SEC, Big Ten bracing for epic weekend of football

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‘Canes vs. Buckeyes.  Nittany Lions vs. Crimson Tide.  Columbus.  Tuscaloosa.

With, I might add, a side order of Wolverines-Irish in South Bend and Bulldogs-‘Cocks in the highly underrated college city of Columbia.

And that’s just the SEC and Big Ten.

Does it get any better when it comes to college football?  We think not, at least not this early in the regular season and unless monkeys and/or midgets are involved.

So, let’s get right to the festivities, shall we?

No. 22 Georgia at No. 24 South Carolina (Noon ET)

THE LINE: Georgia -3

THE PLOT: Both schools are coming off impressive season-opening wins.  Both schools have been slapped by the NCAA, although Georgia’s loss of stud wide receiver A.J. Green is a much, much bigger blow than South Carolina’s loss of tight end Weslye Saunders.  Both schools need this win to get a leg up out of the gate in the race for SEC East supremacy.

The winner regardless of the outcome?  The fans both at home and in the stands as this is shaping up to be one helluva a way to kick-off the second weekend of the 2010 season.

THE PICK: The loss of Green combined with the home-field disadvantage shifts the edge away from the Bulldogs, at least on paper.  But wait.  Dammit.  Stephen Garcia is still the Gamecocks’ starter at quarterback, no?  Dammit.  OK, we’ll grab the coin again, flip it and… it’s in the air… it’s still in the air… and it ends up on…  Gamecocks still.  To cover and win outright.

THE SCORE: Gamecocks 27, Bulldogs 24

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Michigan at Notre Dame (3:30 ET)

THE LINE: Notre Dame -3.5

THE PLOT: Denard Robinson was a one-man Pat White-ing crew in Michigan’s impressive season-opening win over UConn.  Can we see a repeat performance from Mr. Robinson in his first road test as a starting college quarterback?  Notre Dame looks to be improved on the defensive side of the ball, and they’ll need to be if Robinson even remotely resembles Game One Shoelace, although a so-so showing the first week against Purdue still leaves questions needing to be answered.  On the flip side, do you think Dayne Crist is having impure thoughts as to what he could do to a young, inexperienced and depleted Wolverines secondary?

THE PICK: This should be one of the best games of the day, and is truly one of those contests that could go either way.  In the end, Robinson’s inexperience in tandem with the Irish’s home-field advantage will be too much for the Wolverines to overcome.  Unless they can and do.  Like with the UGA-USC game, flip a coin on this one, although we see a Wolverine cover for the degenerates in the audience regardless.

THE SCORE: Irish 31, Wolverines 30

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No. 12 Miami at No. 2 Ohio State (3:40 ET)

THE LINE: Ohio State -8.5

THE PLOT: For all of the talk of this being a grudge rematch, with the Hurricanes looking to “avenge” their “controversial” loss to the Buckeyes in the ’02 national title game, it appears likely that this game will come down to a pair of quarterbacks who were either on the verge of or had just become teenagers around the time of the ’03 Fiesta bowl.

OSU’s Terrelle Pryor and The U’s Jacory Harris could very well put themselves — or, in the case of Pryor, further entrench himself — at the top of the Heisman discussion with an impressive performance in a win.  Both players have a tremendous amount of God-given ability, but still have to show that their flashes of brilliance can become consistent excellence.  If Pryor has indeed turned the corner some/most think he has, it will be up to Harris-led offense to keep pace.  Speaking of which…

One thing the ‘Canes likely learned through film work is that the Buckeyes will be one of the fastest — if not the fastest — defenses they will face all season.  One of the things the Buckeyes likely learned through film work is that they will need all of that defensive speed to be able to keep pace with the stable of uber-quick and athletic skill-position players on the Hurricanes’ offense. This match-up of units has the chance to be something really, really special.  Just don’t blink, though.

THE PICK: For some reason, I see this game going one of two ways.  Either the Buckeyes win by ten or more, or the Hurricanes win by three or less.  Just not seeing anything in between.  So, we’ll go with the former and a win/cover for the Buckeyes.  Then again, I have been doing my night-before-the-game warm-ups (sponsored by Bud Light!!!) so…

THE SCORE: Buckeyes 38, Hurricanes 28

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No. 18 Penn State at No. 1 Alabama (7:00 ET)

THE LINE: Alabama -12

THE PLOT: There’s little doubt what the overriding story line of this game is: true freshman quarterback Rob “Robert” Bolden heading into his first road start with the din of 100,000 of his closest Tuscaloosa friends who’ve had all day to “prepare” for the night game assaulting his young ears.  Not to mention a still-talented defense eagerly awaiting Evan Royster, PSU’s top running back who has the talent to take the pressure off the frosh QB but was held to 3.6 YPC and 40 yards against Div. 1-AA Youngstown State.  Godspeed, young man.  Godspeed.

