The Fifth Quarter: Week 14 Rewind

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

THUMBS UP

Bama bummer a boon for Buckeyes
Well, that escalated quickly.  With an Alabama-Florida State BCS title game tucked comfortably into the vast majority of people’s minds, Auburn done went and did that damn thing: a stunning 100-yard return of a missed field goal with no time left on the clock to send Alabama to its first loss and very likely ending the SEC’s streak of seven straight BCS titles.  And, at the same moment, sending the entire state of Ohio — and the bus carrying the Buckeyes back home — into a mix of stunned joy and utter elation.  Suddenly, Ohio State sits firmly in the driver’s seat for one of the two spots in the BCS title, with only Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game standing between the Buckeyes and a trip to the Rose Bowl Jan. 7.

Let’s also get this straight while we’re here: a one-loss SEC champion Auburn/Missouri will not leapfrog an unbeaten Big Ten champion Ohio State.  They shouldn’t, and they won’t.  It’s simply not going to happen, so that little meme — which is already being pushed by one SEC athletic director — needs to be nipped in the bud before it gains any type of serious traction.  Yes, it’s quite possible Auburn/Missouri could jump past not only Ohio State but Florida State as well in the computer composite with a win next weekend; no, they won’t jump either in the two human polls that make up the other two-thirds of the BCS rankings.  To put it in a historical context, no undefeated automatic-qualifying conference team has been ranked behind a one-loss team in the final rankings in the 15-year history of the BCS.

Boiled down?  If Ohio State and Florida State handle their respective conference business next weekend, it will be a Buckeyes-Seminoles BCS title game.  If one or both stumbles?  Some combination of Auburn, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Michigan State and, yes, Alabama, could be right back in the mix.  The title-game scenario has the opportunity to be relatively simple and very straightforward… or turn into utter chaos once again.

As for the rest of the BCS bowl games, they are shaping up to look as follows if it’s an OSU-FSU title game:

  • Rose Bowl: Stanford/Arizona State vs. Michigan State
  • Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Alabama
  • Sugar Bowl: Auburn/Missouri vs. UCF
  • Oklahoma State/Baylor/Texas vs. Northern Illinois

Obviously, that’s a very tentative look at how the BCS will look, depending on how next weekend plays out.  Still, it gives you a fairly solid idea of which direction the major bowls appear to be headed.

Exiting Week 14, the second-to-last BCS rankings that are released Sunday night should look as follows: No. 1 Florida State, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Auburn, No. 4 Alabama, No. 5 Alabama.  Exiting Week 15?  Based on the past couple of weeks, who the hell knows.

Mizzou FansSee ya in the ATL
In the SEC preseason media poll, Auburn was predicted to finish fifth in the West, Missouri sixth in the East — with some Nostradumbass picking each of them to finish dead last.  Absolutely no one picked either team, which combined for two league wins in 2012, to win the conference championship.  Four months and eight league games later?  Auburn and Missouri will meet in the SEC championship game next Saturday in Atlanta.  The West Tigers, of course, earned their trip to the Georgia Dome with the stunning upset of top-ranked Alabama.  The East Tigers wrapped up its first division title in just its second year in the conference with a win over Texas A&M Saturday night.  Mizzou needed the win as a loss would’ve dropped them into a tie with South Carolina, sending the Gamecocks to Atlanta based on the head-to-head tiebreaker.

All hail the feel-good Dukes
Yes, a beatdown is very likely in order six days from now, but don’t let that impact the way you view what’s transpiring on Tobacco Road this season.  With a thrilling two-point win over in-state rival North Carolina, Duke clinched its first-ever ACC Coastal crown and will face mighty Florida State in the conference championship game.  Can Cinderella trade its glass slipper for David’s slingshot and slay Goliath?  Highly doubtful.  Then again, no one thought the Blue Devils would post the first 10-win season in school history, then get the opportunity to claim its first conference championship since 1989 and its first outright title since 1962.

