Weekend winners & losers

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WINNERS

Alabama & ArkansasYeah, there was the scoreboard thing that would normally relegate the Razorbacks to the other category, but damn that was a great college football game.  While ‘Bama showed why they have a stranglehold on the No. 1 ranking — and displayed some deep intestinal fortitude by coming back from a 20-7 road deficit — Arkansas proved that the defending national champions are far from invincible and untouchable.  For the rest of the SEC — well, except for Georgia — that may have been the best development of the day.

Well there you are, Florida offenseFlorida’s offense thus far in 2010 has been a lightning rod for both criticism and critique, struggling for the better part of three games and raising some serious red flags that this was a season-long malaise.  It remains to be seen whether it was a one-shot deal, but the signs are pointing to the explosive win over Kentucky being the turning point for the Gators — just in time for their showdown with Alabama next Saturday.  Behind freshman Trey Burton‘s school-record six touchdowns — five rushing — the Gators torched the Wildcats for 48 points and 466 yards of total offense; both of those totals are season highs.  Again, it’s too soon to say all is right on offense in Gainesville, but it’s looking more right than it has all season long in The Swamp.

Putting the “D” in the CardinalIt was a given headed into the season that the Andrew Luck-led offense would be Stanford’s overriding strength.  What would determine which direction the Cardinal’s 2010 season would go, it was thought, would be the defense.  Thus far, all signs from that unit are pointing to being deep in the Pac-10 title mix at season’s end.  The Cardinal defense held the potent Notre Dame offense to just 14 points in the win Saturday, and now sit at No. 12 in the nation in scoring defense at 13.8 points per game.  The Cardinal is real and it’s spectacular.  Provided the defense can continue its current rate of stinginess, of course.

The cream of the ACC crop is… the Wolfpack?Yes, it’s akin to being the tallest midget.  We get it.  But here we are, four weeks into the 2010 regular season, and there sits North Carolina State atop the ACC heap.  Following their pantsing of Georgia Tech Saturday afternoon, and with Boston College’s shutout loss at the hands of Virginia Tech, NCSU is now the lone undefeated school in the conference.  We believe this development is either the third or fourth sign of the apocalypse.

Oh yeah, I’m going there Mr. HeismanI would like to hear one compelling argument why Russell Wilson shouldn’t be tossed into the heart of the Heisman mix.  I won’t get one, though.  You know why?  Because he belongs in the conversation, regardless of how few people nationally care about North Carolina State football.  No, I’m not saying he should win it.  His play — 11 touchdowns versus one pick, nearly 280 yards passing per game — combined with his school’s unbeaten start screams for inclusion in the Heisman discussion.

Oregon StateYeah, they’ve lost two games this season, but the point is they actually had the cajones to schedule two tough out-of-conference games in the same season.  It’s a shame other schools don’t follow their lead.  Then again, seeing what happened to the Beavers this year, it’s hard to blame them.

The Buckeyes snacking on a Lil’ MACNever had an Ohio State team under Jim Tressel scored more than 58 points in a game (Northwestern, 2007);  Saturday, the No. 2 Buckeyes hung a 73-spot on hapless Eastern Michigan.  Terrelle Pryor had six touchdowns — four passing, one rushing, one receiving — before the final gun sounded on the third quarter.  645 yards of offense later, Ohio State cruised to an easy 73-20 win in the final scrimmage before Big Ten play opens next weekend.

Gator boss hits triple digitsWith the lopsided win over Kentucky, Urban Meyer now has 100 victories in his tenth season as a Div. 1-A head coach, becoming the sixth-fastest coach in history to hit that mark.  Meyer accomplished the feat in 118 games, just ahead of Tennessee’s Robert Neyland‘s 120 games.  Next up to hit that mark is Tressel, who has 98 wins in 119 games.  If the Buckeyes win their next two games, The Vest would tie Notre Dame’s Frank Leahy as the eighth fastest to the 100-win plateau.

Owen MarecicThe Stanford fullback/linebacker — yes, Beavis, Butthead, he goes both ways — became the first player since 2006 to score a touchdown on both offense and defense in the same game in Stanford’s win over Notre Dame. And it took him a whopping 13 second to accomplish the feat.  The senior scored on a one-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter then, on the Irish’s first play from scrimmage, Marecic returned an interception 20 yards for another score.

Evan RoysterIn the week leading up to Penn State’s game against Temple, there were rumors that Evan Royster was in the Happy Valley doghouse and could wind up losing his job as the Nittany Lions’ starting running back.  The senior had a resounding answer for his critics and doubters yesterday: 187 yards rushing while averaging 7.2 yards per carry.  That yardage total is more than Royster had in the first three games combined.  For a week, at least, Royster has shut the haters up.