Obviously another subplot is the will he/won’t he surrounding Mark Ingram.  Ultimately, he won’t and, much like in last week’s opener, his absence likely won’t matter all that much this week either.  While it may be a little tougher for backups Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy and Demetrius Goode to stuff 243 yards and eight yards a carry into the stat sheet this week, we’re still calling for the Tide to be able to run the football with relative ease against what is ultimately a rebuilding Nittany Lions defense.

Oh, and those Greg McElroy and Julio Jones guys may have something to say about the outcome as well.  Not a good sign for a Penn State team that will be a much better one come November than they are right now.

THE PICK: Neither team was seriously challenged opening weekend.  Alabama will likely leave Bryant-Denny stadium still awaiting their first true test.  No offense, Happy Valleyites.

THE SCORE: Crimson Tide 37, Nittany Lions 17

LAST WEEKStraight up: 4-0Vs. spread: 1-3

OVERALLStraight up: 4-0Vs. spread: 1-3

(Odds courtesy of SportsBook.com by way of our friends at NBC Sports.com)

Big Ten pulls plug on fall football amid COVID-19 concerns

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The Big Ten won’t play football this fall because of concerns about COVID-19, becoming the first of college sports’ power conferences to yield to the pandemic.

The move announced Tuesday comes six day after the conference that includes historic programs such as Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State had released a revised conference-only schedule that it hoped would help it navigate a fall season with potential COVID-19 disruptions.

But it was not a surprise. Speculation has run rampant for several days that the Big Ten was moving toward this decision. On Monday, coaches throughout the conference tried to push back the tide, publicly pleading for more time and threatening to look elsewhere for games this fall.

“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”

The Big Ten touts itself as the oldest college athletic conference in the country, dating back to 1896 when it was called the Western Conference, and its schools have been playing football ever since. It became the Big Ten in 1918 and grew into a football powerhouse.

The 14 Big Ten schools span from Maryland and Rutgers on the East Coast to Iowa and Nebraska out west. Not only has it been one of the most successful conferences on the field but off the field it has become one of the wealthiest.

The Big Ten, with its lucrative television network, distributes about $50 million per year to its members.

Trump, coaches push for college football as cracks emerge

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President Donald Trump joined a U.S. senator and a number of coaches Monday in the push to save the college football season from a pandemic-forced shutdown.

There was speculation that two of the five most powerful conferences — the Big Ten and the Pac-12 — might call off their seasons. Farther east, Old Dominion canceled fall sports and became the first school in the Bowl Subdivison to break from its league in doing so; the rest of Conference USA was going forward with plans to play.

A Big Ten spokesman said no votes had been taken by its presidents and chancellors on fall sports as of Monday afternoon and the powerful Southeastern Conference made clear it was not yet ready to shutter its fall season.

“Best advice I’ve received since COVID-19: ‘Be patient. Take time when making decisions. This is all new & you’ll gain better information each day,’” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey posted on Twitter. ”Can we play? I don’t know. We haven’t stopped trying.”

A growing number of athletes have spoken out about saving the season with Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence among the group posting their thoughts on Twitter with the hashtag #WeWantToPla. Trump threw his support behind them Monday.

“The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled,” he tweeted.

Old Dominion has stopped trying. The Virginia school canceled football and other fall sports less than a week after Conference USA set out a plan to play a football season.

“We concluded that the season – including travel and competition – posed too great a risk for our student-athletes,” ODU President Broderick said.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh took a different stand, saying the Wolverines have shown players can be safe after they return to school.

“I’m not advocating for football this fall because of my passion or our players desire to play but because of the facts accumulated over the last eight weeks since our players returned to campus on June 13,” he wrote. “I am advocating on August 10 that this virus can be controlled and handled because of these facts.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, picked up on the safer-with-football theme in a letter to the presidents and chancellors of the Big Ten.

“Life is about tradeoffs. There are no guarantees that college football will be completely safe — that’s absolutely true; it’s always true,” he wrote. “But the structure and discipline of football programs is very likely safer than what the lived experience of 18- to 22-year-olds will be if there isn’t a season.”