Big 12 still up for grabs
With wins by Texas (over Texas Tech) and Baylor (over TCU) in Week 14, the chase for the Big 12 championship will, much to the delight of the league office, come down to the final weekend.  If Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma in Bedlam next Saturday, the Cowboys will win the conference and earn the league’s automatic BCS bid.  However, if OU upsets OSU, the winner of the Baylor-Texas game — in Waco — would get the trip to the desert for the Fiesta Bowl and face an at-large team, very likely Northern Illinois if the Huskies win the MAC championship next week.

Ding, dong the streak is dead!
Which old streak?  The wicked streak!  Since playing in the Conference USA title game following the 2011 season and winning its bowl game, Southern Miss had gone winless and were carrying a 23-game albatross around its neck.  In its regular-season finale, however, the streak was snapped — and in resounding fashion, no less.  The Golden Eagles’ 62-27 thumping of UAB Saturday was the program’s first since the Dec. 24 Hawaii Bowl.  They had scored 68 points in their previous five games combined.  With Southern Miss’ win, Georgia State and Miami of Ohio now have the onus of carrying the nation’s longest losing streaks at 16 straight.

No WAC, no problem
Suffice to say, it’s been a very successful first season for Utah State in its new league digs.  Moving from the now-defunct WAC to the Mountain West, the Aggies claimed the Mountain division title with its 35-7 win over Wyoming.  The win moved USU to 7-1 in conference play and one game ahead of 6-2 Boise State, which handed the Aggies their lone league loss earlier this year.  Not only did USU win a division in its first season in the MWC, it did so after losing head coach Gary Andersen to Wisconsin last offseason and handing the reins to first-time head coach Matt Wells.  Wells & Company will now face Fresno State in the inaugural MWC title game.

Rice a main C-USA dishRice Fans
Marshall clinched a spot in the Conference USA championship game Friday night.  Saturday night, another surprise team did the same.  Courtesy of its 17-13 win over Tulane, Rice clinched the West division and will face the Herd in the conference title game next weekend.  It’s the Owls first-ever division title, putting them in line to capture its first outright championship since 1957 in the old SWC.  Where the Owls-Herd game will take place will be determined by whichever team is ranked higher in tonight’s BCS standings.  Last Sunday, Rice was 55th while Marshall was 65th.

Case-stating continues
If Jordan Lynch is going to be snubbed for an invitation to New York City let alone the actual trophy, he’s going down fighting statistically.  In Tuesday night’s romp over Western Michigan, the Northern Illinois quarterback rushed for a season-high 321 yards to help keep the Huskies undefeated and in line for an at-large BCS berth.  The performance broke the record for most rushing yards in a single game by an FBS quarterback… set by Lynch himself Oct. 19 against Central Michigan.  People will point to a pitiful passing performance — 5-17 for 39 yards — and use it as anti-Heisman ammunition but will miss the greater point: Lynch is one of the most outstanding football players at this level in 2013 and should be recognized with, at bare minimum, a mid-December vacation in the Big Apple.

THUMBS DOWN

College football fans
Sadly, the time has come.  Week 14 of the 2013 season marks the last full (extended) weekend of the 2013 season.  Yes, next week there will be a handful of conference championship games and regular-season-finales (seven of them) for teams whose leagues don’t hold title games.  And then the iconic Army-Navy game the following weekend.  But, for the most part, the 2013 regular season for college football has come to an end.  And that makes me sad.  Very, very, very sad.  Pouring one out for you, 2013 college football regular season.  We’ll miss you, bro.

Dabo Swinney Steve SpurrierProperty of The OBC
For whatever reason, Steve Spurrier has had Dabo Swinney‘s number the past few years.  Saturday night showed that nothing’s changed.  On a warm night at Williams-Brice Stadium, South Carolina pulled away from Clemson with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to secure a 31-17 win.  It was the fifth straight win in the in-state series for the Gamecocks, with all five wins coming by at least 11 points.  Until Swinney can figure out Spurrier — and Jimbo Fisher for that matter — Clemson will be nothing more than a nice, entertaining little football team.

