Presto’s college football picks: Set your clocks

Some say timing is everything. And even if it isn’t, it certainly remains a pretty big factor.

College football’s Power Five slate kicks off at 12 p.m. Saturdays with more chaff than wheat, while its prime matchups are usually offered up to ABC, CBS and ESPN in the coveted 3:30 p.m. window. The late games kick off from 6 to 7:30 p.m., with a prime-time showdown and the customary Pac-12 After Dark duel wrapping up the day’s action. It should be easy to have everybody play at a reasonable time.

Except with dreaded noon Eastern games in the Central time zone. This Saturday, there are four games involving ranked teams that begin at 11 a.m. local time: Oklahoma-West Virginia, Wisconsin-Illinois, Auburn-Arkansas and Purdue-Iowa (Editor’s Note: Also, bizarrely, Cal-Oregon State at 11:30 a.m. in Berkeley). Earlier this fall, to fit into the ACC Network’s grid, Pitt played Ohio at 11 a.m. EDT.

Last month, Alabama head coach Nick Saban complained about a 12 p.m. EDT game against Southern Mississippi, which would kick off at 11 a.m. local time. Saban was pounced on by some as being elitist, but his thinking is completely understandable.

In a sport where empty seats are a pox and the final days of summer can be toasty, late morning is the last time you want to gather 75,000 people outside in the sun. On weekends, the last thing most anybody wants to do is have to be somewhere by 11 a.m. Even though noon is just an hour later, it feels a world away from late morning. But college students waking up and getting anywhere on a Saturday morning by 11? Right. And even though college athletics is not always about the actual student athletes, a player’s body clock can’t benefit from the morning start.

Leagues blame the networks, which want to show as many games to as many people as possible. But if the SEC and Big Ten have their own networks. Can’t they move the 11 a.m. Central games to noon, a.k.a. 1 p.m. Eastern? It’s not like these channels don’t have pregame and highlight shows that could fill those slots. So your SEC mid-afternoon game kicks off at 4:30 p.m. instead of 3:30 … or the 7 p.m. game starts at 8. People will still watch football — because it’s football.

Saturday’s games:

Maryland (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) vs. Indiana (4-2, 1-2), 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)

Speaking of early starts, how is this game not beginning at noon?

I thought “Maryland-Indiana” was French for “noon kickoff.” Both schools suffer from the “Rutgers Inflation Effect”: The Terps torched the Scarlet Knights by 41 points, while the Hoosiers won by 35 against RU. They’ve each been humbled by Big Ten foes not residing in the state of New Jersey, with Maryland getting outscored 99-14, while IU’s been pasted 91-41.

Indiana brings the Big Ten’s second-best passing game into College Park Saturday, and the Terps passing defense allows the most yards per game in the conference. Hoosiers quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (69.5% completion rate) has the necessary counterpunch in running back Stevie Scott III (5.0 yards per carry) to keep opponents honest; sadly he lacks a “IV” on the roster. Tyrrell Pigrome starts for the second week at quarterback, as Josh Jackson’s ankle still isn’t right, and running back Anthony McFarland’s high ankle sprain looks to further limit the sparkplug that gained over 1,000 yards last fall. (He notched 4 yards at Purdue and dropped a pass in the end zone.)

Presto’s Pick: Terps tumble, 35-20.

Virginia (4-2, 2-1 ACC) vs. Duke (4-2, 2-1), 3:30 p.m. (ACC Network)

Easter may be in springtime. But last Friday, the Cavaliers laid a major egg in their 17-9 loss at Miami. So much for the “Season of Possibilities” (thankfully not trademarked yet). Early issues that won’t go away begin and end with an offensive line that can’t generate a running game (a league-worst 102 yards per game) or protect Bryce Perkins (13 sacks in their last two games).

Duke has already won in the Commonwealth this fall. But after scorching Virginia Tech by 35, they allowed 33 points in a loss at home to Pitt. Quentin Harris is also averaging fewer than 10 yards per completion in four of six games this fall; U.Va.’s defense leads the ACC in sacks and will need to make him uncomfortable all afternoon.

Kippy & Buffy are more than comfortable going with an old standby for Duke Week: The ultimate “bro” school demands a bottle from Breaux Vineyards. This year, it’s the “Equation Red,” a blend that is 73% merlot with dashes of petit verdot, chamborcin, cabernet sauvignon and malbec. With aromas of “ripe cherry, plum and chocolate,” plus the taste of “juicy fruit, baking spices such as clove and nutmeg,” the lingering dusty tannins will go great with some sautéed mushrooms plus Bleu Cheese on toast against the Blue Devils.

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers find the right equation and defeat Duke, 24-20.

Virginia Tech (4-2, 1-2 ACC) vs. North Carolina (3-3, 2-1), 3:30 p.m. (Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast)

Past is present in Chapel Hill, as Mack Brown returned to the program he led to 69 wins from 1988 to 1997 (including consecutive 10-win seasons that wrapped up his tenure). Behind freshman quarterback Sam Howell (15 touchdowns, 3 interceptions), the Tar Heels began the season with thrilling wins over South Carolina and Miami, before dropping one-possession games to Wake Forest, Appalachian State and then-No. 1 Clemson.

While a 16-point win at 1-5 Georgia Tech doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, look at the Hokies — they led Rhode Island by seven in the fourth quarter, and it was just as close in wins against Furman, Old Dominion and Miami. Cause for confidence: VT is 2-0 since going with turnover-free Hendon Hooker at quarterback. What’s helped the sophomore is the presence of a running game, with Deshawn McClease emerging as the primary ground threat.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies come up short, 26-20.

Navy (4-1, 2-1 AAC) vs. South Florida (3-3, 1-1), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

The Midshipmen are coming off of their first road win in over two years, while the Bulls are .500 at midseason despite returning 15 starters. The sizzle for the Mids is often its option offense, and quarterback Malcolm Perry is directing an attack that leads the nation in rushing.

But major strides have been made so far this year on defense, as the team leads the AAC in stopping the run as well as in fewest yards and points allowed. USF has had major issues protecting the quarterback (a league-high 24 sacks allowed) as well as moving the chains (second-worst in the conference).

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen move one step closer to bowl eligibility with a 31-17 win.

Georgetown beats Lafayette, James Madison wins at William & Mary, Richmond gets by Yale, Towson beats Bucknell, and Morgan State slips to South Carolina State.

Last Week: 5-5 (could that be the dreaded October frost?)

Overall: 44-19

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: Auburn (-19) at Arkansas

Last Week: Loss (2-5 vs. spread)

Frankie’s Flyer: Texas Tech (+7) vs. Iowa State

Last Week: No cover (6-2 vs. spread, 3-5 outright)

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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