Welcome to “Moving Month” in college football, where strong starts are often exposed as the byproduct of soft scheduling. Where potential weakness become even more apparent as teams for the most part fully enter conference play. Where Heisman Trophy hopefuls make missteps and the eventual winner starts to shine just a little bit brighter.
The four area FBS schools enter October the same way, coming off a loss last weekend, but with different trajectories. Virginia and Navy can write off road losses as speed bumps en route to bowl eligibility, while Maryland hopes a three-game tour of the Big Ten’s underbelly (Rutgers, Indiana and Purdue are a combined 5-8 with an 0-5 league record) can get them back on the right track. Virginia Tech? The S.S Blacksburg is taking on serious water and last Friday’s 45-10 loss to Duke saw a robot doing push-ups on the sideline after scores. Next thing you know they’ll be microwaving those turkey legs.
The SEC is stacked: Five of the top 10 teams in this week’s Associated Press Poll are in the Southeastern Conference, and only No. 7 Auburn plays multiple ranked foes this month (both on the road). No points if you guess which school is ranked highest.
Don’t Sleep on Wake: No. 2 Clemson is one of two unbeatens remaining in the ACC, with surprising Wake Forest being the other. The Demon Deacons are one win away from tying last year’s total and are led by dual-threat quarterback Jamie Newman. They’re idle this weekend and could very well be unbeaten when they face the Tigers next month.
Pac-12 After Dark — Delicious but Deadly: Or, the conference that feeds on its own. Everybody’s suffered at least one loss, and despite the zaniness of Washington State-UCLA, the league is once again positioned outside the College Football Playoff party.
Everybody Wins — Almost: Every Power Five school has at least one victory this year, and only three schools in FBS are winless after one month. Rice, New Mexico State and Akron, we’re looking at you. Actually, with NM State facing Incarnate Word in November, our eyes are on the Owls and the Zips.
Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss: The Heisman Trophy race offers up some early front-runners, with Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts the early leader. Just like Baker Mayfield in 2017 and Kyler Murray last year. A school hasn’t deserved to have the Heisman winner in three consecutive years since Herschel Walker was tearing things up at Georgia from 1980-82. Candidates to break the Sooner streak: Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa, LSU QB Joe Burrow, Ohio State QB Justin Fields, and Wisconsin running back (yes, a RB is still eligible to win this award) Jonathan Taylor. And yes — even though I wasn’t a huge “Home Improvement” fan, I want to call him Jonathan Taylor Thomas. Just like Maryland QB Josh Jackson makes one think of “Dawson’s Creek.”
Maryland (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten) at Rutgers (1-3, 0-2), noon (Big Ten Network)
Technically, these two schools are competing in the Big Ten, despite being outscored 141-0 in three combined conference games played this fall. The Scarlet Knights fired Chris Ash after three-plus years and an 8-32 record, trotting out “not a New Jersey Stereotype” Nunzio Campanille as their interim head coach. Four years ago it was Mike Locksley who was the fill-in for the fired Randy Edsall at Maryland and the Terps came within a point of beating Penn State in his debut. It appears as if Rutgers is the medicine Locksley’s team is looking for on multiple fronts. The banged-up offensive line has had issues protecting quarterback Josh Jackson lately, allowing eight sacks in the losses to Temple and Penn State. The Rutgers D? Just four sacks all September. Maryland’s defense is also looking to bounce back from a week where, by estimation of head coach Mike Locksley, they missed 17 tackles. Rutgers ranks near the bottom of the Big Ten in most offensive categories, and are dead last in moving the chains on third down.
Presto’s Pick: Terrapins Triumph, 38-19
Navy (2-1) vs. Air Force (3-1), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
Service Academy Irony Time: Despite educating their respective cadets to defend the seas and skies, the Midshipmen and Falcons rank first and second in FBS on the ground as both teams are averaging over 330 yards per game rushing. While Navy relies primarily on quarterback Malcolm Perry (20 carries per game) to generate yardage within the context of its triple option, Air Force boasts a “thunder and lightning” backfield consisting of fullback Tavin Birdow (338 yards and 5.3 per carry) and running back Kadin Remsberg (342 yards and 5.9 per carry). Home field has held in this series recently, with Air Force winning just once in Annapolis since 2001. But the visitors have traveled well this fall, beating Colorado in Boulder while also taking a second half lead before falling to No. 20 Boise State on that blue field.
Presto’s Pick: Falcons Fly High, 27-24
Virginia Tech (2-2, 0-2 ACC) at Miami (2-2, 0-1), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)
The Hurricanes have once again been downgraded to a “tropical depression” after starting 0-2, although consecutive wins over Bethune-Cookman and Central Michigan have prevented a bad dream from becoming a nightmare. Not so in Blacksburg, where the Hokies have a pair of unimpressive wins and two bad conference losses; they’ve never started 0-3 in ACC play. The root cause of their issues appears to be the inability to stop the run (13th in the ACC) and hanging onto the football (at minus-8 Virginia Tech is tied for 128th in FBS in turnover margin). If there’s one school that turns you over before shoving said take-aways in your face, it’s the U. As in the home of the “Turnover Chain.” As in, a plus-six turnover margin that leads the ACC and is tied for sixth best in the nation. The Hurricanes have also had a week off to prepare.
Presto’s Pick: Hokies get humbled, 36-16
No. 23 Virginia (4-1, 2-0 ACC) may be idle, but Kippy and Buffy never take a weekend off. This weekend they’re shuttering up the cottage in the Outer Banks, and they’ll be toasting a season of possibilities with a bottle of Ruinart Brut Blanc de Blancs. The nonvintage Champagne offers “A superb, golden yellow color with a beautiful luminosity and a fine and persistent mousse. The nose is clean and intense with warm, rich notes of brioche, French toast and roasted almonds. On the palate the wine is very supple and harmonious, with notes of honey and minerals on the long, sustained finish.” With three road games over the next four weeks, Kippy and Buffy hope the Cavaliers can sustain what has been one solid start.
Howard falls at Harvard, Georgetown gets by Cornell, Catholic loses to the Coast Guard, James Madison beats Stony Brook, Richmond slips at Albany, William & Mary loses to Villanova, Morgan State falls to Bethune-Cookman.
Last Week: 7-3
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 (-16.5) at Stanford
Last Week: Loss (2-3 vs. spread)
Frankie’s Flyer: Northwestern (+7.5) at Nebraska
Last Week: Cover (5-1 vs. spread, 3-3 outright)
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