B1G perception swing
The Big Ten in general and Ohio State specifically could ill afford to have one of its heavyweights stumble at the end of the season, even with Alabama’s season going down in flames.  In Madison Saturday evening, that’s exactly what happened.  Inexplicably, UW dropped a 31-24 decision to a Penn State team that came into the game under .500 in conference play and was a 20-plus-point underdog.  The Badgers entered Week 14 averaging 297.8 yards per game on the ground and 6.8 yards a carry; against an inspired Nittany Lions defense, the numbers were just 121 and four.  Any shot the Badgers had of overcoming the early-season Screwing in the Desert and earning an at-large BCS bid officially ended with the baffling defeat.

Andre 2000 malfunctions
This is actually kind of a sad story.  Just last week, Boston College’s Andre Williams dove headfirst into the Heisman mix thanks to the combination of his FBS-leading rushing stats and a handful of contenders dropping like flies.  Unfortunately, it appears the running back’s time in the stiff-armed limelight was very brief.  Williams was sidelined with an injury in the third quarter of BC’s game against Syracuse and did not return, finishing with just 29 yards on nine carries.  Prior to the injury, Williams became just the ninth back in FBS history to eclipse the 2,100-yard mark.

TOP 25 TOO-CLOSE-FOR-COMFORTUrban Meyer
How ranked teams endured close shaves vs. unranked opponents

— No. 3 Ohio State 42, Michigan 41: It took an intercepted two-point attempt with less than a minute remaining, but the Buckeyes were able to extend its nation’s best winning streak to 24 straight.  The one-point margin of victory was the closest in The Game since a 13-13 tie in 1992.

— No. 9 Baylor 41, TCU 38: The Bears, looking to bounce back from its first loss of the season, appeared comfortably ahead after taking a 34-17 lead early in the third quarter.  The Horned Frogs, though, pulled to within three early in the fourth quarter but could get no closer thanks to three three-an-outs and an interception in the final 14 minutes.

— No. 11 Michigan State 14, Minnesota 3: The Gophers only made it past midfield on five of their 13 drives, with just three of those going deeper than the Spartans’ 40-yard line.  MSU, though, could never really deliver a knockout blow offensively, ostensibly keeping the Gophers in the game until the very end.

— No. 12 Oregon 36, Oregon State 35: The 117th edition of the Civil War turned into an unexpected thriller, with the Ducks scoring on a 12-yard touchdown pass with just :29 left and, following a two-point conversion, securing its 10th win of the season.  UO has now won at least 10 games in a season for six straight years, doing so under three different coaches.

— No. 15 LSU 31, Arkansas 27: It took a 99-yard drive and a last-minute score — and came at the expense of its starting quarterback — but the Tigers were able to fend off the conference-winless Razorbacks and put themselves in position for a prime, non-BCS bowl.

— No. 19 UCF 23, USF 20: Five turnovers would be enough to doom most teams, even against a two-win squad.    In late-fourth-quarter fashion, it didn’t end up costing UCF as the Knights clinched both at least a share of the first-ever AAC title and remains in line to claim the conference’s automatic BCS bid in a 23-20 win over USF.

— No. 24 Duke 27, North Carolina 25: Yep, the clock has yet to strike midnight on Duke’s stunning Cinderella season.  I don’t really have much else to add, other than this is such a great story for the football program in general and head coach David Cutcliffe specifically.  And, speaking of Cutcliffe, he will get my Coach of the Year vote for any and all of those awards in which I have a ballot.

CFT TOP FIVE
A snapshot look at how my ballot would look Sunday if I, ya know, had a real vote instead of a measly and meaningless preseason poll.

