Winners & Losers: ‘Beemer Ball’ edition

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And, in case you were wondering, that’s not a misspelling of the original “Beamer Ball”.

Also, and as is the case every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

WINNERS

The other Beemer Ball
Never really heard of Gary Beemer, right?  On a Saturday when mostly forgettable match-ups were the storyline du jour, it’s more than apropos, then, that W&L’s leadoff hitter is someone known only to his family and the most diehard of Gator Nation.  Late in the fourth quarter of Florida’s easy win over Div. 1-AA power Appalachian State, the Gators put the defensive lineman onto the field on a first and goal from the four — in the backfield.  Three carries later, Beemer had himself his first touchdown since “never ago“.  A walk-on, Beemer had played in only three games prior to today in what was an otherwise undistinguished UF career.  And the walk-on gets a walk-off touchdown in his final game as a player at The Swamp?  Move over, Rudy; you have company.  I don’t know whose idea it was to reward the senior for all of his hard work — I suspect his name rhymes with “Urban Meyer” — but this “meaningless” touchdown in a blowout is one of the best stories of the year, and yet another reason that, despite all of the other crap that goes on, this is still the greatest game The Big Fan Upstairs ever invented.

Arkansas-Mississippi State
For as much crap as I will give this weekend’s slate of games, that was one helluva football game there in Starkville.  A double-overtime win for the Razorbacks that featured a Bulldogs fumble out of the end zone; a very makeable field goal missed by the Hogs on the ensuing possession; Ryan Mallett being… well… Ryan Mallett; Chris Relf having the uncanny inability to grasp the concept of a successful forward pass on the last-gasp possession for the home team.  And that was just the four possessions in the two overtime periods.  You can debate the greatness of the SEC all you want, but there’s no denying the entertainment value the conference brings on a weekly basis.

How do ya like me now, suckers????????
Clock management snafus? Pfffttt. One year ago against Ole Miss, Les Miles was responsible for one of the stunning misuses of clock management that the college football world had witnessed.  Thank God for a short memory. With a 43-36 win over Ole Miss today, LSU is 10-1 and could make an argument for best one-loss team in the country — if not the most health detrimental. In the win, Miles confidently drained the clock on the Tigers’ final drive until Stevan Ridley scored the game-winning touchdown with under a minute left in the game. I’m not sure if it’s luck, good ol’ fashioned Louisiana Voodoo or what, but Miles continues to win and we’re just not exactly sure how.

Dan Hawkins
Even given his unceremonious — but well-deserved — dismissal as Colorado’s head coach earlier this month, Coach Hawk walked his son, starting quarterback Cody Hawkins, onto the field for the Buffaloes’ Senior Day festivities.   There are those who rightfully doubt Hawkins’ ability to lead a Div. 1-A football program, but there’s little doubt that he’s first-class when it comes to his role as a father.  And, in the end, that’s all that really matters and trumps everything and anything that happens on Saturdays on that 100-yard piece of turf.  Also, while we’re here, a sincere pat on the back to the CU fans, who took what could’ve been an awkward and nasty situation and turned it into what was the loudest ovation of all the seniors introduced.  Classy all the way around, Buff Nation.  Very, very classy.

Badger “backups”
For the second straight week, Wisconsin was without their leading rusher John Clay.  And, for the second straight week, it didn’t matter one bit.  A week after combining for 314 rushing yards, Montee Ball and James White combined for 355 yards in the Badgers’ 48-28 romp over Michigan.  So, yeah, it’s the system, stupid.

12th Man indeed
A 9-6 final score screams very loudly that the Nebraska-Texas A&M game was butt ugly (it was), but there was never a prettier win for Mike Sherman in his three seasons in College Station.  10-15 entering this season, Sherman’s Aggies now sit at 8-3, with an in-state showdown looming against Texas that could be a springboard toward a New Year’s bowl bid.  As an aside, and apropos of nothing, I would swear that the Pelini and Stoops brothers are related by blood based solely on the veins in their foreheads/neck popping out during particularly nail-biting portions of games.

Ryan Kerrigan
I don’t know who will take home the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year award — I get the feeling the name Michigan State’s Greg Jones has created in his outstanding career will trump all — but I know who should.  As we said on Twitter, Ryan Kerrigan is simply a beast with no “off” switch.  The Purdue defensive lineman isn’t exactly a “name” player, and he plays for a below-average team, but he’s been the best player on that side of the ball in the conference whether people recognize him or not.

Mikel Leshoure
The Illinois running back dude ran for 330 yards at Wrigley Field.  I don’t think much else needs to be said about that particular performance.

Finally, right?
For the first time in — if you can believe it — over a month, the Texas Longhorns won a football game. Granted, it was against Florida Atlantic, but just getting one in the ole “W” column has to feel good for Mack Brown and his team. Texas did exactly what they were expected — and needed — to do in beating up on the Owls 51-17. Their final game of the season against Texas A&M won’t be a cakewalk, but at least now the seniors on this vastly underachieving team have something for which to play: a bowl bid and a chance at a winning season.

