The college football season is here! I know that “Week Zero” (or given some of the matchups, “weak zero”) kicked things off last week in such college football hotbeds like Dublin, Ireland (where another Nebraska come from ahead loss puts head coach Scott Frost squarely on the hot seat), but Labor Day weekend is when the game begins in earnest.
And yes, there will be more cupcakes on display than on the corner of 33rd and M in Georgetown (we like No. 6 Texas A&M funding Sam Houston State’s entire athletic department in exchange for a visit), but there are plenty of local stories involving Maryland (can they build off their first bowl victory in over a decade?), Navy (will they bounce back from consecutive losing seasons?), Virginia (will Brennan Armstrong have to do it by himself again?) and Virginia Tech (can Brent Pry bring back the mindset that built the Beamer Ball brand?).
There’s even a new kid in class this fall as James Madison moves to a nicer (albeit tougher) neighborhood.
The best thing is that everybody gets out of the way (with the exception of JMU — watch those start times!) before No. 2 Ohio State hosts No. 5 Notre Dame under the lights. Enjoy …
Virginia Tech at Old Dominion, 7 p.m., ESPNU
Brent Pry is bringing back the “lunch pail” made famous by former defensive coordinator Bud Foster during his tenure on the sidelines in Blacksburg.
One hopes the Hokies don’t have their lunch handed to them at a stadium that has become infamous as the Pry era begins in the very spot where the Justin Fuente’s tenure took a turn for the worse in 2018: the No. 13 Hokies were never ranked that highly again in his tenure after the 49-35 loss to an 0-3 Monarchs team.
ODU returns 17 starters from its Myrtle Beach Bowl team, including quarterback Hayden Wolff and his top three receiving targets. It’s a good thing the Hokies return seven defensive starters.
Marshall transfer Grant Wells threw for over 3,500 yards for the Thundering Herd last year but is working with a patchwork receiving corps plus a running back situation clouded by Malachi Thomas’ foot injury that will keep the team’s leading returning rusher on the shelf.
Presto’s Pick: Hokies exact revenge and enjoy a late lunch, winning 26-17.
Maryland vs. Buffalo, noon, BTN
For those who say the Mid-Atlantic based Terps have no business being in the Big Ten, they’ve got nothing on the Bulls who despite residing in New York state joined the Mid-American Conference 25 years ago (making it an extremely unwieldy 13 schools).
The Bulls are in the second season under Maurice Linguist and their strength is in the defensive front seven: four players (including Glendale, Maryland, native James Patterson) were voted preseason All-Conference. But can their secondary contain the likes of Taulia Tagovailoa and his fleet of wide receivers (Rakim Jarrett, Dontay Demus, Jacob Copeland and Jeshaun Jones)?
Buffalo brings a mostly new offense to College Park, likely starting Rutgers transfer Cole Snyder at quarterback.
Presto’s Pick: Terrapins tear it open, 45-14.
Navy vs. Delaware, noon, CBS Sports Network
It’s been a while since the Midshipmen were favored in Annapolis; believe it or not, they were an opening-line favorite against BYU on Labor Day 2020. That night did not turn out as expected (they closed as a one-point underdog before losing 55-3) and began a two-season slump that ended last December when they beat Army.
Now, the Blue Hens are not those Cougars, nor are they Marshall (49-10 Mids loss) of last Labor Day. But first-year coach Ryan Carty has won a National Championship as a player (Delaware in 2003) and as a coordinator (Sam Houston State, 2020), and also has plenty of talent returning that includes sixth-year quarterback Nolan Richardson.
The Academy does not have the benefit of six-year players but quarterback Tai Lavatai finished 2021 strong and has impressed Coach Ken Niumatalolo this summer with continued growth running the option. The question is, can his running backs high on promise but short on experience help bring back the Navy ground game to prominence?
Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen make it happen, 27-17.
Virginia vs. Richmond, 12:30 p.m., ESPN3
Don’t for a second think that the Cavaliers are taking at this one lightly: six years ago the Bronco Mendenhall era began with a 37-20 loss to the Spiders. UR also returns 14 starters this year and has received both CAA and national preseason FCS notice.
Of course one notices that UVA returns record-setting quarterback Brennan Armstrong plus his top three targets from last fall. Also not escaping notice are the two returning FBS starts among the Cavaliers’ offensive linemen. They’ll have to keep their eyes out for FCS All-American linebacker Tristan Wheeler who is the ultimate game-changer.
Speaking of ultimate game-changers, my Scott Stadium tailgating pals Kippy & Buffy are back for another season of fun, rooting the Hoos, and generous helpings of wine and cheese.
Given the heat of early September, they’re going to kick off 2022 with a French white: the 2019 Domaine Labbé — Vin de Savoie ‘Abymes’. Produced in the foothills of the French Alps, the “hint of bubble tickles your palate, with crisp apple blossom fruit, honeysuckle and a backbone of citrus acidity.”
Presto’s Pick: The only hint of a bubble for Richmond will burst in a 38-16 Cavaliers win.
James Madison vs. Middle Tennessee, 6 p.m., ESPN+
Welcome to the big time, JMU! I’m sure the 6 p.m. window on a tertiary channel is exactly what they had in mind when they moved across the cafeteria to the cool kids’ table (it’s a shame Jefferson Pilot is no more).
The Blue Raiders have lost four straight road openers, although three of those came to Power Five schools. The Dukes’ defense that’s replacing seven starters will be tested by senior quarterback Chase Cunningham and a Blue Raiders offense that likes to spread the ball: last year the top four receivers notched between 42 and 45 receptions.
Middle Tennessee moved up from FCS 22 years ago and has been one of the transitional success stories, playing in nine bowls over the last 16 years under coach Rick Stockstill. Dukes coach Curt Cignetti and company should take notice in what has been built in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Presto’s Pick: Dukes deliver in their debut, 33-26.
Georgetown loses to Marist, Howard falls to Hampton, Towson tops Bucknell, William & Mary slips to Charlotte, Morgan State loses to Georgia Southern.
Last Year: 88-30.