WASHINGTON — We’ve heard early and often how great the Southeastern Conference is. Not just this year, but every year. And not just at the current flagship program, Alabama, but across the entire 14-team membership (we’ll ignore Vanderbilt and Missouri for argument’s sake).
So with Thanksgiving games on the horizon, there’s no better way to ramp up for the final week of the regular season than — what?
That’s right, I forgot — the SEC doesn’t put out a compelling product in the penultimate weekend of the season. Every other FBS conference treats the final weeks of the regular season as the time to play the most meaningful games while sorting its divisions out (and the Big Ten West could get foggier before it gets clearer). The SEC? Time to take on FCS and lower-tier FBS schools.
Think of this weekend as a sorbet: something to cleanse the palate. Alabama plays Chattanooga, which has as much chance of beating the Crimson Tide as Moccasins alum Dennis Haskins did as Principal Belding did of catching on to Zack and Slater’s schemes. Auburn prepares to face Alabama by battling Alabama A&M; South Carolina plays Western Carolina — follow the trend?
Even new member Texas A&M gets the idea, scheduling Texas-San Antonio. But the cupcake champ is Kentucky, who gets 0-10 Austin Peay to come to Lexington.
It’s November. I want high-leverage college football games every week. I already went apple picking and antiquing on the season’s second Saturday; I limed the lawn two months early. All so I could see Georgia play Louisiana-Lafayette?
The only reason No. 16 LSU is facing East Division champ Florida is that their October matchup was postponed due to flooding from Hurricane Matthew. Otherwise, we’d be getting “conference action” pitting Ole Miss against Vanderbilt. Would they even send Verne and Gary to that one?
This week’s predictions:
Maryland (5-5, 2-5 Big Ten) at No. 19 Nebraska (8-2, 5-2), 12 p.m., ESPN. One week after losing, 62-3, to Ohio State, the Terps play the school that was beaten, 62-3, by the Buckeyes the week before.
The Cornhuskers are one of five teams in contention for the Big Ten West, and boast the reigning Conference Offensive Player of the Week in Tommy Armstrong Jr. (Why does every opposing QB in the Big Ten have a name that sounds super-awesome?) Perry Hills’ shoulder injury has largely derailed their passing game (14th in the league) since the end of the UCF game.
The Cornhuskers have 10 offensive linemen who are at 300 pounds or above, including 6-foot-9 Canadian David Knevel. And no, he doesn’t observe Canadian rules and leave the field for fourth down.
Terrapins tumble, 35-16.
Virginia (2-8, 1-5 ACC) at Georgia Tech (6-4, 3-4), 12:30 p.m., ACC Network. The Cavaliers’ season is already lost; now, the goal is avoiding a double-digit loss campaign.
This would be the second such season in four years and third overall (thank you, Coach Sonny Randle, for the 1-10 journey to nowhere in 1975). The Yellowjackets’ option offense is fresh from running Virginia Tech ragged, while U.Va.’s defense is in a very interesting place: Bronco Mendenhall’s defense ranks 12th in the conference against the run and 12th in stopping the pass, as well as 12th in yards allowed and 12th in points surrendered. It’d be one thing if they were last in every category, but ranking third to last in each area takes a certain skill.
It also takes a certain skill to tailgate with a quality cabernet sauvignon, as Kippy & Buffy will tell you if given the chance. The 2010 Barrel Oak is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes aged 15 months in French and American oak: “Aromas of plum and dark berries, lusciously smooth and velvety taste of stewed fruit with a lingering finish of gentle spice.” This Cab rides more like a limo.
Cavaliers fall, 36-17.
Virginia Tech (7-3) at Notre Dame (4-6), 3:30 p.m., NBC. The Hokies go out of conference while kicking themselves for misfiring in their loss to Georgia Tech. Despite the defeat, the Coastal Division is theirs with a victory next weekend against Virginia, and a double-digit win season is still a possibility.
The Fighting Irish are playing for their postseason lives while nearing the end of a season that’s had more than its share of heartbreak: three losses by a field goal or less, two more by a touchdown and one by eight points. DeShone Kizer (61 percent passing, with 22 touchdowns) and company are fresh off a 44-6 thumping of Army on the day after Veterans Day. Not cool, guys.
Hokies slip in South Bend, 26-20.
Navy (7-2, 5-1 AAC) at East Carolina (3-7, 1-5), 4 p.m., ESPNews. This game was originally scheduled for Oct. 13, but flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew moved the showdown to this weekend.
The Pirates have lost three of four since the game was moved, and the 2016 tradition of shootouts could very well continue as ECU boasts the fourth-most productive passing game in Division I FBS, but is hampered by a defense that allowed 100 points in its last two games. Will Worth has been on point all season, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t put up big numbers against the Pirates.
Midshipmen make it happen, 42-27.
Other picks: Georgetown falls to Colgate, Howard tops Delaware State, James Madison edges Elon, Richmond wins over William & Mary, Towson tops Rhode Island, Morgan State slips to Army West Point.
Last Week: 7-3.