Well, well. Here we are. Just like nobody thought. At least Maryland, Navy, Virginia & Virginia Tech are still playing Saturday. As of now.
This week’s COVID-19 casualties range from 21st century conference matchups like West Virginia-Oklahoma, the “we wish it was basketball” showdown of Texas-Kansas and underrated rivalries like Indiana-Purdue.
But the huge horseshoe dropped early in the week to set the tone: a spike in positive tests within the Michigan program will bench the Big Ten’s signature rivalry for the first time since 1917.
The Buckeyes’ preordained path to the playoffs appeared to become a little more challenging, as OSU could have been barred from appearing in the Big Ten Championship Game due to the fact that they had only played five games this fall.
But continuing its autumn of reversals, the league in a moment of clarity elected to waive the six-game requirement instituted earlier this fall. Ohio State’s gain is Indiana’s loss, as the Hoosiers would have advanced instead despite losing to OSU in Columbus this fall.
It’s a loss of a different sort for Michigan, whose 2-4 nightmare of a season has those wondering if this is the end of a Jim Harbaugh era that has been impressive on paper (49-22) but below the lofty expectations in Ann Arbor (0-5 against Ohio State and zero Big Ten Championship appearances).
The oft-traveled coach has already been at this job longer than he was at each of his previous three jobs, and fiery personalities like the khakied one can wear out their welcome when failing to meet long-term expectations. Just like the old Big East Conference in men’s basketball was at its best when Georgetown, Syracuse, St. John’s, and Villanova were Final Four contenders the Big Ten is at its best when Michigan is competitive against Ohio State (they’ve now dropped 15 of 16 in the series).
Looking beyond the pandemic, one wonders when — or if — that will be the case anytime soon.
Maryland (2-2) vs. Rutgers (2-5), noon (BTN).
Just like Ron Wood will always be the “new” Rolling Stones guitarist, the Terps and Scarlet Knights are the Big Ten’s “new kids in town.” Or perhaps I should have said how Timothy B. Schmit will always be the “new” Eagles bassist. It hasn’t been an easy transition: neither school has posted a winning conference record since joining the league in 2014. And each is in its third different head coaching regime.
But just like many feel that Mike Locksley is the guy who can keep the top-flight talent in the DMV, there are those who recognize what New Jersey native Greg Schiano did in his first tenure with the school and hope he can do it again. Locksley does have a one year head start over his counterpart, as well as a much better quarterback at his disposal in Taulia Tagovailoa. While Nebraska transfer Noah Vedral has had his moments this fall, the Terps defense has taken major steps since allowing 43 points in week one to Northwestern.
Presto’s Pick: Terrapins triumph, 27-16.
Navy (3-6) at Army (7-2), 3:30 p.m. (CBS).
The 121st meeting of this series will be just the seventh held on-campus as the pandemic has moved this matchup to West Point for the first time since 1943. Philadelphia (89 meetings) has been the primary site while the New York metropolitan area (19 games) a distant second over the years.
The Mids have lost four straight games and have had moments where they’ve been haunted by defensive inconsistency (51 points allowed to SMU) and offensive ineffectiveness (13 points combined the last two weeks).
They face an Army team that may not have faced as tough a schedule but one that has found its groove. The Black Knights rank third in the nation with 296 yards rushing per game (over 100 yards more per game than Navy) thanks to a seven-back rotation. The Midshipmen are going with freshman Xavier Arline at quarterback again. Every year is different, but freshman QB’s do not often have their best moments in these games.
Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen sink, 23-14.
Virginia (5-4, 4-4 ACC) at Virginia Tech (4-6, 4-5), 8 p.m. (ACC Network).
The Commonwealth Cup as is often the case features two teams headed in opposite directions. This fall it’s the Cavaliers who have averaged 43 points during their four-game winning streak, while the Hokies have allowed 39 points a game while dropping four straight. Speaking of streaks, UVA ended 15 years of heartbreak when they beat the Hokies last November.
This year they face a 10-game losing streak in Blacksburg. They also face a foe that’s going to finish under .500 for the first time since 1992. After turning transfers Kurt Benkert and Bryce Perkins loose in his first four years at the helm, Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall has a homegrown starting quarterback for the first time. And Brennan Armstrong has more than delivered promise for future seasons.
Kippy & Buffy know that it takes a special bottle of wine with plenty of promise for the necessary mojo in this series. And just like it took a bottle of Chateau Lynch-Bages 2003 to end a 15-year streak last year, this December they’re staying in Bordeaux by holding their socially distant tailgate with a bottle of Château Beychevelle. “Graceful and complex, with a tremendous aromatic richness, Château Beychevelle is made from the best plots in the vineyard and undergoes a rigorous selection process.” The 1998 vintage “expresses aromas of redcurrants, licorice and mint. Very mellow on the palate, with licorice tannins.”
After one volatile 2020, Kippy & Buffy — actually, all of us — can use a somewhat mellow finish to the year.
Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers come through, 37-26.
Last Week: 3-1.