Predictions 101 — Week 5

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We’re beginning to feel a little bit like Dabo Swinney. “Our team believes! We’ve got heart!”

Against all odds, this hot streak continued through Week 4 as we went 8-4 vs. “the number” (half of those losses were by half-a-point, but we’ll take it). Our straight-up record was 11-1, with the only setback coming courtesy of the Burbank satellite office’s ill-fated belief in Texas A&M. Oh well.

After four dozen games, that puts us at a wicked 34-11-1 (two games weren’t on the board) and 36-12.

We believe in what we’re saying here, but now is not the time to jump on the bandwagon. Hopefully, you’ve been riding. If that’s the case, consider jumping off.

TOP 10 GAMES (Sat., Oct. 1)

1) No. 3 Alabama at No. 12 Florida
Sat., Oct. 1 — 8 p.m. ET, CBS

There was lots of competition for the top spot, but it’s next to impossible to surpass this matchup when things are going well for the Crimson Tide and Gators.

Alabama (4-0, 1-0 in SEC) is coming off an impressive defensive performance against Arkansas last Saturday. The Tide allowed the Razorbacks to gain just 226 yards of total offense and score only14 points, far less than what they came in averaging (517 and 47). Offensively, Bama just continues to roll behind the running of Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy.

Florida (4-0, 2-0) counters with their speedy duo of ground gainers, Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, who were major contributors to the whopping total of 405 rushing yards in last week’s 48-10 victory over Kentucky. We believe in Charlie Weis’ ability as an offensive coordinator with the same voracity as we discounted his suitability to be a head coach. However, Nick Saban’s defense is up for any challenge.

The Tide rocked the Gators, 31-6, last season, winning for the fifth time in the last seven meetings. They won’t get that kind of separation this year, but they’ll survive The Swamp.

Opening point spread: Alabama by 5

The pick: Alabama 23-21

Final: Alabama 38-10

2) No. 8 Nebraska at No. 7 Wisconsin
Sat., Oct. 1 — 8 p.m. ET, ABC

Seriously, how much history can you squeeze into Camp Randall Stadium along with those 20,000 Cornhusker fans?

Not only is this Nebraska’s first Big Ten game, but it’s also the first time since 1962 that two top-10 teams are going head-to-head in Madison … and they could meet again in Indy at the conference’s first championship game.

Russell Wilson leads the Big Ten with 1,136 passing yards, owns a completion percentage of 75.8 and has tossed 11 touchdown passes, against only one interception. However, take a look at who all of those numbers were compiled against. Wisconsin (4-0) has waltzed past UNLV, Oregon State, Northern Illinois and South Dakota, and won’t play a true road game until Oct. 22.

Nebraska (4-0) has played a tougher slate, but the 81 points allowed in the last three games (Fresno State, Washington and at Wyoming) is cause for concern when facing such a powerful attack.

Bret Bielema has lost only three of his 37 home games, and all three of those conquerors went on to do some BCS bowling. We don’t see the Huskers being at that level just yet.

Opening point spread: Wisconsin by 8

The pick: Wisconsin 38-23

Final: Wisconsin 48-17

3) No. 14 Texas A&M vs. No. 18 Arkansas (at Arlington, Texas)
Sat., Oct. 1 — noon ET, ESPN

These former Southwest Conference rivals are future Southeastern Conference rivals, now that the Aggies have officially finalized their move from the Longhorn League to the Big League.

Texas A&M (2-1, 0-1 in Big 12) denied P101 of a clean sweep last week, allowing Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden to throw for 438 yards in that 30-29 come-from-ahead loss.

That sort of defensive performance is a far cry from what Arkansas (3-1, 0-1 in SEC) experienced last Saturday at Alabama, which yielded just 226 total yards and 14 points to the Hogs. But that doesn’t mean quarterback Tyler Wilson will be out there doing as he pleases against an Aggie unit that leads the nation with 14 sacks.

The Razorbacks are riding a 12-game winning streak in non-SEC games, but since this is something like half a conference contest, we feel OK about bucking the trend.