“Here’s the reality: Many of you think that football is safer than no football, but you also know that you will be blamed if there is football, whereas you can duck any blame if you cancel football,” added Sasse, a former college president. “This is a moment for leadership. These young men need a season. Please don’t cancel college football.”

Players unite in push to save college season, create union

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Michigan defensive back Hunter Reynolds saw the tweets from Trevor Lawrence and other college football players pushing for the opportunity to play this season despite the pandemic.

Reynolds, one of the organizers behind a players’ rights movement in the Big Ten, didn’t like the way some on social media seemed to be pitting Lawrence’s message against the efforts of #BigTenUnited and #WeAreUnited.

“There was a lot of division,” Reynolds told AP early Monday morning.

Reynolds got on a call with Lawrence and the star quarterback’s Clemson teammate, Darien Rencher, and within a matter of hours the summer of athlete empowerment found another gear.

College football players from across the country united Sunday in an attempt to save their season and ensure they will no longer be left out of the sport’s biggest decisions.

Lawrence, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Oklahoma State All-America running back Chuba Hubbard, Alabama running back Najee Harris and numerous other players from Florida State to Oregon posted a graphic on social media with #WeWantToPlay and #WeAreUnited.

“We came to the conclusion, We Want to Play, their message might have been conveyed differently but at the end of the day the message wasn’t too far off from what Big Ten United wanted to promote,” Reynolds said. “Which is we all want to play sports this fall. Every athlete, I’m pretty sure, wants to play their sports. They just want to do so safely.”

The #WeAreUnited hashtag was used a week ago by a group of Pac-12 players in announcing a movement they say has the support of hundreds of peers within their conference. They have threatened mass opt-outs by players if concerns about COVID-19 protocols, racial injustice in college sports and economic rights for athletes are not addressed.

#BigTenUnited arrived on the scene a couple days later, a movement that claimed the backing off 1,000 Big Ten football players. Their demands were more targeted, strictly related to health and safety in dealing with COVID-19.

Sunday night, the call with Reynolds, Rencher and Lawrence led to a Zoom meeting — of course — with some of the Pac-12 players involved in “WeAreUnited.”

Washington State defensive lineman Dallas Hobbs got to work on a graphic and now the movement is officially nationwide.

“Just started bouncing ideas off each others’ heads and kind of discussing where we go from here and we ended up coming up with that statement,” said Reynolds, a senior from South Orange, New Jersey.

Under the logos of each Power Five conference — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — the players pronounced their platform:

— We all want to play football this season.

— Establish universal mandated health & safety procedures and protocols to protect college athletes against COVID-19 among all conferences throughout the NCAA.

— Give players the opportunity to opt out and respect their decision.

— Guarantee eligibility whether a player chooses to play the season or not.

— Use our voices to establish open communication and trust between players and officials: Ultimately create a College Football Players Association.

All of this capped a weekend during which the adults who run college sports seemed to be moving toward shutting it all down because of the pandemic.

A day after the Mid-American Conference became the first of the major college football leagues to cancel the fall season, Power Five conference commissioners met Sunday. They discussed mounting concerns about whether a season can be safely conducted with the pandemic still not under control in the United States.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said no decisions on the season have been made, but conceded the outlook has not improved.

“Are we in a better place today than two weeks, ago? No, we’re not,” he said.

Bowlsby cited “growing evidence and the growing pool of data around myocarditis.”

Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart and it has been found in some COVID-19 patients. There is concern it could be a long-term complication of contracting the virus even in young, healthy people, a group that has usually avoided severe cardiovascular symptoms.

Also Sunday night, the Big Ten’s university presidents and chancellors held a previously unscheduled meeting, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was not announced by the conference.

Another person with direct knowledge of the meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity, said no votes were taken or decisions made about the college football season.

The final call on whether major college football will played this season rests in the hands of the university presidents who oversee the largest conferences.

With doom and gloom hanging over college football, Lawrence, who has become the face of the sport in a summer of strife, tried to push back the tide with a series of tweets.

“People are at just as much, if not more risk, if we don’t play,” Lawrence posted. “Players will all be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract covid19.”

Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth had a similar message, and the parents of Ohio State football players weighed in, too.

Reynolds wants athletes to have a say in the meetings that are deciding the fate of their sports — starting now.

