Labor Day weekend is upon us after the “Summer of Social Distancing,” or the summer that never really took off.
If August is the “Sunday of Summer,” the early days of September have that early Monday right before sunrise feel; one wants to doze a little bit longer but the inevitability of the week is going to pull us back to reality whether we like it or not.
The college football season saw two more games Thursday evening, with UAB and South Alabama already giving the Yellowhammer state quite a bit to be proud of three weeks before their premier program (and kid brother, sorry Auburn) begin their seasons of expected SEC and National Championship contention. Meanwhile, the Big Ten and Pac-12 aren’t doing anything just yet, and we’re unsure when their seasons will start. I don’t envy the pollsters who have to vote on the Top 25 in this odd buffet-table of a season.
Virginia does not begin its year until Sept. 19 at Virginia Tech.
You may have heard somewhere that the Cavaliers beat the Hokies last year for the first time since the two became ACC foes. The good news is my tailgating pals Kippy & Buffy will be back this fall for “socially distant” pregaming as only they can. And instead of heading to neutral site Atlanta for a game against Georgia on Labor Day night as originally scheduled, they’ve got the weekend to themselves and the Kentucky Derby (full disclosure: I own a madras jacket and breathable fedora, both of which will be worn this weekend). The 146th “Run for the Roses” on Saturday means the wine and cheese will have to wait as they’re breaking out the bourbon: Jefferson’s Reserve Manhattan with Luxardo Cherries, served with a single big ice cube (they have a special large ice cube tray she got him for his birthday).
Middle Tennessee at Army West Point, 1:30 p.m. (ESPN).
The Black Knights are one of seven independent FBS schools, and unlike Notre Dame, they didn’t elect to rent out a conference for the season. While Army is coming off of its first sub-. 500 campaign since 2015, the Blue Raiders are coming off their first losing season since 2011. Coach Rick Rockstill has won 91 games in his 14 years at the helm, and returns nine starters on offense including senior quarterback Asher O’Hara (2,616 yards and 20 TD passes last fall). They also return five starters from a defense that allowed over 200 yards seven times last fall — not ideal against an offense that ran the ball 86% of the time last season and brings back three of its top five rushers from 2019.
Presto’s Pick: Army comes up short, 35-28.
SMU at Texas State, 4:30 p.m. (CBSSN).
The Mustangs are coming off of their first 10-win season since 1983. They went 31-3-1 over a three-year span that saw NCAA Probation, multiple SWC titles and an unbeaten season. But unlike the “Pony Express” that dominated on the ground, this team is led by Texas transfer Shane Buechele (3,929 yards passing and 34 touchdowns last fall). The Bobcats are have finished either 3-9 or 2-10 the last five seasons and usually are early-season cannon fodder for Power Five Conference teams — even Rutgers (?!) last year. Furthermore, this “Texas State” is not to be confused with the Fightin’ Armadillos from the movie Necessary Roughness. Sam Bakula, Sinbad and Kathy Ireland are not walking through that door.
Presto’s Pick: Mustangs in a stampede, 44-17.
Arkansas State at Memphis, 8:00 p.m. (ESPN).
Fans of the local NFL squad get a sneak preview of what a team called the “Red Wolves” can do. While Arkansas State doesn’t wear burgundy and gold, they do sport scarlet and black uniforms (I was hoping for maroon). That’s where the similarities with the team in Ashburn end; Arkansas State has reached the postseason nine straight years. The Tigers have enjoyed recent success as well, sending their last two coaches, Justin Fuente and Mike Norvell, to ACC jobs. Former Offensive Coordinator Ryan Silverfield takes over as head coach after authoring the AAC’s second-highest scoring attack in 2019. Just as important, quarterback Brady White (4,014 yards and 34 touchdowns passing last fall) returns to do more damage in 2020.
Presto’s Pick: Tigers triumph, 44-24.
Monday Night game
Navy vs. BYU- Monday night, 8 p.m., ESPN.
Area schools are no strangers to playing on Labor Day, from Virginia Tech-West Virginia at FedEx Field in 2017 to Navy-Maryland at M&T Bank Stadium in 2010. The Midshipmen will have a new quarterback, although senior Dalen Morris has had three-plus years to absorb the option offense. Morris and the seniors are 14-3 at home during their careers and the program is 7-5 in openers (5-0 in Annapolis) under head coach Ken Niumatalolo. The Cougars are 3-1 in openers under coach Kalani Sitake and have a knack for September surprises, winning on the road at Tennessee last season and at Wisconsin the previous year. They also return 15 starters, including an offensive line that averages 305 pounds per starter.
Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen come up short, 31-27.
Last Year: 88-36.