 22. The East owns an 11-8 edge and enjoyed a 13-8 advantage last year, but the West won 11 of 21 games in 2016 and the two divisions were even the previous two years. The East is 4-0 in the Championship Game, a small sample size to say the least. And that span saw changes at formerly dominant programs Nebraska and Wisconsin.
How long the current divide will last between the divisions might just hinge on how long it takes for Scott Frost to get things going in Lincoln and how long it takes Paul Chryst to consolidate what he’s built in Madison. Perhaps Urban Meyer (who’s resigned with health concerns before), Mark Dantonio (62 years old) and Jim Harbaugh (mentioned every year with NFL vacancies) won’t be on their current campuses forever. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was conference parity.
Maryland (5-5, 3-4 Big Ten) vs. #9 Ohio State (9-1, 6-1), noon (ABC).
The Buckeyes happen to be the only team in the East Division the Terps haven’t beaten since joining the league, and it hasn’t been close: the average score has been 56-17. This year OSU owns the number one offense in the Big Ten thanks to the arm of Dwayne Haskins, who has 33 touchdown passes in 10 games. With Kasim Hill done for the year due to a torn ACL, the Terps will start redshirt sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome, who has thrown all of 31 passes this fall. Expect Anthony McFarland (210 yards rushing against Indiana) to receive the lion’s share of attention, and while the Buckeyes aren’t as sharp on that side of the ball their defense is second-best at getting off of the field in the Big Ten.
Presto’s Pick: Terrapins tumble, 44-14
Virginia Tech (4-5, 3-3 ACC) vs. Miami (5-5, 2-4), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
The last two Coastal Division champs expected to be playing for another spot in the ACC Championship Game this weekend as recently as a month ago. Instead, they’re facing the question of which team can salvage its sinking season. While the Hokies have dropped three in a row, the Hurricanes have lost four straight. But not all slides into oblivion are created equally, as Miami has three one-possession losses in its tumble and Virginia Tech has dropped its three by an average of 20 points. Tech’s slump can be traced to a defense that’s surrendered 30 or more points five times this fall; the Canes’ decline can be traced to an offense that ranks 12th in the ACC in passing and a starting quarterback in N’Kosi Perry who hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in over a month. Cover your eyes.
Presto’s Pick: Hokies hurt a little more, 27-21
Virginia (7-3, 4-2 ACC) at Georgia Tech (6-4, 3-3), 3:30 p.m. (ACC Network)
The Cavaliers can still win the Coastal Division, but only with two wins and two losses by Pitt. The Yellow Jackets may be out of the running for the division, but Coach Paul Johnson’s option offense will be running all afternoon — they lead the nation with 362 yards per game on the ground. U.Va. .just coughed up 205 yards rushing … to Liberty. The home team has also prevailed in seven of eight meetings this decade.
Kippy & Buffy hit the road with a bottle of Cain Five. The 2014 vintage is 51 percent cabernet sauvignon and 26 percent merlot (remaining grapes used are split between Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot). “The aromas are discrete: fruity — floral — herbal — spicy — and pure. On the palate, the wine has a certain density, but now the tannins have melted and this wine just flows.”
Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers come up short, 33-26
Navy (2-8, 1-5 AAC) vs. Tulsa (2-8, 1-5), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
For just the second time all season, the Mids will face a team with a losing record (their Oct. 6 trip to 1-3 Air Force being the other game). The Golden Hurricane have lost eight of nine, with their lone victory coming against one-win UConn, and rank 10th in the AAC at stopping the run while allowing 5.0 yards per carry. Now that Zach Abey is back at the controls of the option offense, one can expect more of the 21-point second half they had against UCF and less of the 3-point first half they scraped together against the Knights last week. The defense has to put together a solid 60 minutes together against Tulsa offense that ranks 11th in the conference in passing, total offense and points per game while allowing the most sacks this fall.
Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen celebrate Senior Day in Annapolis with a 31-19 victory
Howard beats Bryant, Georgetown gets by Holy Cross, James Madison tops Towson, William & Mary edges Richmond to send Jimmye Laycock out a winner.
Last Week: 6-4
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: Cincinnati (+7) at UCF
Frankie’s Flyers: SMU (+7) vs. Memphis
Middle Tennessee (+16.5) at Kentucky
Syracuse (+10) vs. Notre Dame
Last Week: Winner vs. spread, winner outright | Season: 5-7 vs. spread, 5-7 outright