College football’s conference carousel has a history of taking the game in unexpected directions: for every South Carolina that joins the SEC, there’s a Boston College joining the ACC.
The final ripples of this summer’s seismic shift (Texas & Oklahoma bolting the Big 12 for the SEC) hit somewhat close to home. Last week, James Madison (Harrisonburg lies a 2-hour drive from the Key Bridge) announced its intention to leave the CAA and FCS for the Sun Belt Conference, FBS and bigger paydays.
Instead of my annual “Dukes are a Dynasty” piece (two national titles, six conference crowns, and seven straight playoff appearances will prompt that), they’ll be just another program scrambling to get to six wins and bowl eligibility.
Instead of short drives (all under four hours) to league foes Elon, William & Mary, Richmond, Towson and Delaware (Villanova misses the cut at 4:20) — its flights all over the southeast with one foe (Old Dominion) lying within a 4-hour drive.
And the 22,600 average attendance at Bridgeforth Stadium that’s among the best in FCS (since 2011 JMU has finished second four times, third four times, and fourth once) will pale in comparison to the bulk of FBS (that figure would rank 87th among 130 FBS school’s 5-year averages from 2015-19).
James Madison might add a buyout game or two (the Dukes visited Power Five programs West Virginia, NC State, North Carolina and Maryland last decade) that will help the bottom line and there’s always the curiosity about how this move for football will affect their other sports.
In the short term, the other teams won’t be eligible to win the CAA (and thus take the corresponding NCAA Tournament berth) even while they’re still competing in the conference.
Proof that no divorce, no matter how amicable, is completely pain-free. And further proof that the athletes are merely pawns, or ants in a jungle of elephants kicking each other.
Progress is a tricky thing. For every Missouri that joins the SEC and wins division titles (albeit the East), there’s a Rutgers that becomes blue blood cannon fodder.
James Madison better bask in being the big fish in the small pond for the moment, because the waters they’re about to dive into are much trickier to navigate.
Virginia Tech (4-4, 2-2 ACC) at Boston College (4-4, 0-4), 7:30 p.m., ESPN2
There are many ways to get to 4-4, and while the Hokies are coming off their best win since Labor Day weekend when they shocked then-No. 10 North Carolina, the Eagles have lost four straight conference games while scoring a combined 40 points in those defeats.
But B.C. does boast the best pass defense in the ACC, and even though Braxton Burmeister is coming off a season-high 254 yards passing against Georgia Tech, it’s his second 200+ yard effort against a Power Five conference team this fall.
Causes for confidence include a defense that’s held opponents to 34% on third down since their bye week as well as recent dominance in this series: they’ve won nine of the last thirteen games against Boston College and are 9-5 all-time in Chestnut Hill.
Presto’s Pick: Hokies handle the Eagles, 23-16.
Maryland (5-3, 2-3 Big Ten) at No. 22 Penn State (5-3, 2-3), 3:30 p.m., FS1
Another case of two teams with the same record by taking different roads to get there: the Nittany Lions have lost three straight to fall out of the Top Ten and Playoff conversation while the Terps, after their 38-35 win over Indiana, can finally talk about potential bowl eligibility.
Don’t laugh, but this is probably their second-best chance to get win No. 6 (behind woeful Rutgers) as No. 5 Michigan State and No. 9 Michigan fill out their November menu.
Penn State hasn’t been the same since Sean Clifford’s injury against Iowa (his passer rating through that game was 151 as opposed to 120 over the last two games) but they’ve got plenty of weapons (Jahan Dotson, Parker Washington, and KeAndre Lambert-Smith each have catches longer than 50 yards).
And if there’s one thing the Terps defense that ranks 10th against the pass and 13th against the run has issues with, it’s bottling up the big play. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions’ defense has more than held its own during the three-game slide.
Presto’s Pick: Terrapins tumble, 31-17.
Navy (2-6) at No. 8 Notre Dame (7-1), 3:30 p.m., NBC
Due to COVID-19 concerns, last year was the first time since 1926 these two schools didn’t meet on the gridiron. The Fighting Irish have won five straight against the Midshipmen in South Bend by an average score of 20 points, including a 32-point drubbing two years ago against a Navy team ranked No. 16.
The Irish began the season with consecutive three-point thrillers against Florida State and Toledo but have straightened out with four of their last five wins by double digits, in part because of the emergence of running back Kyren Williams.
The sophomore rushed for 199 yards against North Carolina last Saturday after gaining 138 yards rushing against USC the previous week. Five of Navy’s last six games have been one-possession affairs, and although they’ll be playing uphill all afternoon, they’ll keep it close going into the second half.
Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen come up short, 37-13.
Virginia (6-3, 4-2 ACC) is idle, but that won’t stop Kippy & Buffy from enjoying their weekend as they use the Cavaliers’ bye to shutter up the cottage in the Outer Banks.
And with a second straight Coastal Division title in their sights, the open week means they’re going to enjoy a bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Blue Label Champagne.
“Rich and creamy, showing the dried fruit, nut and spice notes of fruitcake, with lemon meringue, quince and honey flavors,” the tasting notes read. “Clean citrusy acidity integrates beautifully and provides an elegance to this refined Champagne.”
Break out the Brie and Camembert … and we’ll see you next week as Notre Dame comes to Charlottesville.
Georgetown falls to Fordham, Howard is humbled at South Carolina State, James Madison beats Campbell, Towson tops Richmond, William & Mary wins at Delaware.
Last Week: 6-5