Sports are supposed to be the toy section of any newspaper or broadcast day. It’s fun and games for heaven’s sake. The teams have nicknames and “play.”
We joke around about schools and cities and their fan bases (sometimes even drawing conclusions about those who might be tailgating before and after games).
But sometimes we’re given a hard dose of reality like this past Sunday night when three University of Virginia football players were shot and killed in Charlottesville.
I did not know Lavel Davis Jr., D’Shawn Perry or Devin Chandler, but over Davis and Perry’s time with the Cavaliers, I wrote about each. Chandler was just beginning to make an impact on the program as a transfer.
Unfortunately, their lives have been cut short and the university did the right thing by canceling Saturday’s game with Coastal Carolina. I hope they play at Virginia Tech next weekend to give this year’s fourth and fifth-year players a chance for closure regarding their college careers, letting them suit up for U.Va. one final time before moving on to the next stage of their lives.
I also hope playing in Blacksburg will give the program a chance to heal somewhat from the devastating losses they will be dealing with for some time. In 2007 after the Virginia Tech shootings, the University of Virginia extended the olive branch “Hoos for Hokies” to show support for their in-state opponent. Fifteen years later, the school in Blacksburg can help their brethren in Charlottesville heal with “Hokies for Hoos.”
But that’s a decision for next week. This Saturday, we are all Cavaliers.
Navy (3-7, 3-3 AAC) at No. 17 UCF (8-2, 5-1), 11 a.m., ESPN2
REALLY??? 11 A. M.? The only competition that should be broadcast on TV before noon on a Saturday is the old Teen NBC show “Hang Time!” or for those a little bit older, the “Laff-a-Lympics” (darn those Really Rottens and their rampant cheating that would make the SMU of the 80s blush).
The Knights (don’t call them Golden Knights or Central Florida) are in the driver’s seat to reach the AAC Championship Game and have gotten things done this fall on the ground, leading the conference in rushing (Navy is second) and yards per game while ranking second best at stopping the run (right behind the Midshipmen). Navy has a major question mark regarding the status of quarterback Xavier Arline who suffered an apparent ankle injury in the loss to Notre Dame. But the Mids have tons of grit and no quit and will keep this close.
Let’s just say the Knights might be a little sluggish in the morning.
Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen come up short, 25-16.
Virginia Tech (2-8) at Liberty (8-2), noon, ESPN+
While the Hokies may be wondering ‘what if’ with four of their eight losses coming in one-score games, the Flames are just four points away from an unbeaten season. Liberty’s losses have come in games where they’ve been outscored in the fourth quarter (15-6 by UConn and 17-13 by Wake Forest), but scoring late isn’t exactly VT’s strong suit. The Hokies have been blanked in the final period six times and have scored just 30 points over ten fourth quarters this fall.
Liberty won’t look like the team led by dual-threat and now with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans quarterback Malik Willis but they do boast a running back in Dae Dae Hunter that’s rushed for 850 yards (on 6.6 per carry). Quarterback Johnathan Bennett has also provided stability and efficiency.
The Hokies are 0-5 on the road this year and have dropped four of their last five nonconference road games.
Presto’s Pick: Hokies free fall continues with a 27-14 loss.
James Madison (6-3, 4-2 Sun Belt) vs Georgia State (4-6, 3-3), 2 p.m., ESPN+
The Panthers are fighting to keep bowl eligibility, coming on strong with four wins in six games after beginning their schedule with three biggies: at South Carolina before hosting North Carolina and Charlotte (for the record, they did play the Tar Heels and 49ers to one-score games).
GSU brings the most productive ground game in the Sun Belt Conference (242.7 yards per game) to Harrisonburg behind dual-threat quarterback Darren Grainger (197 yards passing plus 70 yards rushing per game). But the Dukes are the best team in the SBC at stopping the run (79 yards allowed per outing) and boast better balance offensively (3rd in rushing and 4th in passing) behind quarterback Todd Centeio, who has bounced back from his midseason injury (304 yards passing in last Saturday’s win).
Georgia State has had issues stopping the run this fall and lost last weekend despite rolling up 535 yards against Louisiana-Monroe.
Presto’s Pick: Dukes deliver another victory, 34-20.
Maryland (6-4, 3-4 Big Ten) vs. No. 2 Ohio State (10-0, 7-0), 3:30 p.m., ABC
The Buckeyes are the one Big Ten East team the Terps have yet to defeat, and with one exception (a 52-51 OT loss in 2018), it has not been close as OSU has put 49, 52, 53, 62 (twice), 66 and 73 points on the board in their other meetings.
Quarterbacks J.T. Barrett, the late Dwayne Haskins and Justin Fields have enjoyed field days throwing to the likes of Michael Thomas, Terry McLaurin and Chris Olave while having the comfort of handing off to players like Ezekiel Elliott and J.K. Dobbins. This fall, C.J. Stroud pilots an offense that leads the Big Ten in passing and total yards while pacing the conference in scoring 46.8 points per game (his top target is Marvin Harrison Jr. — son of Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Marvin Harrison — who has 60 catches for 969 yards and 11 TD’s).
Maryland head coach Mike Locksley said one priority is making Stroud “uncomfortable” which is easier said than done because the Bucks have a great option on the ground in Miyan Williams (6.7 yards per carry). Meanwhile, the Terps offense tries to find itself after scoring ten points over the last two weeks as Taulia Tagovailoa has thrown for a combined 151 yards while getting sacked 12 times in those two losses.
I’m completely confident you are going to see a great effort by Maryland Saturday, but I’m also confident you’re going to see too much talent on the other side of the ball executing.
Presto’s Pick: Terrapins tumble, 44-14.
Howard falls to Morgan State, Georgetown loses to Holy Cross, Towson tops Hampton, William & Mary beats Richmond.
Last Week: 8-3.