Presto’s college football picks: Prime-time pain

September 13, 2019

The problem with the mid-September schedule is that while the networks are looking for compelling matchups on a weekly basis, most schools nowadays try to build bowl eligibility insurance by bringing at least one FCS school or lower-tier FBS program to campus (and in a few cases, sometimes one of each). This means early-season matchups between ranked foes are few and far between.  Or, in the case of this week, try none.  As in, zero.  Blame more than just the schedule-stuffers, with teams from Iowa State (Cyclones were taken to triple-overtime by Northern Iowa in week one) to Syracuse (coughed up 650 yards and 63 points at Maryland in week two) failing to live up to the preseason hype.

The Orange will face a top-ranked Clemson team that’s more than angry after almost being upset by SU last year in prime time on ABC. I’m not saying things could get ugly, but Syracuse has allowed 60+ points to the likes of Wake Forest and Pitt in recent years. This is Clemson.

FOX presents what used to be a great inter-sectional showdown in Oklahoma-UCLA.  While the Sooners have lived up to their No. 5 ranking, the Bruins have lost to the likes of Cincinnati and San Diego State, both with Chip Kelly coaching on the sidelines.

Meanwhile, OU head coach Lincoln Riley appears to be the quarterback whisperer as Jalen Hurts is on fire. Gus Johnson is probably happy he drew Ohio State-Indiana instead.

At least ESPN will be showing an evening battle of unbeatens in No. 9 Florida facing Kentucky — hold on, the Wildcats are playing in the week’s only ready for prime time matchup? I’m not saying this is the week to go apple-picking or antiquing, but you guys can build major relationship cred without missing much.

Saturday’s Games

No. 21 Maryland (2-0) vs. Temple (1-0), noon (CBS Sports Network)

The Terps are ranked for the first time since joining the Big Ten and have smashed their first two foes to smithereens. But a Terrapin’s memory is a long one, and the image of a Top 25 team going to Tallahassee in 2013 and getting torched by Florida State 63-0 remains in the back of one’s mind. So does the school’s recent rough history with the Owls, like last year’s 35-14 loss at home.

Anthony Russo burned the Terrapin secondary for touchdown passes of 36 and 47 yards last fall and threw for 409 yards in the Owls’ Labor Day weekend win over Bucknell. The key to Maryland’s early start has been third down dominance — the offense ranks eighth (61%) in FBS at moving the chains while the defense (25%) is 14th best in the nation. Head coach Mike Locksley compares the season to driving cross-country, and that starting 2-0 feels like “arriving in Phoenix without a flat.” I’m tempted to dive all-in on Glen Campbell references for the season, but his biggest hits were 40-50 years ago. Also, the second next verse in “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” refers to Albuquerque — where Locksley went 2-26 as New Mexico’s head coach.

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins reach Galveston (Oh, Galveston!) without further car trouble, 34-19

Virginia Tech (1-1) vs. Furman (1-1), noon (ACC Network)

Could the Hokies be in trouble? Their two-touchdown win over Old Dominion didn’t necessarily make one think that this fall’s edition was that much better than the team that needed to schedule a provisional game last year to make postseason play. They currently rank last in FBS in turnover margin and have had issues running the ball (3.4 yards per carry after accounting for sacks). Enter a Furman team that’s ranked 16th in FCS and is averaging 44 points per game. Darren Grainger threw for 311 yards last week against Georgia State, but the freshman will learn rather quickly that the former Turner Field has nothing on Lane Stadium. Or so Hokie Nation hopes, as they try not to choke on their smoked turkey legs.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies have their hands full but hold on, 36-27

Navy (1-0) vs. East Carolina (1-1), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

After a week off, the Mids begin American Athletic Conference play looking to end a disturbing trend:  The Midshipmen went 14-3 during their first two AAC campaigns but went 6-10 in conference play the last two autumns. Their foe can sympathize — ECU went 4-20 in league play from 2016-18. Enter former James Madison Coach Mike Houston and a Pirates team that looked just as awesome in their rout of Gardner-Webb as they looked awful in their blowout loss at NC State. If that’s comparing apples to oranges, the Mids’ week one win over Holy Cross is a pomegranate. This game’s in Annapolis, where the current senior class is 13-3 in regular season contests. Did I mention East Carolina is 1-16 on the road since the 2016 season started?

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen get it done, 31-20

No. 25 Virginia (2-0, 1-0 ACC) vs. Florida State (1-1), 7:30 p.m. (ACC Network)

What’s this? The Cavaliers are ranked and are favored against the Seminoles? It’s been a long year the last two weeks in Tallahassee, as FSU needed a missed extra point in overtime to prevail over (gulp) Louisiana-Monroe. The defense coughs up 40 points, and 520 yards per game doesn’t even look that good. UVa’s pass defense (under 50% completion rate and 157.5 yards per game) will be tested by James Blackman (73% and 304.5) while Cam Akers presents the perfect counter-punch (193 yards rushing last week) on the ground. These schools actually compete for the Jefferson-Eppes Trophy. It’s not the Civil ConFLiCT, but just about as relevant over the years as UVa is 3-15 against FSU.

Kippy and Buffy know their history, and that “Eppes” refers to Thomas Jefferson’s grandson Francis Eppes IV, a two-time Mayor of Tallahassee and Trustee at the seminary that would eventually become Florida State. Nothing says history like tailgating with a bottle of 2013 Jefferson Vineyards Meritage: “An oak driven wine with wonderful aromatics. The bright palate shows berry and black pepper flavors, finishing with lingering notes of coffee.” Coffee is for closers. In the season of possibilities, could that be the Cavaliers?

Presto’s Pick: Cavs come through, 27-22

Georgetown tops Catholic, Howard falls to Hampton, Towson tumbles to Maine, Richmond loses to Elon, James Madison mauls Morgan State.

Last Week: 8-1. Overall: 14-4.

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: Houston (+9.5) vs Washington State

Last Week: Loss (0-2)

Frankie’s Flyers: Houston (+9.5) vs Washington State; Kansas State (+7.5) at Mississippi State

Last Week: Win outright, cover (1-1, 1-1)

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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