Opening point spread: Texas A&M by 3 1/2

The pick: Texas A&M 30-28

Final: Arkansas 42-38

4) No. 13 Clemson at No. 11 Virginia Tech
Sat., Oct. 1 — 6 p.m. ET, ESPN2

This week’s No. 13 team vs. last week’s No. 13 team should produce a fantastic battle.

Headlined by quarterback Tajh Boyd and freshman phenom wideout Sammy Watkins, Clemson (4-0, 1-0 in ACC) is the hot topic in college football right now. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris’ stock is rising rapidly. His mastery of third down is stunning, having converted on 23 of 35 opportunities in the recent victories over Auburn and Florida State.

As usual, Virginia Tech (4-0, 0-0) will provide a tough test defensively. Although they’ve only faced second-tier opposition so far, the Hokies rank within the nation’s top six in rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense and scoring defense.

The Clemson defense, which has been much less impressive so far, will have to step it up. We don’t expect the young Tigers on the offensive side of the football to be fully comfortable during their first road game of the season.

Opening point spread: Virginia Tech by 7 1/2

The pick: Virginia Tech 26-24

Final: Clemson 23-3

5) Auburn at No. 10 South Carolina
Sat., Oct. 1 — 3:30 p.m. ET, CBS

This prediction comes courtesy of Marc Doche (@MDoche) from the P101 satellite office in Burbank, Calif. He’s breaking away from his usual focus on thoroughbred horse racing to take another shot. The kid’s got some guts. He ain’t taking an easy route to break his maiden.

Sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore may be the best player in the country and is a beast both running the football (leads SEC with 611 rushing yards) and catching it (13.4 yards per reception).

Against Auburn (3-1, 1-0 in SEC), which is allowing over 477 yards and 31 points per game, Lattimore (28 career TDs) and junior wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey (16 trips to the end zone and more than 2,500 receiving yards) should have big days.

However, fifth-year senior Stephen Garcia is a serious crimp in South Carolina’s (4-0, 2-0) stride. His bevy of unconscionable mistakes have led to seven interceptions this year and could prove too much for the Cocks to overcome against a team they have lost to six consecutive times, including twice last year.

Despite youth on both sides of the ball, third-year coach Gene Chizik has the firepower with sophomore running back Michael Dyer and junior wide receiver Emory Blake to not only keep this game within the generous number, but pull off the outright upset.

Opening point spread: South Carolina by 11 1/2

The pick: Auburn 35-34

Final: Auburn 16-13

6) No. 17 Texas at Iowa State
Sat., Oct. 1 — 7 p.m. ET, FX

The nadir of last season’s 5-7 Longhorn campaign was a 28-21 loss to the Cyclones in Austin that wasn’t as close as the final score seems to indicate. It was an old fashioned thumping, plain and simple.

This season, Texas (3-0) has been talking openly about giving a “little something extra” back to the teams that contributed to their misery last year. UCLA got its share, plus the interest, two weeks ago.

Iowa State (3-0) has won its first three games for the first time since 2005. Each victory has been a nail-biter. The Cyclones’ combined margin of victory is just eight points, which includes a 44-41 overtime win over Iowa on Sept. 10.

Quarterback Steele Jantz runs a little too hot-n-cold to hang around with Texas, but the Longhorn youngsters won’t be able to run away on the road.

Opening point spread: Texas by 9

The pick: Texas 27-24

Final: Texas 37-14

7) Kentucky at No. 1 LSU
Sat., Oct. 1 — 12:21 p.m. ET

The last time the Wildcats faced the Tigers they beat top-ranked LSU, 43-37, in double overtime. That was back in 2007 and up in Lexington. The payback time bomb has been ticking ever since.

Kentucky (2-2, 0-1 in SEC) has turned the football over 10 times already this season, ranking ninth in the SEC in turnover margin. LSU (4-0, 1-0) is first in the league in turnover margin (+2). Yikes. We smell a lot of extra possessions.

The Wildcats also have trouble protecting the passer. Only two teams in the nation have allowed more sacks than Kentucky (16). That’s a recipe for disaster when facing a wrecking crew Tiger defense, averaging 8.5 tackles for loss per game.

