Presto’s college football picks: Everybody working for the weeknight

September 26, 2019

Getty Images/Scott Taetsch

More isn’t always better; sometimes it’s just more.

College football rules the roost on Saturdays between Labor Day and Thanksgiving weekend, and Thursday night football has been a fixture for over 20 years.

As previously mentioned in this space, college actually does Thursdays better than the pros, because more often than not the teams playing are coming off bye weeks. Even those that aren’t have had four days off instead of the NFL’s three (and with a larger roster to eat up snaps).

Expansion to Friday seemed the next logical move, and when it comes to Friday games I don’t count Labor Day’s opening weekend, nor do I count the day after Thanksgiving due to the fact both are “holiday Fridays.” But this new day of football is not necessarily better, nor welcome.

Instead of the Thursday night island — distinct enough of an entity to have its own sense of place — Friday night feels like the sandbar at low tide. Just like Sundays belong to the NFL, Fridays should belong to high school football. I mean, has nobody read the book or watched the movie/TV show “Friday Night Lights”? (Aside: if you stopped watching the show during season two’s murder storyline, I’d understand).

One of the reasons I was happy Syracuse was leaving the Big East was that, at the time, the ACC didn’t have Friday night games. Now they do, as is the case with everybody but the SEC (even the 10-member Big 12 has Kansas playing on a Friday night this year). And this is the third season of Friday night football in the tradition-rich Big Ten, so it was only a matter of time before Maryland would have to close down its campus for classes on a Friday and host one of these games.

I get it. For schools and conferences that aren’t major brands it’s a great way to be in the spotlight as opposed to being buried as one of 50+ games on a Saturday. But just because one can play games on a night previously reserved solely for the feeder system to your sport doesn’t mean you should do it for some TV bucks. And just because I’m not a fan of the 21st Century version of Friday Night Lights doesn’t mean I won’t watch when teams I cover or root for are playing. Clear eyes, full hearts. Right?

Thursday’s Game:

Navy (2-0, 1-0 AAC) at Memphis (3-0), 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Both teams are off to dominant starts, but while the Midshipmen are outscoring the opposition 87-17, those wins have come against Holy Cross (1-2 with a three-point win over New Hampshire) and East Carolina (winless against FBS schools). The Tigers, meanwhile, have beaten an SEC school (Ole Miss counts, believe it or not) and have also won on the road (South Alabama isn’t the Crimson Tide, but the Jaguars are in FBS). They also finally decided the “Brady Brawl” at quarterback: Brady White starts while Brady McBride transferred to Texas State. Even with last year’s one-point loss in Annapolis, the Tigers won the AAC West and they look better this season. And while Navy’s much better than last year’s 3-10 nightmare, a prime-time game on the road might be too much to ask.

Presto’s Pick: Mids come up short, 35-24

Friday’s Games:

Virginia Tech (2-1, 0-1 ACC) vs. Duke (2-1), 7 p.m. (ESPN)

After a week off, the Hokies roller coaster ride continues with a date against the Blue Devils. Both schools lost Labor Day Weekend, but while the Hokies coughed up a winnable game at Boston College, the Blue Devils were blown out by No. 2 Alabama (somewhere there has to be that oddball who roots for Duke football and Alabama basketball). Duke has also dominated in its two wins while Virginia Tech has struggled to scrape past Old Dominion and Furman. Daniel Jones may be off to the NFL, but Quentin Harris is completing 73% of his passes, and unlike ODU’s Sterling Smartt or Furman’s Darren Grainger, actually saw action on the field last year. The Blue Devils also keep Harris upright: Duke has allowed an ACC-low eight sacks this fall while the Hokies pass rush has been somewhat lacking.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies are humbled, 21-16

Maryland (2-1) vs. No. 12 Penn State (3-0), 8 p.m. (FS1)

The rivalry that isn’t has two Eastern schools in a Midwest-based league kicking off conference play. The Terps’ tumble at Temple robs what could have been some serious buzz around this game. Instead, prepare yourselves for a Penn State invasion. College Park is the closest Big Ten campus from Beaver Stadium and there are plenty of alumni and Nittany Lion fans inside the beltway (including one or two that work at WTOP). Maryland owns the conference’s top-ranked running game and the defense that ranks second-best in sacks is also third-best in getting off the field on third down. Penn State’s led by first-year starting quarterback Sean Clifford, and while he’s put up decent numbers (facing Idaho and Buffalo will do that), the sophomore is directing an offense that ranks last in the Big Ten on third down conversions.

Presto’s Picks: Terrapins tumble, 24-17

Saturday’s Games:

No. 18 Virginia (4-0) at No. 10 Notre Dame (2-1), 3:30 p.m. (NBC)

The Fighting Irish are coming off a six-point loss at No. 3 Georgia, just the kind of tough defeat that may have actually helped their chances at getting into the College Football Playoff. As crazy as this sounds, the Cavaliers are currently the highest-ranked foe remaining on Notre Dame’s schedule (Michigan has dropped to No. 20 and USC is No. 21).

Ian Book threw for 275 yards in the loss to the Bulldogs. Even though UVa’s defense has allowed just three second-half touchdowns this fall (and two were while holding a 30-plus point lead over William & Mary), Book is better than any of the four QB’s they’ve faced. Bronco Mendenhall’s ground game took a step back against Old Dominion (27 carries for 85 yards, when accounting for sacks), and that’s a shame because Notre Dame allows over 200 yards per game rushing.

Kippy & Buffy realize if you can’t beat them, tailgate with them. Knowing that Irish are stereotypically redheads, their plan is to enjoy a bottle of Mount Veeder 2017 chardonnay: “On the nose, beautiful and delicate floral aromas of jasmine marry with sweeter notes of honeysuckle and candied ginger. A very subtle hint of vanilla crème and toffee from the oak aging emerge on the lingering finish.” Let the record show that Kippy & Buffy are cool with redheads, as Thomas Jefferson founded the University.

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers linger into the second half but come up short, 30-18

Howard slips to Bethune-Cookman, Georgetown loses at Columbia, James Madison beats Elon, Towson tumbles at Florida, Richmond beats Fordham, William & Mary edges Albany.

Last Week: 4-2. Overall: 25-8.

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: Washington State (+4) at No. 19 Utah

Last Week: Win (2-2 vs. spread)

Frankie’s Flyer: Rice (+9) vs. Louisiana Tech

Last Week: Win outright (4-1 vs. spread, 3-2 outright)

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