The Fifth Quarter: Week 5 Rewind

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As is always the case every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

Except this time, it’s also unintentional. 

Winners

Clemson? That Clemson? Yes, that Clemson. 

When Kirk Herbstreit picked No. 13 Clemson to upset Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium this morning on College GameDay, I was convinced the Tigers were going to lose. After all, it’s only their nature to suffer a letdown the moment they’re on the national radar. But, Dabo Swinney‘s team went in to Blacksburg and made it look easy with a 23-3 victory over the No. 11 Hokies. Before the season, there were many, ourselves included, who felt the ACC championship would come down to VT and Florida State. Could it go through Clemson, South Carolina? I’m anxious to find out.

Here comes the BOOM!

With a growing concern over head injuries in football, officials have really clamped down on big hits, especially helmet-to-helmet. That’s all well and good, but sometimes it’s great to see someone just lower the pads and de-cleat a guy. Case in point, this monster hit delivered to Rutgers RB Jawan Jamison courtesy of ‘Cuse LB Dyshawn Davis that resulted in a fumble return for a touchdown for the Orange. It was the only positive thing to come from this game (read below).

Revenge of the Smurfs

I don’t think Boise State coach Chris Petersen needed to use last year’s stunning loss to Nevada as motivation against the Wolf Pack this time around — coaches always preach about sticking to the game plan — but it had to feel good for No. 4 Boise State to handle Nevada 30-10. Quarterback Kellen Moore didn’t have a Heisman-esque kind of performance with a pair of interceptions, but running back Doug Martin had a great day with 126 yards and two touchdowns. Boise keeps rolling along, and after No. 20 TCU’s loss to SMU, the Broncos’ road to the BCS is still very clear.

Red River Relevance

Oklahoma had the preseason hype and all early signs have pointed to the No. 2 Sooners being a real player for the BCS national championship. Texas, on the other hand, was breaking in a pair of coordinators and trying to see if Garrett Gilbert‘s 2010 struggles were nothing more than growing pains. They weren’t, and the No. 17 Longhorns finally pulled the plug on the junior quarterback’s disappointing tenure two weeks ago. Since moving to Case McCoy and David Ash at QB, though, UT’s offense has been clicking. A blowout win by the Longhorns over the oft-pesky Iowa State 37-14 has suddenly zipped a little more excitement into next week’s Red River Rivalry in Dallas. It’s just a better game when UT and OU are playing well.

From sidelined to sidelines 

It’s been an especially scary couple of weeks for the Minnesota community with coach Jerry Kill suffering from a pair of seizures, resulting in as many hospital visits. Yet, for the second week in a row, Kill was on the sidelines to coach his Gophers against Michigan — an eventual 58-0 loss to the No. 19 Wolverines. That shows a tremendous amount of heart and dedication — perhaps against better judgement — to his work. Likewise, Joe Paterno returned to the sidelines as well for the entire game against Indiana; the Nittany Lions squeaked by 16-10. Still, it was good to see both back doing what they love to their full capability.

Lucky grab? Ha! Surely you jest

As if we needed any more reasons to love Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, the redshirt junior showed he could catch the ball too — and maybe better than some receivers. In the first quarter of a rout of UCLA, Luck made a nifty one-handed catch from a Drew Terrell pass that netted 13 yards for the No. 6 team in the land. If that weren’t enough, Cardinal tight end Coby Fleener responded with his own one-handed touchdown grab. Check ’em both out below.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkE_vFv2FPI&w=490]

Losers

Welcome to the Big Ten, now prepare to feel our House of Pain!

It was close for a quarter-ish, but Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez threw three interceptions en route to a 48-17 smackdown at the hands of No. 7 Wisconsin. The No. 8 ‘Huskers deviated from their game plan in the second and third quarters, somehow convinced that Martinez was really Russell Wilson. Turns out, he’s not. Nebraska has some work to do for when they take on Ohio State next week, but the Legends Division is still up for grabs. Still, what a welcome to the new conference.

Swampy offense

Earlier this week, Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said he was going to throw the kitchen sink at Alabama. While that may have been true for the Gators’ first offensive possession when John Brantley connected with Andrew Dubose for a 65-yard touchdown pass, No. 12 Florida had no such sink-throwing luck the rest of the night. Alabama’s stingy D held UF to 15 whole yards rushing and forced two turnovers. Speedsters Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps combined for 14 carries for 8 yards. Brantley was also hurt before the half and did not return. In all, it was a bad night offensively for the Gators, and No. 3 Alabama went on to win 38-10.

Stephen A. Smith says “A football game is 60 minutes long”

First of all, Utah State has some bad Juju going on right now with three gut-wrenching losses. The Aggies allowed BYU to march 96 yards — ninety-six — with under three minutes to play Friday night to give up the game-winning score with 11 seconds remaining. BYU would win 27-24. Meanwhile, No. 18 Texas A&M utterly collapsed into full fetal position for the second week in a row, blowing an 18-point halftime lead to No. 14 Arkansas, falling 42-38. And Northwestern, Dan PersaStrong and everything, gave up its own 18-point lead to No. 24 Illinois on its way to a 38-35 loss at the hands of the now 5-0 fightin’ Zooksters.

Wounded Warrior Fail

No. 10 South Carolina was set to honor America’s heroes in its game against Auburn on Saturday by sporting Under Armour’s speical “Wounded Warrior” threads. The only problem? The numbers were too hard to read and SEC officials requested that the Gamecocks change uniforms, so Steve Spurrier‘s team came out in black tops with white numbers instead. On the bright side, it only confirms that fans are right: every referee in the business needs their eyes checked.