Perhaps the biggest question is if the Wildcats will score a touchdown. In their past two trips to Baton Rouge combined, they’ve absorbed an 83-0 whitewashing.

Opening point spread: LSU by 28

The pick: LSU 45-7

Final: LSU 35-7

8 ) Nevada at No. 4 Boise State
Sat., Oct. 1 — 2:30 p.m. ET, Versus

Remember the Bronco debacle last November? That 34-31 overtime loss to the Wolf Pack knocked Boise State out of the BCS, all the way down to the Maaco Bowl in Las Vegas.

Distracted by the dramatic missed field goals at the end, many people forget about the furious comeback by Nevada, which trailed, 24-7, at halftime.

So much is different this season. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Vai Taua no longer fuel the backfield for Nevada (1-2, 1-0 in WAC). And Boise State (3-0, 0-0 in MWC) has yet to even attempt a field goal this season.

The Broncos won’t mess up this opportunity to redeem themselves for last year’s second half collapse versus the Wolf Pack.

Opening point spread: Boise State by 28

The pick: Boise State 42-20

Final: Boise State 30-10

9) Notre Dame at Purdue
Sat., Oct. 1 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Boilermakers had last weekend off. Prior to that, they dismantled Southeast Missouri State, 59-0. And since Purdue (2-1, 0-0 in Big Ten) opened the season against Middle Tennessee and Rice – albeit with varied success – a case can be made that the Boilermakers have been preparing for Notre Dame (2-2) ever since fall camp opened.

Whether or not that results in being able to send the Fighting Irish back under .500 remains to be seen.

We’ll side with the Brian Kelly’s battle-tested crew, figuring that the rash of turnovers and critical mistakes will subside.

Opening point spread: Notre Dame by 13

The pick: Notre Dame 24-19

Final: Notre Dame 38-10

10) Michigan State at Ohio State
Sat., Oct. 1 — 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN

Both of these 3-1 teams lost the only real games on their schedule so far. The Buckeyes failed to compete at Miami (Fla.) and the Spartans got beat up at Notre Dame.

Guess what, someone’s about to post a legit victory in this Big Ten opener.

We’ll go with Michigan State, which leads the nation in total defense, yielding just 172 yards per game (only 101 through the air). That figures to be a tough nut to crack for Ohio State freshman quarterback Braxton Miller.

Just his luck … Luke Fickell is the first Buckeye coach to open conference play against the league’s defending champ since Big Ten play began in 1913.

Opening point spread: Ohio State by 2 1/2

The pick: Michigan State 24-23

Final: Michigan State 10-7

TWO MORE YOU SHOULDN’T IGNORE

Air Force at Navy
Sat., Oct. 1 — noon ET, CBS

This game kicks off the 40th year of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy competition … and will likely decide it.

After seven consecutive years of naval domination, Air Force (2-1, 0-1 in MWC) captured the coveted hardware last season, due in large part to its 14-6 victory over the Midshipmen.

Dating back to last year, Navy (2-1) has scored on 42 of its last 45 trips into the red zone (38 touchdowns). That kind of execution, combined with the fact that the Falcons will be missing four defensive starters, makes it hard to imagine that the Middies won’t prevail, especially in Annapolis where head coach Ken Niumatalolo is 14-3.

Opening point spread: Navy by 2 1/2

The pick: Navy 26-20

Final: Air Force 35-34, OT

UCLA at No. 6 Stanford
Sat., Oct. 1 — 10:30 p.m. ET, FSN

Why this unimpressive matchup? C’mon, we couldn’t totally ignore the Pac-12 this week … and we’re tired of picking up those go-against-USC gimmies on account of Lane Kiffin being a complete fraud.

UCLA (2-2, 1-0 in Pac-12) is averaging 214 rushing yards per game. That might mean something at some point, but not this Saturday.

Stanford (3-0, 1-0) currently leads the nation in run defense, allowing just 36 yards per game on the ground.

The Cardinal have allowed only nine touchdowns in their last nine games, dating back to last season. The Bruins will be lucky to get into the endzone once.

Opening point spread: Stanford by 21

The pick: Stanford 41-13

Final: Stanford 45-19

Week 5 record: 9-3
Total: 45-15

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”