Denard Robinson
In a season that started with so much promise (again) and has since devolved into more talk of Rich Rodriguez being on the hot seat, the sophomore quarterback has been one of the few and far between bright spots for Michigan.  In the third quarter of what would become the Wolverines’ fourth loss in six games, Robinson became the first QB at the Div. 1-A level to rush for more than 1,500 yards in a single season (he finished the game with 1,593).  Earlier, he had broken the QB rushing record of 1,494 yards set by Air Force’s Beau Morgan.  There may be a lot wrong with the Michigan football program, but Robinson ain’t one of ’em.

LOSERS

The fans
Wow, that was some craptistic action all across the Saturday board for a sport whose BcS apologists cling to their cult-like mantra of “every game counts” in shooting down a playoff system.  Duds as far as the eye could see all across the collegiate landscape, with a sprinkling of Ohio State-Iowa and Ole Miss-LSU and Arkansas-Mississippi State and a small handful of others keeping this weekend’s “action” from being an uber-snoozefest.

Big 12’s credibility
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?  Try dealing with a conference scorned, as Nebraska had to do Saturday night.  Get a tape of the game, pop it in and watch it; you’ll understand exactly what went on at Kyle Field.  And exactly why nearly every vein in Bo Pelini’s body was ready to burst.

Notre Dame
The Domers became bowl eligible with their Yankee Stadium win over Army.  It’s categorically loser-ish that a Notre Dame team becoming bowl eligible is somehow noteworthy and deserving of recognition.  The fact that this will be a “big deal” in some circles tells you everything you need to know about the current state of the Irish.

Oklahoma State
Yes, the Cowboys clinched at least a tie for the Big 12 South title even as this was thought to be a massive rebuilding project for T. Boone’s boys.  Yes, they won ten games for the first time in school history with at least two and possibly three games remaining.  So, why the losers designation?  OSU put up nearly 50 points and almost 600 yards of total offense yet again to go just over their season averages, and they remain one of the most explosive offenses in the country.  And, if any school with a coaching vacancy and in possession of half a brain — looking at you, Colorado — they’ll look to offensive coordinator/Mike Gundy’s job savior Dana Holgorsen to come in and turn their program around.  The more Holgorsen’s offense drives a stunning Stillwater turnaround of preseason expectations, the more apparent it is that the coordinator will be ready sooner rather than later for a shot at a turnaround of his own program.  And a one-and-done for Holgorsen would be the absolute worst thing that could happen to Gundy right now.

Markeith Summers
What a dope.  Or another, stronger pejorative for less family-friendly websites if you’re so inclined.  The Ole Miss wide receiver is on his way to the end zone for what could be the game-winning score against No. 5 LSU and, as a card-carrying member of the look-at-me personalities that drive sports these days, decided to go Mary Lou Retton and do a flip across the goal line.  The TD counted — it won’t next year, incidentally — and gave the Rebels a 36-35 lead with just under five minutes left.  Thanks to that selfish celebration penalty, it also gave the Tigers 15 yards of field position on their next drive, which started just short of the 50-yard line.  Of course, LSU scored less than four minutes later to win the game.  No, Summers’ gymnastics routine didn’t cost the Rebels an upset win.  But, it sure as hell didn’t help the cause on the road.

Bad Luck of the draw
For whatever reason — mainly because of geography, we ‘d assume — Andrew Luck has played on the periphery of the Heisman race this season.  His stats — completing just over 70 percent of his passes for 2,746 yards, 24 touchdowns and seven picks  — along with his team’s 10-1 record and No. 7 ranking says that the Stanford quarterback should be under consideration; this play alone screams it.  I would not pitch a fit if Luck didn’t win the stiff-armed trophy.  I would if he weren’t at least invited to New York for the ceremony.

Dan Hawkins
Family is family, as we noted above.  But, business is also business.  And, in the business of college football, the ledger shows that the Buffaloes were 3-6 with Coach Hawk in charge of the sidelines, 2-0 without him.  Coincidence?  Possibly, but we’ve heard from too many people who we respect that the talent on that team is better than the record indicates.  Based on the past two games, that would be the correct assessment of the current state of the roster.

Bret Bielema
Why one of the frontrunners for Coach of the Year honors coming off another decisive win and has his team in prime position for a Big Ten title?  There’s just something about the Wisconsin head coach that bugs the hell out of me.  Can’t put a finger on it, can’t explain it with words; dude just annoys the living spit out of me.   Would love to have him coach my team, though.  As long as I didn’t have to see or hear him, of course.

(Writer’s note: much thanks to Ben “Ben” Kercheval for his help on this week’s winners & losers.  I’d say I couldn’t have done it without him, but that would be a lie.)

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?

MAC football
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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”