The Big Ten is back! For the moment. But not for another month at least.
College football’s most storied conference (even though its tradition involves a name that doesn’t accurately reflect the number of members) runs a reverse from last month’s decision not to play fall sports by setting a sprint that begins Oct. 23-24 and ends with a championship week/weekend that involves all 14 schools in crossover games.
While we’re still awaiting Maryland’s new 2020 schedule (the third the Terps will have this year), who isn’t giddy with the anticipation of the early Christmas present that is Purdue-Rutgers?
College football is not a nation per se, it’s a confederation of conferences that compete on and off the field — and when it’s acceptable, pick off the bones of the weak or unsuspecting (witness the ACC poaching Syracuse and Pitt from the ACC before losing Maryland to the Big Ten). Among Power Five Conferences, there is an arms race for athletes at the start and College Football Playoff berths at the finish. The Big Ten may be have history and Heisman Trophy winners, but the league that has been slipping behind the SEC could ill afford to fall behind the Big 12 (each league has had four teams make the playoff in its six years) or, dare I say, the ACC (which still stands for Always Conquered by Clemson). Now they’re back in the conversation and even though they’re starting up a month after the SEC, they’ll play their nine games, including the championship — pandemic permitting.
Thus, the league that jumped out in front to make a stand on player safety in the middle of a pandemic joins the rest of the college football world doing what it does best: putting on a show. And part of the show is making it sound less like a financial move.
“College football plays a significant role in a university setting,” Maryland Athletic Director Damon Evans said. “It is not the most important thing, but it is something that people can come rally around…and give us a point of pride as we move forward.”
Not lost is the fact that the athletic department train is powered by the twin engines that are the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and college football. Losing March Madness in 2020 forced multiple departments to not only tighten belts but punch new holes in them. The prospect of losing a football season on top of that would be disastrous to the intercollegiate house of cards as we know it.
So instead of prudence and 100% safety, the Big Ten is forging ahead with the focus on keeping players as safe as possible while playing a contact sport amidst a pandemic.
“Our goal is to play by, and do the things we’re capable of doing by, the rules of today, and today we’ve got good news,” Terps head football coach Mike Locksley said. “I can to tell you every member of our team is excited about these opportunities but also very grateful and thankful.”
For Maryland, it’s a chance to see how much the Terps have improved in Year Two of Locksley’s tenure. But it also occurs only two years removed from a player’s death that shook the program, department and university.
“Obviously the tragic death of Jordan McNair is something that we never forget around here,” Evans said. “The health and safety and the welfare of the student-athlete is at the forefront.”
So they’ll play but be extremely careful while doing so. And WTOP will post the schedule as soon as we get it.
Commonwealth Cup Compromised — The game between Virginia and Virginia Tech originally slated for Nov. 28 and then moved to Sept. 19 has been postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak on the Blacksburg campus; the game is now slated for Saturday, Dec. 12. The bottle of 1998 Bordeaux (commemorating the last time the Cavaliers won at Lane Stadium) will be unveiled then. Kippy & Buffy will instead be enjoying their bye week by going apple picking, followed by a glass or two of Horton Vineyards 2018 Viognier: “Exotic honey and tropical fruit aromas jump from the glass. Full bodied, viscous mouthfeel.” There will be smoked Gouda on Captain’s Wafers. Eventually, there will be the taste of a football season, unless the Sept. 26 game against Duke gets postponed.
Navy (0-1) vs Tulane (1-0), noon (ABC)
The Midshipmen are smarting from their Labor Day loss to BYU, and head coach Ken Niumatalolo has revamped their practice regimen with more contact. He also reopened the quarterback position, with senior Dalen Morris (16 yards passing and 2 yards rushing against BYU) facing a challenge from Xavier Arline now that Perry Olsen has entered the transfer portal. Just like the Midshipmen have exceeded expectations with a senior quarterback at the helm (Will Worth in 2016), they’ve underperformed when they haven’t found the right starter (2018’s QB carousel). Meanwhile, the Green Wave are coming off of consecutive bowl berths for the first time in program history; this year they’ve added freshman running back Tyjae Spears (105 yards in the season-opening win against South Alabama). The last four games in this series have been decided by a touchdown or less, with the Mids prevailing by three points last year in Annapolis.
Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen sink, 34-20.
No. 7 Notre Dame (1-0) vs USF (1-0), 2:30 p.m. (USA Network)
The Fighting Irish get pushed off of their usual perch on the Peacock Network because of the U.S. Open golf tournament, so now they’ll be sandwiched between five hours of “Chicago P.D.” and an “edited for television” version of “Death Wish.” Truth be told, it took them a while to be ready for prime time in their season-opening win over Duke. The Bulls started strong in their win over The Citadel, but defending an FCS option offense is a little different than attempting to contain senior quarterback Ian Book and sophomore running back Kyren Williams.
Presto’s Pick: Irish Eyes are Smiling, 45-16.
No. 14 UCF at Georgia Tech (1-0), 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
Exhibit A why the world will welcome the SEC next week and Big Ten one month from now with open arms — this is a game that has noon on ESPN2 written all over it. The Yellow Jackets are coming off of an upset win at Florida State that says more about the Seminoles in Year One of their rebuild than Tech in Year Two of theirs. Freshman quarterback Jeff Sims played well in his first career start; Coach Geoff Collins hopes he can duplicate the season Knights QB Dillon Gabriel posted as a freshman in 2019 (3,653 yards and 29 touchdowns passing). Sixteen starters are back from a team that went 10-3 last year, losing its three games by a combined seven points. When is Death Wish on?
Presto’s Pick: Knights conquer, 35-17.
No. 17 Miami (1-0) at No. 18 Louisville (1-0), 7:30 p.m. (ABC)
For years, I’ve enjoyed writing what has become my annual “Hurricane Warning Downgraded to Tropical Depression” column, as the school situated in a recruiting gold mine in the softer ACC Division continues to squander its good fortune (just one Coastal title) and spit out coaches with numbing regularity (they’ve had five since joining the league). I thought I might have to do so when they started sluggishly against UAB in their opener. The Cardinals cratered recently (2-10 in 2018) before finishing second in the Atlantic Division behind Clemson last year. They also remember a 25-point loss at Hard Rock Stadium, and revenge is on the mind of Scott Satterfield’s team.
Presto’s Pick: Cardinals come through, 24-20.
Last Week: 3-1. Overall: 6-2.