Light bulbs went off over the heads of many in Charlottesville and Blacksburg this past Tuesday night. Could Virginia or Virginia Tech crash college football’s New Year’s Bowl party?
Like many things in and around the sport with the best regular season and worst postseason, the answer is both yes and no.
The weekly College Football Playoff rankings release amuse me like few other things do.
First, there’s the 13-member committee in place to select and seed four teams (spots five and six are akin to being named a top seed in the NIT). Second, there’s the shortsightedness that comes with releasing playoff rankings when there are three or four games remaining in a 13-game audition (imagine people freaking out looking at the NFL standings Dec. 1 when there is still a month to play). Then there’s the weekly overreaction that, this Tuesday, involved high-fives in Baton Rouge (with LSU rightfully No. 1 after their road win at unbeaten Alabama) as well as arguments in Tuscaloosa and Athens (Georgia’s overtime loss to a 4-5 South Carolina not as impressive as losing to the Tigers).
And that’s just the SEC. Shrugs by the Pac-12 and Big 12 while seeing their schools on the outside of a ridiculously small playoff party are almost expected at this time every year.
This week there was nervous anticipation in Charlottesville and Blacksburg.
Not that three-loss Virginia or Virginia Tech have any shot to make college football’s version of the final four, even if they win the ACC by beating an unbeaten Clemson. But if the Tigers make the playoff field (at 10-0, they’re currently third and won’t be anything less than a double-digit favorite in any of their remaining games), somebody else from the sad-sack ACC has to go to the Orange Bowl.
Even in today’s College Football Playoff Era, there are some vestiges of 20th Century college football that still have value. Along with the Sugar Bowl, the Orange Bowl is the second-oldest postseason game behind the Granddaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl. It’s one of five games that predate World War II (Cotton and Sun complete the trivia answer).
The brand still stands amidst the flood of 39 (!?) bowls that are played nowadays; if you ask a Maryland fan about Ralph Friedgen’s 10-year run, they’ll most likely bring up the trip to the 2002 Orange Bowl. And let’s be honest, even with the sponsor tag the “Capital One Orange Bowl” sounds much more impressive than the “Camping World Bowl” and “Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl.”
With Virginia and Virginia Tech on track to play for the Coastal Division crown in two weeks (Pitt can still play spoiler by beating the Hokies Nov. 23) and Wake Forest suddenly slipping (the Demon Deacons have gone from 5-0 to 7-2 and are a 34.5-point underdog at Clemson Saturday), orange could be in more than the winner’s uniforms come Jan. 1. Actually, the Orange Bowl that’s referred to by the College Football Playoff as one of the “New Year’s Six” Bowl will be played Dec. 30 this year. Stupid progress.
Virginia Tech (6-3, 3-2 ACC) at Georgia Tech (2-7, 1-5), 3:30 p.m. (ACCN Extra)
Like the Death Star’s tractor beam slowly sucking the Millennium Falcon toward it, the Hokies have been crawling toward a Coastal Division Crown since early October. They’ve emerged from the early-season ashes thanks to a defense that’s hitting its stride; they held Notre Dame in check for 59 minutes in their loss at South Bend and shut down the previously high-scoring Wake Forest offense the week prior.
Next up: A Yellow Jackets team that scored 28 points at Virginia last week to tie their season high, but one that’s still at the bottom of the ACC in passing, total yards and scoring. More importantly, Hendon Hooker is back at quarterback — even though the redshirt sophomore lost a fumble in Virginia Tech’s win over the Demon Deacons, he has yet to throw an interception this season. His wheels will also be a nightmare to a Georgia Tech defense that’s the worst in the conference against the run.
Presto’s Pick: Hokies handle the Yellow Jackets, 31-19.
No. 23 Navy (7-1) at No. 16 Notre Dame (7-2), 2:30 p.m. (NBC)
For two programs that have enjoyed plenty of recent success (the Mids will appear in their 15th bowl this century while the Fighting Irish have played in the BCS Championship Game and the College Football Playoff this decade) this is the first time these annual foes are both ranked entering their showdown since 1978. The series has actually turned into a rivalry with respect since the Mids ended their long losing streak to the Fighting Irish in 2007; they’ve won four of the last 12 meetings, with three of the eight losses coming by single digits.
Expect the Midshipmen to try to kill the clock like they did in their 2016 victory, in which Notre Dame had just six possessions. A bigger test will be how Navy’s defense will fare against Fighting Irish quarterback Ian Book. The senior is coming off of a tour de force performance at Duke where he threw four touchdown passes while also rushing for a career-high 139 yards. The much-improved Navy defensive unit has also had issues after halftime this fall, allowing 19 second-half points to Air Force, 21 in their loss to Memphis, and 24 in a last-second win over Tulane.
Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen come up short, 34-21.
Virginia enjoys its second bye week of the season, meaning Kippy & Buffy have to find something to do to pass the time. Apple picking and antiquing are on the morning docket (who doesn’t love sipping cider while checking out a chestnut armoire?), while pumpkin patch time takes up most of the afternoon.
Once home, the evening is theirs. And after enjoying pumpkin spice lattes on their way to apple picking, nothing’s better than post-pumpkin perusing than a glass of Chateau O’Brien Virginia Apple Wine. “Made of apples grown and hand-selected from our neighboring Northpoint orchards, the wine is crisp with delineated flavors and possesses lush aromas of vibrant ripe apples. Full-bodied, elegant wine that captures the essence of apples at their peak of fall ripeness.” During a season in which the Cavaliers’ eye is on a Coastal Division Crown, it makes sense to go with the 2014 vintage that was selected by the 2015 Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition tasting panel as the “Best Sweet Fruit Wine.”
Georgetown falls at Bucknell, Howard is humbled at Florida A& M, James Madison beats Richmond, Towson tops William & Mary, Morgan State beats Virginia Lynchburg.
Last week: 7-2.
Editor’s 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: No. 23 Navy (+7) at No. 16 Notre Dame
Last Week: Loss (4-6 vs. spread)
Frankie’s Flyer: No. 13 Baylor (+10) vs. No. 10 Oklahoma
Last Week: 1-0 vs. spread, 1-0 outright (8-4 vs. spread, 4-8 outright)