Presto’s Picks: Maryland, Virginia Tech and James Madison start with helpings of home cooking

Welcome back to college football’s best regular season! While Navy got its year underway last weekend in Ireland, the other local FBS schools kick off their seasons Saturday. Maryland takes on a local school with ties to its head coach, Virginia plays a “neutral site” game against a top 20 team, Virginia Tech confronts a 2022 nightmare, and James Madison meets a former FCS foe.

On the national stage, college football delivers fans one final season of the “new normal” before we get a “new and improved normal” next year. So brace yourselves for the last go-around for the Pac-12, the division era in the Big Ten, and the Big 12 schools complaining that Texas and Oklahoma get special treatment, even when the Longhorns and Sooners leave for the SEC. I’m sure schools like Texas Tech and Kansas State will still find things to complain about.

Let the games begin!

Virginia vs. No. 12 Tennessee
Nashville, Tennessee, noon, ABC

Despite hailing from bordering states, this is just the fifth time these two schools have met, with three of those games taking place in Knoxville and the fourth at the 1991 Sugar Bowl. At least this time they’re playing in “neutral” Nashville. The Volunteers are heavily hyped this year after posting their first double-digit victory season since 2007.

The Cavaliers will start Monmouth transfer Tony Muskett against a defense that returns seven starters from a unit that tallied 20 takeaways last fall. Vols quarterback Hendon Hooker may be gone to the NFL but his replacement Joe Milton III threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns in their Orange Bowl win and has yet to throw an interception in 144 attempts since transferring from Michigan.

Despite returning eight starters, UVA will trot out two new starters at cornerback Saturday.

Kippy and Buffy return to start up another season of tailgating, pledging to enjoy wines from Virginia this fall (with the caveat they can switch to Bordeaux, Napa Cabs, and Oregon Pinots if the season goes sideways).

As they traditionally enjoy a bottle of white for nonconference games (red for ACC matchups, sparkling for the bye week, and rosé for the spring game), they’re going to open a 2020 Barrel Oak Winery Traminette.

A grape originally crossbred at the University of Illinois in 1965, City Vino’s tasting notes read “pronounced honeysuckle and rose petals floral aromas with Asian pear, pineapple, and juniper subtler notes. Medium acidity and body with a long finish.” You had me at juniper. Best enjoyed with Gruyere.

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers deal with long finishes as Volunteers drive in a 37-7 loss.

Maryland vs. Towson
College Park, Maryland, 3:30 p.m., BTN

It’s not homecoming but a reunion of sorts: Terps head coach Mike Locksley played for the Tigers from 1988-91. Locksley was not on the staff the previous two times these two teams met (2010 and 2017), both Maryland victories.

Locksley expects a vastly different Towson offense with first-year head coach Pete Shinnick taking over for longtime Tigers coach Rob Ambrose, but he does expect a similar defense to what they ran last year, albeit one that allowed 28 points per game.

Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa enters his fourth season as a starter with a reliable running game led by Roman Hemby (989 yards rushing in 2022) and a revamped receiving corps thanks to the transfer portal, but all eyes will be on an offensive line that lost four starters in the offseason.

Even when the Terps haven’t enjoyed solid seasons, they’ve found a way to begin with a bang — winning 12 of their last 13 openers since 2009.

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins triumph, 44-12.

James Madison vs. Bucknell
Harrisonburg, Virginia, 6 p.m., ESPN+

The Dukes may have left FCS and the CAA behind them for the Sun Belt Conference, but the 6 p.m. kickoffs remain their domain. Their Week 1 foes know all about playing on the highest stage as the Bison played in the first Orange Bowl in 1935, beating the University of Miami 26-0 (no word on if the Hurricanes were hit with any NCAA sanctions after the game).

Fast-forward almost 90 years and you have a school that’s known for March Madness and September Sadness: Bison men’s basketball has posted upsets in the NCAA Tournament of the likes of Kansas and Arkansas while the football program hasn’t posted a winning season since 2014, or when JMU last failed to notch a winning record (they went 6-6). Bucknell was picked to finish tied for last in the Patriot League and the Dukes were picked to win the East Division of the Sun Belt Conference.

Presto’s Pick: Dukes dominate, 48-6.

Virginia Tech vs. Old Dominion
Blacksburg, Virginia, 8 p.m. (ACCN)

One way to turn around a program is to face one’s demons from the start of the season. The Hokies stumbled for sixty minutes last year in their opener at ODU, turning the ball over three times in the first half (with a fumble recovery leading to a Monarchs score) before tossing two interceptions on their final two drives of the night in a 20-17 loss.

That would be the high point for coach Ricky Rahne’s ODU squad who finished 3-9 (including a last-second loss at Virginia). ODU lost its leading rusher, passer, and receiver in the offseason as well as eight defensive starters.

The home team is 4-0 in the series between the two schools. While we’re on the subject of home cooking, have you tried the smoked turkey leg at Lane Stadium? Buy one early because it takes about two-and-a-half hours to consume.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies feast on the Monarchs, 38-16.

More picks around the region: Howard falls at Eastern Michigan, Georgetown slips to Marist, Richmond beats Morgan State.

Last Week: 1-0.

Last Season: 88-38.

Presented by FanDuel Sportsbook.

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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