Presto’s Picks: College Football’s counting game

Late October delivers a little bit of nervousness around the college football world as fans of certain schools begin to do mental math once their teams reach the halfway point of their schedules.

Can their team count to six? As in the six wins necessary to qualify for a bowl. It wasn’t always this way. Believe it or not, there was once a time when 6-5 or 7-4 didn’t guarantee postseason play (I always go back to New Mexico going 10-1 in 1982 but going nowhere during the holidays).

While a bowl was once a reward for a good-to-great season, the lack of a bowl for Power Five schools is an indictment of a bad season for the rest of the conference foes to recruit against.

Can the local FBS schools get to six wins? Virginia is as close to a sure thing as you can be (although we’ve seen strange slides in November) at 5-2, and according to “ESPN’s Football Power Index,” the Cavaliers have over a 50% chance to win four of their final five games.

But they also face a pair of ranked foes in Notre Dame and Pitt and their five remaining opponents are a combined 21-10.

Virginia Tech’s six remaining foes may be a combined 20-19, but the 3-3 Hokies are projected to win three of their remaining six games (it doesn’t help that four are on the road). Maryland is 4-2 with six games remaining against opponents that are a combined 27-11 (three are currently in the Top 10), and according to the ESPN metric currently have over a 40% chance to win just one of those matchups (44.9 % against Indiana next weekend).

Navy at 1-5 would need to win five of six against a group of teams that are a combined 24-13 with two schools currently in the Top 15. The Mids aren’t just going to be underdogs, but massive underdogs in four of those six games.

Meanwhile, the coaches and players to a man will tell you about how they’re only focused on the very next game — as they should be. But that doesn’t make the fan bases or media any less nervous when looking ahead to the home stretch. How does your school count to six?

Navy (1-5, 1-3 AAC) vs No. 2 Cincinnati (6-0, 2-0), noon, ESPN2

The Bearcats are dreaming of crashing the College Football Playoff Party as a Group of Five Cinderella before joining the Big 12 establishment in a few years. Say what you will about the conference carousel firing up, but at least it means the Big 12 will have 12 teams for the first time since 2010.

Cincy leads the AAC in scoring offense and defense. The No. 2 ranked team in the country is led by quarterback Desmond Ridder in the air (64.3% completion rate with 13 touchdowns & 2 interceptions) and Jerome Ford on the ground (7.0 yards per carry).

The Mids have held their own since getting blown out the first two weekends in September, but it might be too much to ask for a miracle in Annapolis. But they’ll keep it close.

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen sink in the second half on their way to a 37-17 loss.

Virginia Tech (3-3, 1-1 ACC) vs Syracuse (3-4, 0-3), 12:30 p.m., MASN

Former Big East foes meet with each coming off tough conference losses: but while the Hokies were overmatched by Coastal leading Pitt, the Orange have lost three consecutive three point games that weren’t decided until after the 59th minute of regulation.

SU boasts the best running game in the ACC with tailback Sean Tucker (135.4 yards per game) and quarterback Garrett Shrader (two 100-yard games this fall) and leads the conference in sacks and passing defense.

With the exception of their win over Middle Tennessee, the Hokies have grinded their gears offensively: behind a struggling Braxton Burmeister (26-62 passing for 318 yards, one TD and two INT in October), they rank 12th in the ACC in passing, 13th in rushing, and 14th overall.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies are humbled at home, 26-21.

Maryland (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) at Minnesota (4-2, 2-1), 3:30 p.m., ESPN2

The Terps come off a much-needed bye week minus another talented wide receiver (injuries have derailed the uber-talented Jeshaun Jones out for another season with a leg injury).

The team is already minus a potent running game (ninth in the Big Ten) and Taulia Tagovailoa without downfield threats has been held to under ten yards per completion in losses to No. 5 Iowa and No. 7 Ohio State. Minnesota’s weakness is defending the pass (10th in yards allowed, 11th in defensive efficiency).

The Terps defense that notched three takeaways against West Virginia (special teams recovered a fumble that day too) has recorded two interceptions and a fumble recovery in the five games since. The Golden Gophers have had injury issues as well, losing leading rusher and Baltimore native Mohamed Ibrahim to a season-ending injury on Sept. 2.

“Plan B” Trey Potts posted three straight 100-yard games but is likely done for the year with an injury suffered Oct. 2. “Plan C” is Bryce Williams (127 yards against Nebraska). If I were Williams, I wouldn’t leave my room Nov. 2 just to be safe.

Presto’s Pick: Terps tumble, 27-21.

Virginia (5-2, 3-2 ACC) vs Georgia Tech (3-3, 2-2), 7:30 p.m., ACC Network

The Cavaliers can become the first area FBS team to clinch bowl eligibility. They’re also coming off their first shutout in conference play since 2008 (31-0 against Maryland) after consecutive nail-biters. Georgia Tech is coming off their bye week after rallying past Duke 31-27 seven days before the Cavaliers routed the Blue Devils 48-0.

For the record, the transitive property of college football scores is often faulty. What isn’t faulty is the UVA offense: Brennan Armstrong and the league’s most prolific passing game face a Yellowjacket defense that is last in passing efficiency while also having trouble getting to the quarterback (12 sacks rank 11th).

The two schools did not meet in 2020, but the home team has won six straight in the series. This is a likely knockout game for the Coastal race as a three-loss team hasn’t won the division since 2012.

Kippy and Buffy know that a while a sixth win is nice as it means bowl eligibility, and a fourth conference win keeps it in contention for the Coastal. They also know the evening air in October gets a tiny bit chilly, so this week they’re tailgating with a bottle of Bouza 2018 Tannat Reserva from Uruguay paired with Parmesan cheese on Triscuits.

The “reduced nose is syrupy and rich, while this feels lush but with healthy core acidity.” Wine Enthusiast writes. “Blackened toast, licorice and peppercorn flavors sit atop Port-like blackberry and cassis.”

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers’ Coastal hopes stay healthy with a 44-17 win.

Georgetown falls to Bucknell, Howard slips to Norfolk State, Morgan State loses at NC Central, James Madison defeats Delaware, Richmond loses at Stony Brook, Towson tops William & Mary.

Last Week: 6-2

Overall: 45-13

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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