Presto’s Picks: Cavaliers are back from their bye, JMU plays early while we hold a conference call

There’s nothing quite like a conference call — a workplace gathering with multiple people on the other end of the phone who might or might not be invested in the current conversation. Drop everything, even if this is the one day you’ve chosen to be productive.

With this being the last season of the “new era” (post Big East) Power Five conferences, Maryland and Virginia Tech’s bye week seemed as good a time as any to check out which collection of schools operating under a misleading name is earning bragging rights before 2024 when we start dealing with the Power Four.

Is everybody online? Let’s get this conference call underway:

Atlantic Coast Conference (with one school located on the coast of the Ohio River):

What’s Awesome: Four ranked schools with two unbeatens, and No. 4 Florida State and No. 10 North Carolina don’t meet during the regular season! So we could have a battle of unbeatens in the ACC Championship Game for the first time ever, barring a late upset (although Clemson topping the Tar Heels in Death Valley on Nov. 18 would hardly be a shock). One-loss Duke also plays UNC, while one-loss Louisville somehow has a schedule that avoids the Seminoles, Tar Heels and Blue Devils (makes one miss the Atlantic & Coastal Divisions for five seconds).

What’s Not Ideal: The league also had its share of soft Septembers reveal multiple pretenders — Miami and Syracuse each started 4-0 before dropping their first two and three league games, while Wake Forest is 0-3 in the ACC after starting 3-0.

What’s Next: Cal and Stanford bring their academic standards and sub-. 500 expectations to the mix next year, while SMU delivers a different sort of football history (check out the 30 for 30 “Pony Excess”). All were voted in by a league membership that includes a Notre Dame who refuses to be a full member so they can keep their football money to themselves.

Big 12 (that currently has fourteen members):

What’s Awesome: Just a pair of ranked schools, and it’s the two leaving after this season. No. 6 Oklahoma beat No. 8 Texas on a last-minute touchdown earlier this month and it appears as if the two are on a collision course for the Championship Game.

What’s Not Ideal: There are no other one-loss teams in the league so it’s tough to imagine another school making a run at the College Football Playoff. It’s also rough being the new kids in town and in their first fall. BYU, UCF, Cincinnati and Houston are off to a combined 2-10 record in league play (even with UH’s Hail Mary victory over West Virginia).

What’s Next: Oklahoma and Texas will be replaced by Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah bringing the conference membership to 16. How sweet.

Big Ten (also with fourteen schools):

What’s Awesome: Four ranked teams with three unbeatens that will meet over the next five weeks, starting with Saturday’s showdown between No. 3 Ohio State and No. 7 Penn State. No. 2 Michigan gets the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes over the final three weeks of the season, but they better not overlook Saturday’s game with Michigan State (Spartans have won 10 of the last 15 in the series).

What’s Not Ideal: The West Division in its final year lives up to its perpetual sad-sack reputation, with No. 24 Iowa emerging from the underwhelming pack after averaging 15 points over its first four league games. The 6-1 Hawkeyes have one game against an opponent that currently has a winning record and it’s Rutgers. Of course, one or two upsets turns the West race into a soggy plate of nachos.

What’s Next: Now here’s a West Division I can get behind! Washington, Oregon, USC and UCLA are all ranked and bring major cachet to a league that will be No. 18. Perhaps add a Central Division?

Southeast Conference (with one school that’s west of the Mississippi River playing in the East Division):

What’s Awesome: Six of the 14 schools are ranked with No. 1 Georgia the league’s lone unbeaten. But No. 11 Alabama controls its path to the College Football Playoff, while the occasionally underwhelming Bulldogs battle one-loss teams No. 20 Missouri, No. 13 Mississippi and No. 17 Tennessee on the first three Saturdays of November.

What’s Not Ideal: woe is the underbelly of the West Division with Auburn, Mississippi State and Arkansas a combined 0-10 in league play. Of course, Vanderbilt is off to an 0-4 SEC start, because well … Vanderbilt.

What’s Next: Oklahoma and Texas make this conference a sweet 16 (even with sour reactions from Texas A&M).

