So much for learning! Like an elementary school’s morning recess, the September bye interrupts whatever momentum the early season had. Blame the calendar — usually there are 13 weekends between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, which translates to just one week off for most schools.
This year, though, there are 14 weekends, which means a bonus bye. Be thankful: back in the day when 11-game schedules were the norm and before Conference Championship Games, byes would be scattered across the landscape like breadcrumbs. Now, instead of weeks off, the openings are simply filled in with games against FCS and non-Power 5 schools.
Navy has an extra weekend off to begin with, thanks to the Army game taking place in December while counting toward their 12-game regular season total, so this year head coach Ken Niumatalo’s team is already idle for the second time.
“Sometimes you like it later in the season when you’re kind of banged up, but that’s our schedule,” Niumatalolo said. “We knew the schedule a long time ago. We’ve practiced for it and planned for it.”
What’s helpful for the Midshipmen is they get a few extra days to prepare for a Thursday night showdown with a 3-0 Memphis team that’s already beaten Ole Miss. I like the bye leading into the Thursday night game — it allows the players to properly recover and the team to properly prepare (my major beef with the NFL’s Thursday Night Football package).
While Navy (2-0) still has a lot to learn about itself, Maryland’s 2-1 start let the light shine on not only how great this team can be (outscoring Howard and Syracuse 141-20) but also how they’re far from perfect (coming up empty on eight plays inside the Temple 10 yard line in the fourth quarter of a three-point loss). After a spring and summer of installing new systems on both sides of the ball, a break might be just what the Terps need mentally and physically.
“You add the four weeks of training camp and three weeks of the season, that’s seven straight weeks of wall-to-wall football, pounding and the contact and things we do,” head coach Mike Locksley said. “Usually every three to four weeks you like to give your players a day off to be able to recover and reset themselves. This couldn’t have come at a better time.”
The break also separates the school’s nonconference and Big Ten portions cleanly, and after going 13-31 over their first five seasons in the league, the Terps could use a little extra time.
“When you self-scout, you give yourself an opportunity to see what other people see,” Locksley said. “You want to refine those things and maybe adjust some things so you don’t have a bunch of tendencies.”
We’ll see how beneficial the Terps’ timeout was when they host No. 13 Penn State next Friday night.
Virginia Tech is also 2-1 entering its bye week, but as no two 2-1 starts are exactly alike, the Hokies appear to have a lot more to fix during the hiatus. So far they’ve followed up a discouraging ACC loss with a pair of unimpressive wins against inferior competition. No offense to FCS contender Furman or Old Dominion, but neither school should be able to come into Lane Stadium and be a threat in the fourth quarter. Two keys for head coach Justin Fuente: 1. Find a way to temper the turnovers (their nine giveaways is fourth most in FBS) and 2. Get better on the ground (Hokies rank 11th in the ACC on offense and 10th in stopping the run). Help is on the way in the form of ex-Minnesota coach Jerry Kill, who comes on board as a special assistant. At least they face Duke (Hokies are 3-0 against the Blue Devils under Fuente) next Friday evening and Miami (the Hurricanes are 0-2 against FBS teams this fall) the week after that.
No. 21 Virginia (3-0) vs. Old Dominion (1-1), 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
The Cavaliers’ season of possibilities has Virginia m off to its best start since 2005. That team featured dual-threat quarterback Marques Hagans, who completed over 60% of his passes while using his wheels to haunt opposing defenses. Hagans has nothing on Bryce Perkins, who in 16 games has already moved past Hagans in career touchdown passes and career yards rushing. The Monarchs come off their bye knowing they had plenty of opportunities to upset Virginia Tech for the second straight season, while realizing they have a lot to clean up on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Stone Smartt is averaging less than 10 yards per completion and the ODU defense has troubles getting off the field on third down.
Kippy and Buffy have no issues setting up their third tailgate of the season, and how better to enjoy a showdown of Commonwealth schools than by opening a bottle of Chrysalis Vineyards Viognier (the state grape of Virginia): “Full-bodied and fragrant with heady tropical and citrus fruits.” During the season of possibilities that has UVa dreaming of a potential Citrus — or, dare I say, Orange — Bowl, they’re going all-in on a citrus fruit finish.
Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers maul the Monarchs, 44-14
Howard slips to Delaware State, James Madison beats Chattanooga, William & Mary falls to East Carolina, Towson tops Villanova, Morgan State loses to Army.
Last Week: 7-2. Overall: 21-6.
Ed. Note: With legal sports gambling coming to D.C. this fall, 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: USC (+4) vs. No. 10 Utah
Last Week: Win (1-2 vs. spread)
Frankie’s Flyer: SMU (+9.5) at No. 25 TCU
Last Week: Two covers, one win outright (3-1 vs. spread, 2-2 outright)