Winners & losers: post-Monster Saturday edition

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The weekend after “MONSTER SATURDAY!!!!!!” was almost certain to be a letdown, and the early portion of the slate did little to disappoint those with lowered expectations.

However, just when you thought they couldn’t possibly get any duller, they went and did something like this… and totally redeemed themselves.

Here are just a few snapshots of the highlights — and lowlights — from the third weekend of the 2010 season.

WINNERS

What the fake?!?Three weeks into the season, and it’s going to take something unworldly to top the play call at the end of the Notre Dame-Michigan State game.  Tied at 31-all, Notre Dame kicked a field goal on their first possession of overtime to take the lead.  Faced with their own FG attempt on their first possession, the Spartans unbelievably ran a fake to end all fakes, converting it into a stunning game-winning touchdown.  When it comes to head coach Mark Dantonio, I don’t think I want to know how big those brass things are he drags around.

They’re real, and they’re spectacularFolks, as a certain broadcaster is wont to say, the Arizona Wildcats are for real.  I was not a believer coming into the ‘Zona-Iowa game late Saturday night; I am now.  The Wildcats wobbled a bit in the fourth — kudos to to the Hawkeyes for not mailing it in during the final period — but that made the win even more impressive as they refused to fully succumb to one of the top ten teams in the country.  Mike Stoops has his team in position talent-wise and performance-wise to make the Pac-10 a very interesting four-school race, with the Wildcats jostling with Oregon, USC and Stanford for Left Coast football supremacy for the remainder of the season.

Modern medicineMark Ingram, less than three weeks removed from arthroscopic surgery on his knee, rushed for 119 yards and two touchdowns.  In the first quarter.  Ingram finished with 151 yards on just nine carries as Alabama rolled over Duke 62-13.  In the broader picture, is it possible that the Tide is a better football team after losing several starters on the defensive side of the ball from their national title team?  It sure the hell seems like that very well may be the case.

Nebraska’s shuck & grindThree hundred-yard rushers.  383 yards total on the ground.  Scoring 56 points in an overwhelming rout of Washington on the road.  The same stifling defense and a real, live offense?  If there’s a better team in the Big 12 right now, we’ve yet to see them.

Tar Heel fortitudeNorth Carolina has played the first two games of the year down at least 12 players who would normally be on their two-deep depth chart, including seven defensive starters and nine total.  While they have lost both of them, they’ve lost them by a combined total of 12 points.  Butch Davis, his coaching staff and, especially, his players should be applauded for playing through this adversity.

MichiganNot for their win over UMass; the way the defense played in the 42-37 victory over the Div. 1-AA school, this one, by all rights, deserves a prominent spot in the opposite category.  However, the moment of silence before the game for the UMass band director who passed away suddenly on the trip to Ann Arbor merits mention and deserves to be recognized for the class move it was.

Untied cleats… againWhile he had his first turnover of the season, Denard Robinson was again the major focus of Michigan’s offense, accounting for 241 yards passing and 104 yards rushing as well as three touchdowns.  Unlike the first two games, though, the quarterback received a little offensive help from his friends; running back Michael Shaw ran for 126 yards — on 12 carries — and two touchdowns in the win.  If you’re keeping a running Heisman watch list at home, the sophomore will still have to be at or near the top.  Speaking of the stiff-arm hardware…

Mallett hammering home a Heisman momentIf it’s possible after putting up 700-plus yards passing in the first two games, Ryan Mallett‘s seemingly flown under the radar thus far, in part because his performances came against Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Monroe.  Today, consider the Arkansas quarterback much larger blip on the radar.  After completing 21-of-33 passes for 380 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions — including the game-winning pass from 40 yards out with just 15 seconds left — Mallett’s performance in the road win over Georgia puts the junior right back on the tip of the tongue of Heisman forecasters.

He’s accurate and hornedIsn’t it about time to toss Andy Dalton deep into the Heisman mix?  All the TCU quarterback did was complete a school-record 91.3 percent of his 23 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns in the Horned Frogs’ easy 45-10 romp over Baylor.  Oh, and his team keeps rolling along at 3-0 and should at least maintain their No. 4 ranking in the Associated Press poll.

Boise StateAfter a week off, the No. 3 Broncos returned to the playing field and handled Wyoming with ease.  After two weeks off, Virginia Tech finally returned to their winning ways and, in the process, may have somewhat stemmed the burgeoning tide of anti-Boise State sentiment.  Nah, who am I kidding; that sentiment will continue as long as the non-AQ team remains in the top three in the country.

Boston College & North Carolina StateThe Eagles and Wolfpack are the only two undefeated teams in the ACC.  Just let that sink in for a minute, then move on.  If you can get past the temporary paralysis.

Home is wherever Mount Union wants it to beThe Div. III Purple Raiders easily dropped rival John Carroll 51-7 Saturday to move to 2-0 on the season.  It was the Ohio school’s 96th consecutive regular-season road win, as well as their 45th in a row during the regular season.