Pacific-12 (with four schools hailing from three states that are landlocked):

What’s Awesome: Six schools — 50% of league membership — in this week’s Top 25. No. 5 Washington is the lone unbeaten, but one would think No. 9 Oregon can play its way back into the Playoff by running the table (it would likely include a win over Washington in the Pac-12 Championship Game). No. 12 Oregon State, No. 14 Utah and No. 18 USC are other one-loss teams fighting for a trip to Las Vegas (and the title game).

What’s Not Ideal: Everybody is leaving … except Oregon and Washington State. “The weak are the meat that the strong do eat” (The Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell). Please forward any and all mail to the Big 12, Big Ten and ACC.

What’s Next: Perhaps the Beavers and Cougars merge with the Mountain West? There have been rumors of an expanded group that would have two tiers among the schools — tiers that would recalibrate every year or two “soccer relegation style.” The top eight would be a slimmed-down Pac-8 and keep the conference’s “Power Five” label.

Thursday’s Game:

James Madison (6-0, 3-0 Sun Belt) at Marshall (4-2, 1-1), 7 p.m., ESPN.

Five days after blowing out Georgia Southern (who handed them their first loss of 2022) on ESPN2, JMU goes on ESPN to face Marshall (who handed them their second loss of last season). Both schools have punched above their weight class this fall, with the Dukes defeating Virginia and the Thundering Herd topping Virginia Tech. Marshall ran for 214 yards against the Hokies, but JMU currently allows a conference-lowest 42.8 yards per game on the ground while also leading the Sun Belt in sacks and interceptions (Marshall is second in both sacks and INT’s). We might be in store for a shootout with both teams averaging over 30 points per game, with the Dukes allowing over 30 points in two of their three road games and the Herd coughing up 35+ points in their last three outings.

Presto’s Pick: Dukes do just enough to get to 7-0 and the Top 25, handling the Herd 38-30.

Saturday’s Games:

Navy (3-3) vs No. 22 Air Force (6-0), noon, CBS.

The home team has won nine of the last 10 games in this series, but since the Midshipmen posted a 34-25 victory in 2019, they’ve been held to 20 points in three losses to the Falcons. The good news for Navy is that they’re coming off their second shutout of the season and have won conference games on consecutive weekends for the first time since 2020. The bad news is they’ll be facing an Air Force offense that leads the nation in rushing (334 yards per game, almost 100 more than Navy).

Zac Larrier (473 yards rushing on 5.8 per carry, 71% completion rate with a 4-0 TD-INT ratio) pilots the Air Force attack in a manner that makes one think this is what Navy Head Coach Brian Newberry had in mind when he retooled the Mids’ offense in the offseason. And with injury questions surrounding Navy’s quarterback situation, you can only wonder if they’ll be able to muster the necessary firepower to keep pace with the Falcons one week after having to punt 11 times at Charlotte.

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen come up short, 34-16.

Virginia (1-5, 0-2 ACC) at No. 10 North Carolina (6-0, 3-0), 6:30 p.m., CW.

The Tar Heels lead the conference in passing yards and third down success, and they’re also fresh off a win over previously-ranked Miami where the recently eligible Tez Walker scorched the Hurricane (make that Weather System) secondary to the tune of six catches for 132 yards and three touchdowns. That’s bad news for a Cavalier defense that allows the most points per game in the ACC, posts the fewest sacks in the conference, and is second worst at getting off the field on third down.

Ask an old school Virginia fan and they will tell you that the Tar Heels are the true rival of their school, and there’s plenty of evidence to back it up: these two teams began playing in 1892, have met every season since 1919, and this series has been rather competitive recently with each school winning four times in the last eight years.

Kippy & Buffy return from the bye week refreshed and ready to finish with a flourish on the tailgating front. They have six stellar Virginia reds lined up to close the season, kicking off the stretch with a 2020 Linden Vineyards Claret. Aged for 12 months in older French oak barrels, this blend (50% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot) “shows aromas of crunchy red fruits, and spring garden herbs,” according to the vineyard website. “Medium bodied with a sappy freshness and a quaffable graceful finish.”

Presto’s Pick: The finish will be less than graceful in a 42-17 Virginia loss.

Howard beats Norfolk State, Georgetown gets by Colgate, Richmond beats North Carolina A&T, William & Mary tops Towson, Morgan State slips to North Carolina Central.

Last Week: 5-2.

Season: 43-13.

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).

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up