Presto’s Picks: Terps play Michigan without Harbaugh, while Dukes face NCAA without common sense

Two of the bigger college football stories in the country are taking place right in our backyards (okay, Harrisonburg, Virginia, is more like at the end of the woods but before the property line).

No. 2 Michigan has won 33 of its last 34 games after being decidedly second fiddle in the Big Ten East (sometimes third when they’d find a way to lose to Sparty), and it appears as though this recent uptick in their fortunes isn’t because of good old fashioned blocking and tackling.

They aren’t the first school to try to steal signals, but this level of subterfuge, as documented, is excessive, even in the world of college football, where excessive should be the sport’s middle name.

The Wolverines will bring the Big Ten’s top offense and defense, plus a couple of Heisman Trophy candidates and more than a few pro prospects. But they won’t be bringing head coach Jim Harbaugh to the sidelines after receiving a suspension from the conference.

What exactly does that mean? Does he get to hang out in the locker room? Can he be in the coaches’ box on a headset? Must he stay at the team hotel and order room service? He’s also slated to miss the Ohio State game in Columbus next week, barring dressing up as the Wolverine mascot.

James Madison is also 10-0, and head coach Curt Cignetti hasn’t been suspended this fall, but unlike the Wolverines, the Dukes won’t be playing in December or January unless there is a shortage of 6-6 teams. The school is in the second half of a two-year transition from FCS to FBS, where the program is ineligible for postseason play, and has appealed multiple times only to have the NCAA rule against it.

In a world where players can transfer and play the very next season just like their coaches can break contracts if the new school pays their buyout, it seems antiquated that schools (and the kids who play for their teams) can’t participate in postseason play. Especially when you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel of competitive (note we DID NOT SAY good) teams for 82 bowl berths among 133 FBS schools.

Well, at least ESPN’S College Gameday is coming to Harrisonburg Saturday.

Big Ten Worst Update:

Iowa’s win over Rutgers last weekend knocked over the game of Jenga that was a seven-way tie for the West title at 4-5. But we can still get a four-way tie at 5-4 if a few things break the right way plus Minnesota shocking the world with a win over No. 3 Ohio State. I’d settle for a three-way tie…

Saturday’s Games:

Maryland (6-4, 3-4 Big Ten) vs No. 2 Michigan (10-0, 7-0), noon, FOX

The Wolverines come to SECU Stadium with big dreams and the weight of coach Harbaugh’s suspension for stealing signs.

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Eventually I thought better and shelved the idea of using the “one key to the right approach.”

The key to beating this Wolverines team? They lead the Big Ten in scoring, third-down conversions, offensive passing efficiency while allowing the fewest points, passing and overall yards. The offense boasts a Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback J.J. McCarthy (76% completion percentage with 18 touchdown passes) as well as running back Blake Corum (794 yards rushing on 5.2 per carry with 18 touchdowns) who could have very well won it last year if he stayed healthy in November.

Two tough tasks for a Terps defense that ranks ninth against the pass and sixth against the run in the Big Ten. Coach Mike Locksley says what impresses him about Michigan’s defense is how well the unit plays together. Can a Terps offense averaging under 20 points since September (and 14 in November) make headway?

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins tumble, 37-16.

Navy (4-5, 3-3 AAC) vs East Carolina (2-8, 1-5), noon, ESPN News

ECU is offensively challenged to say the least, ranking last in the conference in scoring, total yards, and passing efficiency. And no, they aren’t running the option: the Pirates are actually trying to execute a “normal offense”. But they are coming off of a win at favored FAU and came within a field goal of upsetting nationally-ranked Tulane. The Mids are more than capable of sending their seniors out in spectacular fashion (they held the AAC’s top passing team to a pair of field goals last week), but previously they found a way to lose to previously winless in the conference Temple. Navy has won eight of the last ten games in this series, with the last three meetings resulting in one-possession finishes.

Presto’s Pick: Mids finish with a flourish, sinking the Pirates 21-17.