”All college athletes through unifying and not being afraid to speak our minds and having social media to kind of mobilize, I think that box on a Zoom call is something that is pretty attainable,” he said. “Especially, in the near future.”

After MAC surrenders to pandemic, will other leagues follow?

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In many ways, the Mid-American Conference has little in common with Power Five leagues that first come to mind when fans think of major college football.

There are no 75,000-seat stadiums in the MAC. Million-dollar per year coaches are rare. In a typical season, NFL scouts might find one or two potential first-round draft picks playing at the 12 MAC schools that dot the Midwest. The MAC’s biggest games — #MACtion, if you will — are often played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Its television deal with ESPN pays per year only a few million more than the $9 million Clemson pays coach Dabo Swinney.

Still, the MAC is one of 10 conferences that competes in the NCAA’s highest level of football, and Saturday it became the first of those to surrender to the coronavirus pandemic and cancel the fall sports season.

So is the MAC an anomaly, done in by its small budgets or is this a dire sign of things to come in college football?

“I won’t try to judge what other folks are doing,” MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said. “I know we’re all in the same place. They all have their advisers. They’re going to make judgments based on the information they are receiving.”

Not long after the MAC announced it would explore second-semester seasons for all fall sports, including soccer and volleyball, the Big Ten made its own announcement that seemed ominous given the timing.

Tapping the brakes on football’s preseason, the Big Ten told its schools that until further notice full contact practices cannot begin. All teams will remain in the first two days of what is known as the “acclimatization period,” working out in just helmets. The first Big Ten games of the season are scheduled for Sept. 5.

“As we have consistently stated, we will continue to evaluate daily, while relying on our medical experts, to make the best decisions possible for the health, safety and wellness of our student-athletes,” the Big Ten said in a statement.

The MAC’s schools were facing a significant financial burden by trying to maintain costly COVID-19 protocols, while also dealing with the uncertainty that campuses can be opened safely.

A move to the spring, however, could also be budget-buster if it means less revenue from the ESPN deal, which pays each school about $1 million per year, and football ticket sales. The MAC also shares about $90 million per year in College Football Playoff money with four other conferences.

“It would be naive to say that you don’t give thought and consideration to what the financial ramifications of any decision are, but this was a health and well-being decision first and foremost,” Steinbrecher said. “As we sit here today we don’t know what this will mean financially and how the rest of the fall plays out.”

Steinbrecher said the decision effects only fall sports, not basketball or others that begin in the second semester such as baseball, softball and lacrosse.

He added the decision was unanimous among the membership. Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier, supported by NIU President Lisa Freeman, has been a vocal advocate of delaying the season.

“No one wants to have football or sports more than me,” said Frazier, who played football at Alabama in the late 1980s. “Football gave me all the opportunities I have today, but I can’t do it at the expense of people’s lives.”

Eastern Michigan athletic director Scott Wetherbee said he has been feeling a sense of inevitability for two weeks about the MAC canceling fall football, but can’t predict whether this decision trickles up to other conferences.

“Could it? Certainly. There’s certainly a narrative out there that could happen,” Wetherbee said. “No, it wouldn’t shock me if some followed suit. In fact, it would shock me if some didn’t.”

NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline made clear that even though plans for the football season have been adjusted to accommodate potential COVID-19 disruptions like the ones Major League Baseball has had, they are all still aspirational.

“Almost everything would have to be perfectly aligned to continue moving forward,” Hainline said Friday during the NCAA’s weekly video chat on social media.

As the Power Five conferences re-worked their schedules to play exclusively or mostly within their conferences, another of the MAC’s revenue streams dried up.

MAC schools, with athletic budgets in the $30 million range, rely heavily on payouts from road games against power conference teams. Kent State alone had more than $5 million in so-called guarantee games canceled. Whether they can be recouped and when is still to be determined. Without that revenue, the strain became too great of trying to keep players and staff safe during a pandemic.

“Certainly there was a cost attached to it,” Wetherbee said. “But as a league we were prepared to do it.”

The move to try spring football has already been going on in the second tier of Division I.

Nine of 13 conferences that play in the Championship Subdivision, have postponed fall football seasons. The first was the Ivy League in early July.

Now it’s the MAC, which was among the first conferences to limit fan access to its basketball tournament in March as concerns for the virus began to soar across the country. On March 12, the MAC was among many conferences to call off their tournaments hours before the NCAA canceled all of March Madness.

“If you told me in March we’d be here today,” Steinbrecher said, “I’d never have believed it”