Presto’s College Football Picks: Maryland meets Michigan, plus an unlikely battle of unbeatens

Raise your hand if your school is still unbeaten! As we kick off Week Four, there are 33 unbeaten teams in Division I FBS (Maryland and James Madison representing the area) and on Saturday, there are four matchups involving 3-0 teams.

The fun begins with the Terrapins at the Big House in Michigan in front of more than 100,000 fans and ends with No. 7 USC visiting unranked Oregon State (beware the Pac-12 After Dark in Corvallis) in a game destined to reach the wee hours.

There’s also a matchup of ranked unbeatens in, of all places, the ACC: No. 5 Clemson against No. 21 upstart Wake Forest. But somehow lost in the shuffle there’s a showdown between…wait for it…3-0 Duke at 3-0 Kansas.



Are we sure this isn’t late-November, and are we certain this game isn’t being played in Hawaii or Madison Square Garden? It’s tough to figure out the bigger surprise: a Blue Devils team in the first season under head coach Mike Elko (they’ve already equaled last year’s win total) or Coach Lance Leipold’s Jayhawks surpassing last season’s two wins (with their second road conference victory since 2008).

Football has always been the appetizer in Durham and Lawrence, but for one brief shining moment, it takes center stage. Thank goodness they’re playing before the start of basketball practice.

Thursday

Virginia Tech (2-1) vs. West Virginia, 7:30 p.m., ESPN.

This was once a sneaky-good rivalry that died on the conference carousel, with at least one of the two teams being ranked entering their last twelve meetings (dating back to 1996) and four of their last six games decided by seven points or fewer. Neither team is ranked this year and there’s a good chance this won’t be a nail-biter, either. While the Hokies have struggled offensively and are averaging 24 points to start the season, the Mountaineers have had no such issues: scoring 73 points in two losses to FBS schools before last week’s 65-7 thumping of Towson. Quarterback JT Daniels is no stranger to the bright lights, having been a backup for national champion Georgia last year and a starter at USC in 2018.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies can’t keep pace, 32-23.

Friday

Virginia (2-1) at Syracuse, 7 p.m., ESPN.

Both schools are coming off of last-minute home victories, although the Orange’s 32-29 win over Purdue was a little more delirious than the Cavaliers’ 16-14 triumph over Old Dominion. U-Va. had issues in its Week Two loss defending ex-Orange quarterback Tommy DeVito, and now, they have to face the guy he lost his starting job to in Central New York. Garrett Shrader appears to be a less-polished version of Brennan Armstrong while Sean Tucker hasn’t been himself since getting banged up in a week one win over Louisville. This dual threat on the ground should concern a Cavaliers defense that ranks 10th in the ACC against the run, although Tucker’s yet to have the breakaway run that was commonplace last year (his long run this month is 13 yards after ripping off gains of 51, 54, 55, and 56 last year).

The ACC opener means Kippy & Buffy break out the red for the first time this fall. And on an early autumn evening a California Pinot Noir is the pick: the 2013 Ghost Pines is made of grapes from Sonoma and Monterey County.

As the winery website reads, “You’ll notice notes of cherry pie, pomegranate and ripe plum. From the oak, you get suggestions of vanilla, baking spice and freshly roasted coffee beans.” The finish provides “plush tannings, round mouthfeel and cocoa”.

After struggling the last two weeks, one hopes the Virginia offensive line and defensive secondary aren’t roasted this week.

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers come up short, 37-24.

Saturday

Maryland (3-0) at No. 4 Michigan, Noon, FOX.

The Terps begin Big Ten play by visiting the defending champs, and while one might think this would merit something special, head coach Mike Locksley compared facing foes to “Grandma’s Mac & Cheese”. As in “it’s just as slammin’ on Christmas as it is on a normal Sunday dinner” and the preparation should be the same regardless of the foe (or meal — for the record it’s the same case with “Uncle Davey’s Can’t Stop Eating Dip”). Non-conference schedules are often set years in advance, but Locksley told me this week that their games at Charlotte (road test) and against SMU (facing a quality opponent) went a long way towards getting this team league-ready.

The Wolverines haven’t exactly scheduled up this fall, beating the powerless trio of Colorado State, Hawaii, and UConn (a combined 2-9 with zero FBS wins) but they’re loaded with talent on both sides of the ball (five making Big Ten Preseason First Team and Pro Football Focus put six on their Preseason All-Big Ten team, with four more making Second Team). The two big questions that faced the Terps in the preseason emerge this week: can the running game sustain drives and make opponents honest, and can the defense contain the high-powered offenses of the Big Ten?

Presto’s Pick: Terps make this one tough but eventually tumble, 34-18.

James Madison (2-0) at Appalachian State, 3:30 p.m., ESPN+.

The Dukes dominated their pre-bye foes by the combined score of 107-14 and their smooth transition to FBS should be the talk of the Sun Belt Conference, but this month Appalachian State is the talk of the entire sport of college football. The Mountaineers began the year by almost beating North Carolina (coming up short 63-61) before upsetting then-No. 6 Texas A&M in College Station. The school then hosted ESPN College Football Gameday before topping Troy on a last-second Hail Mary. Welcome to the big time, JMU.

Presto’s Pick: Dukes go down in defeat, 24-14.

Navy (0-2) at East Carolina, 6 p.m. (ESPN+).

The Midshipmen are coming off a bye week and they hope they’ve fixed two major issues that haunted them in their 0-2 start: the inability to run the ball effectively and the defense has had issues stopping the deep pass. And while they’ve won five of the last six games in this series, Navy will have its hands full with fifth-year quarterback Holton Ahlers and a Pirates offense that leads the American Athletic Conference in third down conversions.

Presto’s Pick: Mids sink to 0-3 in a 27-13 loss.

Georgetown loses at Columbia, Richmond beats Stony Brook, William & Mary gets by Elon, Towson tops New Hampshire.

Last Week: 7-1.

Overall: 21-7.

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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