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Presto’s Picks: Virginia and Virginia Tech return, so does the SEC

The slow boil is complete, even though Maryland and the Big Ten won’t begin play for another month.

And while the Pac 12 and Mountain West have both voted to return, college football’s party is back in essence this weekend. And I’m not referring to Virginia and Virginia Tech after multiple false starts finally getting on the field.

The SEC returns to the stage, and the league that has won 10 of the last 14 National Championships will lend a certain credibility to the current campaign.

And unlike previous autumns, the schedule is all-protein. As in no games against FCS or Sun Belt Conference schools to pad the win columns (as well as the athletic department ledgers of the schools brought in for a Saturday slaughter).

The schools of the Southeastern Conference will only play one another during the 2020 season; preemptive condolences to Missouri and Arkansas.

That means 10 weeks of sniping between contenders Alabama, LSU and Auburn, as well as shade thrown between pretenders Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.

We’ll see unrealistic expectations in College Station and Columbia, the “we really emphasize academics” mantra in Nashville and a vicious instate rivalry between Mississippi and Mississippi State that makes Virginia-Virginia Tech resemble a tea party.

We’ll also hear the “SEC on CBS” theme that makes even Missouri-Arkansas sound like a game worth watching. GAME ON!

Saturday’s Games

The Tigers begin their national title defense returning just five starters from last year’s team (we’re not counting kicker Cade York and punter/holder Zach von Rosenberg), most notably Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow (who may have won it all, but didn’t cause an earthquake like Tommy Hodson in 1988).

Meanwhile Mike Leach takes his traveling air circus to Starkville, which has either been a proving ground for coaches looking for better jobs like Dan Mullen, or last stops for former legends like Jackie Sherrill.

Leach is no stranger to Baton Rouge — in 1998 he was the Offensive Coordinator at Kentucky and helped lead the Wildcats to a 39-36 of the Tigers.

“I mean, I can remember exact details. It was all filled up. You know there were little old ladies with their grandchildren flipping off our bus,” Leach said on the SEC coaches’ teleconference this week. “As you got closer, they start rocking your bus.” He doesn’t have the material to test the Tigers — this time. It’s going to take a while to build a winner, but the ride will be fun.

Presto’s Pick: Tigers Triumph, 44-17.

No. 8 Texas (1-0) at Texas Tech (1-0), 330 p.m. (FOX)

Texas is back! At least that’s been the September refrain for the Longhorns in the Tom Herman era. Unfortunately they’ve yet to escape the first month of the season unscathed, as Maryland fans will be more than happy to tell you.

Senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger enters his third season with a ton of stats in his pocket but none of the big wins the Longhorns faithful desire (and demand).

UT opened the 2020 season with a 59-3 rout of UTEP, while the Red Raiders got 430 yards passing from quarterback Alan Bowman in a 35-33 win over … Houston Baptist. Not Houston, but Houston Baptist.

How bad is Houston Baptist? They coughed up 57 points to North Texas. And there’s more bad news: while this game is on FOX, Gus Johnson is not announcing the broadcast (they’re cooking with Gus at noon when No. 3 Oklahoma faces Kansas State). The presence of Gus almost always demands a tight game. There won’t be one in Lubbock.

Presto’s Pick: Longhorns rout the Red Raiders 48-21.

Virginia vs. Duke (0-2), 4 p.m. (ACC Network)

The Blue Devils have been outscored 53-19 in losses to Notre Dame and Boston College. Their transfer quarterback Chase Brice is looking less like the guy Clemson recruited than the player who couldn’t secure the starting job for the Tigers, completing 54% of his passes with two interceptions while getting sacked five times.

The Cavaliers also have a new starting quarterback: Brennan Armstrong threw 25 passes the previous two years which is more than the other two starters combined (Kurt Benkert 8, Bryce Perkins 0) in the Bronco Mendenhall era.

Kippy & Buffy know that no matter the quarterback and no matter the era, Duke remains the ultimate “bro” school. And Breaux Vineyards is the perfect wine to enjoy during a socially distanced tailgate.

This fall they’re breaking out the 2017 Marquis de Lafayette: 90% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot, 3% Merlot. Aged 17 months in French oak. Is it the “dark cherry and sawdust” aroma or the “dark cherry and leather” taste?  Just make sure you have Beaufort cheese and Bremner Wafers.

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers come through, 24-16.

Virginia Tech vs NC State (1-0), 8 p.m. (ACC Network)

This was supposed to be the season opener 2.0, before being pushed back two weeks due to coronavirus concerns. Since then, the Hokies have seen season opener 3.0 against Virginia pushed back to December.

Right now, head coach Justin Fuente is just hoping he can have a full roster available at Lane Stadium, likening preparing during the pandemic to “fiddling with a Rubik’s Cube.” Let the record show that in addition to the Cube, the early 80s were also dominated by the “Magic Pyramid” and the “Missing Link,” the Pepsi and RC of puzzles.

The Wolfpack are coming off their first losing season since head coach Dave Doereen’s first year with the team in 2013. They rushed for 270 yards in their season-opening win over Wake Forest, with runningbacks Ricky Person and Zonovan Knight each averaging over seven yards per carry.

Virginia Tech’s revamped running game will be led by a pair of transfers, with Khalil Herbert coming over from Kansas and Raheem Blackshear from Rutgers. No offense, but Lawrence and Piscataway aren’t exactly places I’d look for talent.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies make it happen, 31-27.

Last Week: 2-2. Overall: 8-4.

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