College football’s season like none other wraps up over the next month with a “Closing Month” that used to be November’s domain. (As we know December is traditionally “Conference Championship, Army-Navy, and Why are there so many bowls? Month”). And to put it mildly, the final weeks of the season have veered wildly for each of the locals.
Maryland’s game this Saturday with Michigan was canceled after positive COVID-19 tests within the Wolverines program, Navy gets a new senior day with its game against Tulsa rescheduled for this week, while Virginia and Virginia Tech ramp up for their Dec. 12 meeting that was once slated for Sept. 19 (college football calendars come with pencils and extra erasers this fall).
Nationally, we prepare ourselves for the usual bumpy landing: with four teams making the College Football Playoff field in a world where there are five major conferences, the current format already bakes in extra helpings of disappointment and anxiety.
Added into the mix this year is the fact that the SEC, Big 10, and Pac-12 are not playing nonconference games while each league is adopting different schedule formats.
The COVID-19 cherry on top is the cancellation of multiple games that results in 4-0 Ohio State’s apples being compared to 6-1 Texas A&M’s oranges and 3-0 Washington/USC’s raisins.
And that doesn’t even touch upon 8-0 Cincinnati’s grapes and 9-0 BYU’s bananas, with apologies to not extending my fruit motif to unbeatens Coastal Carolina or Marshall (just kidding-they get cranberries and melons).
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.
And that’s why for 2020 the College Football Playoff should expand to eight schools: each Power Five Conference champion gets an automatic berth and the other three spots would be filled by at-large teams like the ACC runner-up or an unbeaten Coastal Carolina.
Major League Baseball expanded the most restrictive field (10 of 30 teams) this past October and the world didn’t end, the NHL expanded to 24 teams last summer, while the NBA is tweaking its postseason format for the upcoming shortened season to allow 20 clubs (with the bottom four competing for playoff spots).
College football can’t do the same during a season where schedules have already been scrambled and shortened? Is it because they’re afraid we as consumers might actually like an 8-team field?
Navy (3-5, 3-3 AAC) vs. Tulsa (5-1, 5-0), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
How money have the Mids been on Senior Day? They’re 12-0 in their final regular season game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium under Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo.
Just like the Midshipmen were last year’s Cinderella story in the American, going from 3-10 to 11-2, the Golden Hurricane have already surpassed 2019’s four-win total.
This will be their first winning season since 2016, and defense has been the key for Philip Montgomery’s team as they lead the AAC in getting off the field on third down while allowing the second fewest yards and points.
Tulsa’s player to watch on that unit is linebacker Zaven Collins, who paces the team in tackles, sacks, and interceptions. Navy is coming off its best defensive effort of the season but its quarterback situation remains unsettled one week before they face Army.
Presto’s Pick: Mids come up short, 26-10
Virginia (4-4, 3-4 ACC) vs. Boston College (6-4, 5-4), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
Finally a Cavaliers game not broadcast on the ACC Network! Check them out on … well, at least it’s not the Ocho. One week removed from an empty trip to Tallahassee, the Cavaliers play a home finale against one of the other middle-class teams in the ACC.
And the Eagles don’t disappoint as a second-tier squad. The Eagles are 6-0 against unranked foes and 0-4 against teams in the Top 25.
Notre Dame transfer Phil Jurkovec and his top target Zay Flowers will likely give a Cavaliers defense that ranks last in the ACC at stopping the pass fits, unless the pass rush that has generated 14 sacks in its last three games can dial things up again.
Kippy and Buffy dial up a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon for their final home socially-distant tailgate of 2020: and just like 20/20 vision is clear so is the 2016 Mount Veeder.
“Wonderfully rich, ripe berries and summer cherry pie on the nose, complemented by hints of earth, cedar, rosemary, and dried sage. Dark cassis fruit layers with bright blackberry, building complexity with layers of mocha and peppercorn.”
Just like it’s tough to deny the combination of mocha and peppercorn, it will be tough for BC to deny Brennan Armstrong if the UVA line can keep him upright (Cavaliers allow the second-fewest sacks in the ACC).
Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers come through, 32-24
No. 8 BYU (9-0) at No. 14 Coastal Carolina (9-0), 5:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Even with the midweek promotion, this battle of unbeaten orphans gets one of the odder kickoff times. The Chanticleers were supposed to play No. 25 Liberty before COVID-19 concerns shelved that game; and as luck would have it another unbeaten was available.
But not all unbeatens are created equally. The Cougars began the year with the bang of a 55-3 win at Navy and haven’t let up; take out their 27-20 win over Texas-San Antonio and their average margin of victory this fall is 37 points.
Zach Wilson is carving up defenses to the tune of a 74.3 completion rate with 26 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
If independent BYU is college football’s black sheep, the Chanticleers (program established 2003) are the game’s rooster that once dominated its FCS barnyard (six playoff appearances in 2006-15) before moving on to greener pastures.
Chanticleers redshirt freshman Grayson McCall will have to grow up quickly against a Cougars defense that allows the fourth fewest points in FBS. For the record, I just like typing and saying Chanticleers.
Presto’s Pick: Chanticleers come up short, 37-17
Virginia Tech (4-5, 4-4 ACC) at No. 4 Clemson (8-1, 7-1), 7:30 p.m. (ABC)
The Tigers need a victory or a Miami loss to secure a sixth straight trip to the Conference Championship Game and a revenge match with Notre Dame.
They also lead the ACC passing and scoring offense as well as total defense, while ranking second in total offense as well as passing and scoring offense (not to mention sacks per game).
That’s bad news for the Hokies who have allowed 37 points per game during their three-game slide. The one thing they’ve done — run the football — runs into the brick wall that is a Clemson D that limits foes to 3.1 yards per carry.
And recently that ground game has lost momentum; Khalil Herbert after averaging 148 yards over his first four games has notched 83 yards per game in his last four.
Presto’s Pick: The “N” in Clemson stands for “Not Close” in a 44-17 rout
Last Week: 3-0