1. Florida State — The final body count from the past seven games: Seminoles 439, Opponents 72.  They’ve won every game this season by an average score of 53-10, with their “closest” call being a 48-34 win over Boston College on the road back in Week 5.  They have not scored less than 41 points in any game, and have allowed more than 17 points just once.  The Seminoles are easily the best team in college football heading into the postseason… and it may not matter who the ‘Noles face in Pasadena Jan. 6. (Last week: No. 1)
Next up: vs. No. 24 Duke in ACC championship game

2. Ohio State — Regardless of how the media and fans of other programs want to portray them, the Buckeyes are a very good football team.  Not FSU good, but damn good nonetheless.  Of course, the level of play again in the Big Ten along with Luke Fickell‘s defense — that porous unit would serve as their Waterloo if they earn a spot in the BCS title game — does them no favors perception-wise. (Last week: No. 3)
Next up: vs. No. 11 Michigan State in Big Ten championship game

Auburn3. Auburn — When it happens two weeks in a row, does it cease being the impossible?  Whatever the case, it was Team Destiny 34, Team Dynasty 28 as the Tigers put themselves in a position to, if they can win the SEC championship, get back to the BCS title game for the first time since 2010.  Coming off a three-win season that included a big doughnut in SEC play, that is simply staggering.  And, if it weren’t for what David Cutcliffe is doing at Duke, Gus Malzahn would easily be my choice as Coach of the Year. (Last week: unranked)
Next up: vs. No. in SEC championship game

4. Alabama — The loss and the way they lost certainly stings, but the Tide is still one of the best teams in the country.  Sometimes, there’s just no process, even one that’s won three of the last four BCS championships, that can compete with destiny. (Last week: No. 1)
Next up: regular season complete

5. Missouri — The Tigers clinch their  first SEC title game appearance in just its second season in the conference… and promptly drop one spot in my personal rankings.  Sorry about that, Mizzou. (Last week: No. 4)
Next up: vs. No. 4 Auburn in SEC championship game

(Dropped out: No. 5 Oklahoma State)

MY HEISMAN BALLOT
If I actually had a Heisman vote, this is what my ballot would look like if it were submitted after Week 14:

1. Jameis Winston, quarterback, Florida State
2. Aaron Donald, defensive tackle, Pittsburgh
3. Jordan Lynch, quarterback, Northern Illinois

(If Donald doesn’t get an invitation to New York City after the season he’s had and with all of the individual tumult, I’m going to throw a hissy fit.  That’s all I’m sayin’.)

HE SAID IT
“If they wanna fire me, go ahead.” — Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini, shortly after an embarrassing loss to Iowa and a day before a very public vote of confidence from his boss.

HE SAID IT, THE SEQUEL
“First time I ever lost a game that way. First time I have ever seen a game lost that way.” — Alabama’s Nick Saban after watching Auburn return a missed field goal 100 yards with no time on the clock in the most amazing and improbable ending in the storied history of the Iron Bowl rivalry.

HE SAID IT, THE THREEQUEL
“They don’t play well when they play us.” — Steve Spurrier after South Carolina beat Clemson for the fifth straight season.

SCREEN SNAP OF THE DAY
They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Never has that saying been more appropriate than here, with an Alabama fan reacting to his team’s stunning loss to Auburn:

Bama Fan

Yep. That pretty much describes that ending to perfection.

VIDEOS OF THE DAY
When it comes to marching bands, and alongside TBDBITL, it doesn’t get much better than the ones hailing from Grambling State and Southern.  In the annual Bayou Classic (on NBC), the two bands, as expected put on a show.  Here are clips from both performances, beginning with Grambling:

SAY WHAT?
From the fine folks in the Michigan State sports information department: with the 14-3 win over Minnesota, the Spartans became the first undefeated Big Ten team to win all of its league games by double-figure points since Michigan in 1943 (6-0 record).  The win against the Gophers served as the Spartans’ closest call in B1G play.  Both MSU and Ohio State finished 8-0 in the conference, the first time since 2002 and just the second time since 1943 that two Big Ten teams finished with perfect marks.

TRUE STORY
Thanks to losses by Alabama and Fresno State, just three teams will end the regular season at a perfect 12-0: Florida State, Northern Illinois and Ohio State.  All three will play in their respective conference championship games this coming week.  On the flip side, wins by Hawaii and Southern Miss leaves two winless squads: Georgia State and Miami of Ohio.  Neither of those teams has won a game since October of last year.

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLYJim Moa

— From UCLA football: UCLA’s 21-point margin of victory is the largest by the Bruins against USC in the all-time series at the L.A. Coliseum.  They’ve also won at least nine games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1997-98.