James Madison (10-0, 6-0) vs Appalachian State (6-4, 4-2), 2 p.m., ESPN+

Really? One of seven unbeatens left in FBS, and they’re hosting College Gameday but James Madison can’t get on one of the bigger channels? The Dukes might not be eligible for a bowl or the Sun Belt Championship Game (thank you NCAA), but they can determine who plays in the game over the next two weeks: a win over the Mountaineers secures a berth for Coastal Carolina.

JMU might be 5-12 all-time in the series but they rallied from 18 points down to win last year’s game on the road. Don’t be confused by App State’s record as they took Top 20 North Carolina to double overtime and fell by a field goal at 7,220 feet above sea level against Wyoming. Junior quarterback and first-year starter Joey Aguilar is on a heater, completing 70% of his passes while tossing 11 touchdowns and 1 interception during their three-game winning streak. How much will the Dukes miss top pass rusher Jalen Green (FBS-best 15.5 sacks)?

Presto’s Pick: JMU goes to 11 with a shootout on tap, prevailing 38-34.

Virginia (2-8, 1-5 ACC) vs Duke (6-4, 3-3), 3 p.m., CW

While this rivalry isn’t like the one with UNC, these two schools have met every year since 1961. U.Va. won seven straight in the series before last year’s defeat in the final season of Coastal Division competition.

Duke began this year with a bang — blasting a ranked Clemson on Labor Day — but have fallen out of the rankings with four losses in six games, including last Saturday’s double-overtime loss at North Carolina.

True freshman Grayson Loftis threw three touchdown passes for the Blue Devils in the defeat, and he’ll likely have plenty of time to pass this week against a defense that’s notched just ten sacks (fewest in the ACC) while allowing the most points per game in the conference.

Freshman Anthony Colandrea is coming off of a 314-yard passing effort in the loss at Louisville, and with a running game that ranks 13th in the ACC it’s kind of obvious to see what the Cavaliers will try to do Saturday.

Kippy & Buffy know the obvious move is often the right one, and when tailgating before facing the ultimate “bro” school one enjoys a bottle from Breaux Vineyards. Their Nebbiolo has “persistent but refined tannins and a firm acidic backbone add depth to the full structures and silky-smooth texture on the palate,” according to the winery website. “Aromas of cherry pit, plum, black licorice, leather and hints of baking spices plus the taste of red cherries, violet and chocolate shine in this complex but elegant take on the classic Italian variety.” Pairs well with everything from stuffed mushrooms to wild boar to Beaufort cheese.

Presto’s Pick: a tough afternoon of football to bear in a 27-17 loss.

Virginia Tech (5-5, 4-2 ACC) vs NC State (7-3, 4-2), 3:30 p.m., ACC Network

Not only is a bowl berth well within reach of the Hokies, but with Virginia on the slate the following Saturday Coach Brent Pry’s team has a decent shot at posting its first winning record since 2019.

Two of the hotter teams in the league meet at Lane Stadium, with the Wolfpack holding foes to a total of 29 points while winning three straight, while the Hokies have won four of six thanks to an offense that’s humming to the tune of 29 points per game.

Running quarterbacks are also on the menu, with Kyron Drones coming off of a 219 yards passing/135 yards rushing effort while former Virginia record-setter Brennan Armstrong tries one more time to win in Blacksburg (he led the Wolfpack to a win in Charlottesville earlier this fall).

But in November-even in the ACC-defense will likely be the difference, and these are two sharp units: State leads the conference on third down and is third best at stopping the run, while Tech tops at stopping the pass while ranking second in sacks. Don’t discount a little home field advantage: Virginia Tech is 4-1 at Lane Stadium this fall and is 10-2-2 all-time in Blacksburg against the Pack.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies hang on, 24-20.

Howard beats Morgan State, Georgetown loses at Holy Cross, Towson tumbles to Rhode Island, Richmond tops William & Mary.

Last Week: 5-7. The November chill arrives!

Season: 66-29.

Presented by FanDuel Sportsbook.

*Preston’s Note: I typed my whole prediction one key to the left. I initially thought about writing my preview in code, but even when written normally, my picks often make no sense whatever.

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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