Nads not good

Inexplicably not addressed in Illinois’ win over Northwestern was this CHEAP SHOT by Illini LB Jonathan Brown to the “lower extremities” area of NW lineman Patrick Ward. There was no justification for it, and even more astonishing, no personal foul was called. Brown deserves to be suspended for his actions. If nothing else, I thought that was against guy code. Not cool, dude.

New coach, same problems

A week after firing coach Mike Locksley, New Mexico wasn’t much better off against in-state rival New Mexico State. The Aggies defeated the Lobos 42-28 as UNM continues to slide in a winless season. The dark cloud that’s hovered over Albuquerque could take a long time to move on, as Locksley really dug that program into a hole. To top it off, the Lobos sported all silver uniforms tonight against NMSU, which as one beat writer (whose name escapes me) opined on Twitter, made the lineman looked like baked potatoes in tin foil. Fantastic.

Odds & Ends

— Recently reinstated LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson‘s first play of the year was a one-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal to put the No. 1 Tigers up 7-0 against Kentucky, but Jefferson was greeted with some boos from those in Tiger Stadium when he ran on to the field. After the game, head coach Les Miles said he didn’t talk to Jefferson about the reaction because the thought the senior could “handle 2,500 fans that are a little disposed to bemoan someone who is busting his tail to do everything he can do to help LSU.”

— It’s been no mystery that Penn State has struggled to find an offensive identity this season. Joe Paterno says it’s not because of the two quarterback system that splits time between Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin. Whatever the reason, the Nittany Lions have not scored a touchdown in the first quarter this years against Division 1-A opponents.

— After their 38-7 drumming of Maryland last week, I opined that Temple should be considered for Big East membership. Then the Owls showed up to their home game against Toledo hungover as hell, losing 36-13 in front of a crowd of 21,000. Did I say Big East membership? I meant to say continued MAC membership.

— In a win over Minnesota, Michigan running back Vincent Smith became the first player since Clemson’s C.J. Spiller in 2009 to rush for a touchdown, throw for a touchdown and catch a touchdown pass.

— In a 40-33 overtime victory over No. 20 TCU, SMU defeated a ranked team for only the second time since the NCAA imposed the Death Penalty on the program nearly 25 years ago; the loss snapped a 22-game home winning streak for the Horned Frogs at home.

— With their win over Virginia Tech, Clemson became the first ACC member to beat three consecutive AP Top 25 teams in consecutive weeks.

— Ohio State’s 10-7 loss to Michigan State puts the Buckeyes at 3-2, equaling their worst five-game start since 2005. That ’05 team, though, went on to win the rest of their games, including a Fiesta Bowl victory over Notre Dame.

Dylan Favre, the nephew of Brett Favre, finally saw some time on the field in Mississippi State’s 24-10 loss to Georgia. He went 0-for-2.

— Idaho channeled its inner Tom Osbourne against Virginia on Saturday, going for two during the first overtime. But, the conversion failed and the Vandals left town on the wrong end of a 21-20 loss. Joke’s on the Cavaliers, though, who needed overtime to beat freakin’ Idaho. 

For Statistical Purposes Only

— Arkansas’ Jarius Wright and Illinois’ A.J. Jenkins caught the ball like it was their job today. Wright had nine catches for 227 yards against Texas A&M — in the first half; he ended up with 13 catches for 281 yards. Jenkins had a staggering 12 catches for 268 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-35 win over Northwestern. Both are school records.

— Additionally, Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson threw for 510 yards in the win over A&M — also a school record.

— LSU defensive back and Heisman candidate Tyrann Mathieu has three forced fumbles on the year, two of which have been returned for touchdowns. Just a sophomore, Methieu has nine forced fumbles — two more than the school’s previous record.

— Keeping with school records, quarterback Matt Barkley set a USC single-game record with 468 yards passing in a wild win over Arizona.

— Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin entered Week 5 with more touchdowns (13) than incompletions (12). He exited today after the No. 15 Bears’ loss to Kansas State with 18 touchdowns and 20 incompletions. He also threw his first interception in 171 attempts.

— As long as we’re on the subject, Ball State’s quarterback Keith Wenning had a streak of 176 pass attempts without an interception. Then, he threw three against No. 1 Oklahoma… in the next four attempts.

— West Virginia’s freshman running back Dustin Garrison tallied 291 yards in the No. 22 Mountaineers’ easy 55-10 win over Bowling Green. That number ranks third all-time in Big East rushing yards — former WVU running back Kay-Jay Harris holds the record with 337 yards — and most for a freshman.

— In a 19-16 double OT game that reminded me of my youth football days, Rutgers and Syracuse had nine combined turnovers. The Orange’s five turnovers equaled the amount of yards Rutgers was able to gain on the ground. Yikes.

— Speaking of bad Big East football, Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder threw for a career-high 479 yards in a 38-31 win over UConn. The Huskies offense put up 451 total yards.

— As we noted earlier, Boston College running back Montel Harris needed 98 yards to become the school’s all-time leading rusher. He got 10 more to grab 3,735 yards; Derrick Knight held the previous record of 3,725 yards.

The condescending “you’re not that good” quote of the day:

“We just have to keep going, because in my mind, we haven’t played real competition to really test our skills. We’ve played great teams this year, but I’m looking forward to the tough games – Virginia Tech and Clemson. Those really are going to make a statement on what this team is about.”

— Georgia Tech running back Orwin Smith on beating North Carolina State

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”