Desmond HowardAt one point during ESPN’s GameDay telecast, the former Wolverine-turned-college football analyst said he was one of the people who drank the Jake Locker Kool-Aid, but then threw it back up after the BYU game opening weekend.  That right there’s why he makes the big bucks, folks.

EITHER/ORS

Florida, Oklahoma and TexasTo be honest with you, I don’t have a clue what to make of these three schools.  They certainly don’t belong in the category below, but they didn’t do much today to deserve any mention above, either.  A confusing lot, these three, all of ’em undefeated.  Certainly breaking in new starting quarterbacks in Gainesville and Austin is contributing to a steeper-than-expected learning curve for 2010.  Those boys from Norman?  Certainly a talented group, but have played up to their on-paper potential in one of three games.  Ultimately they’ll be fine.  They’d just better watch tripping over something on the way to getting fine.

LOSERS

Oregon’s statisticianThe Ducks’ offense is officially ridiculous and bordering on statistical improbability.  In three games this season — and, yes, I’m well aware that they’ve faced “just” New Mexico, Tennessee and Portland State — Oregon has scored 189 points while giving up just 13; they have 1,835 yards of total offense, with 1,132 yards of that coming on the ground; they average 6.9 yards per carry and have a total
of 85 first downs.  In
Saturday’s win alone, they rushed for a staggering 528 yards.  Again, I understand the level of competition, but still…

Clemson Nation’s groinFirst of all, have to agree with Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit: that Clemson-Auburn cage match was one of the hardest-hitting games you’ll ever see at this level.  I’m fairly certain that, if the game had gone a second overtime, we would’ve literally seen a human head or two rolling across the turf.  Secondly, what a kick in the giblets for both Clemson and the ACC.  Not only did they blow a 17-3 halftime lead, but the way the game ended in the first overtime — a made field goal to tie it wiped off the board because of an illegal snap, then missing the retry — was a certifiable, steel-toed boot landing somewhere south of the border.

Mark Richt’s backsideFollowing a tremendous fourth-quarter comeback that gave way to a heartbreaking 31-24 loss to Arkansas at home , Georgia now stands at 1-2 three games into the 2010 season.  Even worse than the overall record is the fact that both of those losses have come in SEC play; it’s the first time in Richt’s ten seasons in Athens that he’s started 0-2 in conference play. With eight players arrests this offseason alone combined with the horrific start, it’s no longer a question of when or if Richt will be on the hot seat.  The only question is how warm the seat is right now, at this moment.  And, more to the point, how hot will it be by the end of the season if the year continues on its current straight-into-the-ground trajectory.

Jake the FakeThere were some in the media who sounded the death knell for Jake Locker‘s Heisman hopes following a subpar performance in Week One against BYU.  Just in case there were any lingering doubts about the mortality of his Heisman candidacy, Nebraska took it out behind Husky Stadium Saturday and gave it a shotgun blast to the head.  The Washington quarterback completed just 4-of-20 passes for 70 yards and two interceptions in the loss, a display that had anti-Heisman written all over it.  Hopefully, while they were at it, the Blackshirts shot to hell the notion that Locker will be the No. 1 overall pick in next April’s NFL draft as well.

Houston, you have a… holy hell, you have two problemsOne, you lost to UCLA.  0-2, offensively-inept UCLA.  Additionally, and most importantly, your all-everything quarterback Case Keenum was knocked out with a head injury for the second straight trying to make a tackle after throwing an interception.  All things considered, including your No. 23 ranking, you may have had the worst Saturday of any school at this level.

Ole Miss rebels against winningI don’t care who ya are, that 28-14 home loss to Vanderbilt is funny.  And karmic.  Not nearly as funny or karmically nuanced as the Rebels’ season opener, but raucously humorous nonetheless.

MACrifice my…Up 16-14 after three quarters of play, UConn allowed Temple to score 16 unanswered fourth-quarter points as the MAC school won going away over a member of a supposed BcS conference.  The Huskies’ loss was merely symbolic of yet another ho-hum week of football for the Big East as the conference went 2-3, with the biggest win coming courtesy of West Virginia over a member of yet another beleaguered BcS conference — Maryland of the ACC.

Thomas WeberThat’s the Arizona State kicker.  His extra point that would’ve tied Wisconsin at 20-all with just over four minutes left in the game was blocked.  Hence, he’s a (forms the letter “L” with right thumb and index finger, slaps it against forehead) and exactly why real football players don’t really like kickers even if it’s not their fault that a kick was blocked.

The Blighting IrishAs the old saying goes, you can take the Charlie out of Notre Dame, but you can’t wipe the Weis out of the Irish.  At least in one season you can’t.  The Brian Kelly era in South Bend has gotten off to a 1-2 start, with the losses coming by a combined seven points.  Not that near-misses will assuage the Irish angst, of course.  Oh, and not to pile on, but the Domers will host 3-0 Stanford next Saturday.

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”