Presto’s college football picks: Showdown Saturday, Commonwealth clash

Finally. After the non-conference and FCS schedule-stuffer season (also known as the apple picking & antiquing window), we’ve got a Saturday filled with showdowns. A few are traditional matchups that have seen better days (Notre Dame-USC and Clemson-Florida State) while others carry conference and College Football Playoff implications (Penn State-Iowa, LSU-Florida). Oklahoma-Texas checks off both boxes, while playing with the backdrop of the Texas State Fair, for those who feared our nation’s deep-frying industry was in trouble. For example, this year’s fair fare includes a “Southern Fried Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo Ball” or, for those with a healthy conscience, “Texas Cream Corn Casserole Fritters.”

Lost in the shuffle of rivalries, conference clashes and questionable calorie counts, is a top-five FCS matchup just down the road (actually two roads, if you take I-66 and then turn left at I-81). Second-ranked James Madison (5-1, 2-0 CAA) hosts No. 5 Villanova (5-0, 3-0) with the inside track to the conference title and a first-round bye in the upcoming FCS Playoffs up for grabs. The two teams rank 1-2 in the CAA in scoring, stopping the run, sacks and third down efficiency.  Each has been pushed to overtime on the road: JMU escaped Stony Brook last weekend while ‘Nova’s 52-45 September shootout at Towson moved the Wildcats from pretender to contender.

The program’s resurgence is especially sweet for third-year head coach Mark Ferrante; the longtime offensive coordinator took over when Andy Talley retired after 32 seasons in 2016 and the team posted consecutive losing campaigns for the first time since the 1990s. But his Wildcats have yet to face the triple-back attack like the Dukes’ Percy Agyei-Obese, Solomon Vanhorse and Jawon Hamilton: the power trio combine for 171.6 yards per game on more than five yards per carry. The Dukes’ big challenge will be getting to Villanova quarterback Daniel Smith (17 touchdown passes), as the Wildcats have allowed just three sacks all season. Kickoff in Harrisonburg is slated for 1:30 p.m., or if you’re at the Texas State Fair, around the time you’ve moved on to dessert and are trying the “Deep Fried Bayou Fruit Bites.”

Friday’s Game

No. 20 Virginia (4-1, 2-0 ACC) at Miami (2-3, 0-2), 8 p.m. (ESPN)

There was never a Hurricane warning this fall as the U got off to an 0-2 start, followed by wins over Bethune-Cookman and Central Michigan before last week’s disaster against Virginia Tech. While the ‘Canes lead the ACC in passing yardage (315 per game), the Cavaliers boast the second best pass defense in the conference and are second best at getting to the quarterback (27 sacks in five games);  Miami has allowed a league-high 25 sacks this fall. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s team has had a week to digest their loss at Notre Dame and refocus, while Manny Diaz’s eyes likely fell out while watching the game film of last Saturday’s loss to Virginia Tech.

Kippy and Buffy have their eyes on great tailgating as always, and a trip to South Florida means they’ll be serving Cuban pork sandwiches. Nothing goes better with pork than a bottle of 2016 Limerick Lane Russian River Zinfandel. Aromas of “blackberry, raspberry, bramble, cocoa leaf and wet stones” (yes — an actual tasting note from the vineyard website) get the palate ready for the taste of “strawberry, black pepper and blueberry pie crust” (again, one cannot make this up), delivering a “long finish with laser-focused acidity.”

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers are laser-focused on a first-ever Coastal Division title, and come away with a 27-16 win

Saturday’s Games

Maryland (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) at Purdue (1-4, 0-2), noon (Big Ten Network)

There’s a switch at quarterback — sort of. Josh Jackson was listed as the starter in the press notes, but head coach Mike Locksley said that Jackson’s ankle injury suffered at Rutgers has the junior day-to-day and that Tyrrell Pigrome would start against the Boilermakers. Pigrome may not have the passing polish Jackson possesses, but he’s a much better runner — and with an offensive line that’s banged up, might be just the right fit for the present. Purdue has long been called the “Cradle of Quarterbacks,” thanks to All-Americans like Bob Griese, Mike Phipps and Mark Hermann; Drew Brees was shut out by the likes of Chris Weinke, Josh Heupel and George Godsey(?). This year’s team has been no different, until quarterback Elijah Sindelar and his top target Rondale Moore were injured on the same play against Minnesota. Neither saw the field last Saturday against Penn State. Defensively, Purdue ranks 13th or 14th in the Big Ten in every category (except in sacks where they’re currently ninth).

Uniform note: The Boilermakers will be wearing special uniforms commemorating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Not only is the late Neil Armstrong an alumnus, but the late Gene Cernan (the Apollo 17 astronaut who was the last person to leave the lunar surface) was as well.

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins make another small step towards bowl eligibility with a 38-14 landing

Virginia Tech (3-2) vs. Rhode Island (1-4), 4 p.m. (ACC Network)

There are complaints from many in the area who don’t have the ACC Network on their local cable system, but that might be a good thing for the Hokies this fall. Even in their wins, this team has been one tough watch. Only this year’s team could turn a 28-0 second half lead at Miami into a fourth-quarter nailbiter. Enter a Rams team that may be 0-3 in the CAA, but one that has lost three one-possession games. One week after coughing up 28 second half points to Miami, the Hokies will have their hands full as URI quarterback Vito Priore completes 65% of his passes. Priore’s top two targets, Aaron Brooks and Isaiah Coulter, each average over 100 receiving yards per game and are just the kind of tandem that turns suspect secondaries into sludge. After September saw a torrential downpour of turnovers, the Hokies dried things up last week with redshirt sophomore quarterback Hendon Hooker. The dual threat (184 yards and three touchdowns passing plus 76 yards and a touchdown rushing against Miami) didn’t throw an interception or lose a fumble, and no giveaways means Hooker stays first-string. He’ll face a rather accommodating Ram defense, one that allowed 41 points in their other game against an FBS school.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies make it two straight, 34-24

Navy (3-1, 1-1 AAC) at Tulsa (2-3, 0-1), 7:30 p.m. (ESPNU)

Last Saturday’s win over Air Force was exactly the kind of game last year’s Midshipmen would lose. The other nightmare from 2018 involved an 0-6 road record (0-8 in games not played in Annapolis). For those curious, Navy’s last road win was September 30, 2017 against … Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane went 2-10 that year and have already equaled that win total in the first month of this season. But they still can’t stop the run (11th in the AAC) and if there’s one thing that the Mids do well, it’s move the ball on the ground (an FBS-best 312 yards per game). But they also lead the conference in offensive passing efficiency as well as rushing and total defense. Head coach Ken Niumatalolo’s team is also the least-penalized unit in the league; as fate would have it, the most-flagged Golden Hurricanes commit twice as many infractions per game.

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen make it happen on the road, 28-20

Howard loses to Norfolk State, Georgetown gets by Fordham, James Madison beats Villanova, Richmond edges Maine, Towson tops Albany, Morgan State loses to Delaware State.

Last Week: 7-3. Overall: 39-14.

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: Florida (+13) at LSU

Last Week: Loss (2-4 vs. spread)

Frankie’s Flyer: Houston (+7) vs. Cincinnati

Last Week: Cover (6-1 vs. spread, 3-4 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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