The Big 12Through the first four weeks of the season, the Big Soon-to-be-10 conference can boast of four schools at 4-0 — Kansas State, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma — and two at 3-0 — Oklahoma State and Texas A&M.  Of course, the combined records of the schools those undefeated teams beat is 34-48, but no other conference can claim more than four (Pac-10, SEC). Obviously the teams will start beating up on each other in conference play, but it still looks good on paper after four weeks.

(Writer’s note: Due to a brain fart by our crack CFT Research Department — i.e. me — we failed to see that the Big Ten also has six undefeated teams after the fourth week of the season.  We sincerely apologize for any consternation this error may have caused.)

The Nevada KaepernicksOff to a 4-0 start and seemingly the lone obstacle to another undefeated season for Boise State, the Wolf Pack comes in at No. 25 in both the USA Today and Associated Press rankings.  It’s the first time Nevada has been ranked in the AP since 1948.  Kudos to head coach Chris Ault for the quality program he’s built at the school ahead of their move to the Mountain West.

Jocularity in the face of a 67-point loss“You laugh about things like this, but I’ve got 10 or 12 guys who have never been on an airplane before. Not one of these players have been in a venue like this,” Austin Peay head coach Rick Cristophel following his team’s 70-3 loss to Wisconsin in Madison.

LOSERS

Texas (chuckle) (vomit)As bad as “Rout 66” was 13 years ago, what happened to Texas at the hands of UCLA Saturday afternoon was exponentially worse.  Given the state of the Longhorns football program the past decade, and their lofty No. 7 Associated Press ranking, their inexplicable and inexcusable 34-12 loss to a really bad Bruins squad just feels like more of a kick-in-the-groin than was the 66-3 beatdown they suffered as a then-No. 11 in 1997.  Blame it on whatever you would like, but there’s no excuse for a Mack Brown-coached team to lose, and embarrass themselves in the process, at home against a team like that.  None.

Richt’s time between the hedgesWhat do you get when you add ten player arrests in six months to a 0-3 start in conference play?  Even for someone with the résumé of Mark Richt, you get one of the hottest coa
ching seats in America. &nbs
p;The abysmal start cannot be put solely on the fact that star receiver A.J. Green has been suspended for each loss, either.  Certainly his loss hurts, but good teams find a way to overcome adversity; right now, the Bulldogs are not a good football team, and that falls squarely on Richt’s successful shoulders.

The Big EastWith West Virginia’s loss to LSU, the Big East now finds themselves with as many teams in the USA Today coaches’ poll as the Sun Belt Conference — zero.  The Mountaineers do have 45 points, leaving them as the No. 3 team in the “Others Receiving Votes” category; they are the only school in the conference to receive a vote.  Oh, and Syracuse’s 3-1 record is tied for tops in the conference.  “Big East Football: Catch the Fever!!!

Big Ten football fansTen members of the 11-team conference were in action — eight against Mid-American Conference school, two against Div. 1-AA (FCS).  Somewhere, deep in the heart of Manhattan, Kansas, Bill Snyder is quietly applauding and flashing a satisfied smile over this development.

“Sun Devil”, Latin for “Butterfinger”Arizona State turned the ball over a mind-numbing seven times — four interceptions, three fumbles — in a home loss to conference rival Oregon.  Six of those turnovers came in a second-half meltdown that saw the Sun Devils outscored by the count of just 14-7.

Any Hope in West LafayetteRobert Marve could miss an extended period of time.  An embarrassing 31-20 home loss to the Rockets of Toledo.  A 2-2 record, with the two wins coming against a MAC school and a Div. 1-AA squad by a combined total of just 21 points.  Can I get a “BOILER UP!”?  Anyone?  Anyone?

Brewster’s Gopher hole gets deeperMinnesota fell to 1-3 on the season with their loss to MAC member Northern Illinois.  Their only win of the season came by seven points to a Middle Tennessee State squad playing without their best player.  Throw in a home loss to Div. 1-AA South Dakota and you have the makings of yet another season of conference play rife with speculation regarding Brewster’s future at the school.

Greg Robinson’s bend-but-break defenseYes, for the second straight year, the Wolverines have started the season 4-0.  The defensive stats ahead of the start of Big Ten play, however, should give head coach Rich Rodriguez pause for concern  They are a pedestrian 64th in the country in points allowed, and even worse in yards allowed, coming in at 93rd.  And that’s coming against schools with a combined record of 7-9.  Three of their next four games come against ranked schools, and they end the season at home against No. 11 Wisconsin and on the road against No. 2 Ohio State.  So, yeah, they might want to consider tightening that unit up just a bit post haste.

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”