— In five games with Lane Kiffin as head coach, Javorius Allen ran the ball 14 times for 78 yards and no touchdowns and no receptions.  In the seven games since Kiffin’s dismissal, the sophomore has ran for 621 yards and 12 touchdowns, while he’s caught 18 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown.

— With eight receptions for 125 yards in a win over Wake Forest, Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews now has an SEC-leading 107 receptions for 1,334 yards on the season.

— Over the past two seasons, Clemson is 0-4 versus Florida State and South Carolina and 21-0 against every other team they’ve faced.

— Stanford ran for 261 yards while holding Notre Dame to just 64 in the Cardinal’s 27-20 win.  189 of Stanford’s rushing yards came on a career night from Tyler Gaffney.

— Boise State’s eight wins in the regular season are its fewest since it went 8-4 during a bowl-less 2001 season, its first year under Dan Hawkins.  Since then, the Broncos had 10 seasons of 10 or more wins, including a streak of seven straight double-digit wins that was snapped in 2013.

— Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey ran for 157 yards in the Wildcats’ rivalry game loss to Arizona State.

— Trevor Siemian threw for 414 yards and four touchdowns to lead Northwestern past Illinois 37-34, the Wildcats’ first Big Ten win of the season.

Marquise Williams rushed for a career-high 104 yards in North Carolina’s loss to Duke, becoming the first Tar Heel quarterback to rush for 100-plus yards since Darian Durant had 110 vs. Clemson in 2003.

John HubertJohn Hubert ran for a career-high 220 yards as Kansas State dropped Kansas 31-10 in the Sunflower Showdown.

— Indiana claimed the Old Oaken Bucket for the first time in three years, in large part due to Tre Robinson‘s six touchdown passes in the win over Purdue.

— North Texas’ Brandin Byrd ran for 251 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-10 win over Tulsa.

— Quarterback Nick Mullens passed for 370 yards and five touchdowns as Southern Miss snapped its 23-game losing streak, with his 24 completions spread out to eight different receivers.

Garrett Grayson passed for 395 yards and three touchdowns as Colorado State whipped Air Force 58-13.

— Speaking of Air Force, the Falcons ended the 2013 season at 2-10, the military academy’s worst showing since going 2-9-1 in 1980.

— South Alabama wide receiver Shavarez Smith set a school game record with 194 yards receiving in the win over Georgia State.

— Vanderbilt has won 23 games the past three seasons under James Franklin.  Prior to Franklin’s’ arrival, the Commodores had 25 games in the previous six seasons.  Vandy won eight games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in 85 years.

— Wide receiver Stacy Coley caught two touchdown passes and ran for another  — a 73-yarder — as Miami closed out its first nine-win season since 2008 and just its second since 2005.  The Hurricanes can reach double-digit wins for the first time since 2003 with a bowl victory.

— Oregon wide receiver Josh Huff caught nine passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns in the Ducks’ last-minute win over Oregon State.  The former two totals represent career highs for the senior, while the latter tied a career-high set against USC in November of last year.  It was Huff’s seventh career 100-yard game, five of which have come this season.

Keith Wenning— Ball State’s Keith Wenning passed for 445 yards and six touchdowns as Ball State blew out winless Miami of Ohio 55-14.  Three RedHawk receivers caught passes for more than 100 yards each.

— In the win over rival Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan running back Zurlon Tipton rushed for 216 yards and four touchdowns.  And, yes, part of the reason this little note is in here was so I could type the name “Zurlon Tipton.”

— In its first season under Bret Bielema, Arkansas has not only gone winless in SEC play for the first time since joining the conference in 1992 but for the first time ever in any league in which its been a member.

— At the time of Carl Pelini‘s “resignation,” FAU was 2-6; since then the Panthers have gone 4-0 and become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2008.

— For the first time since October of 2004, a span of 113 games, SMU was whitewashed in its 34-0 loss to Houston.  The dismal showing not only cost the Mustangs bowl eligibility but also did nothing to the ever-increasing warmth of June Jones‘ coaching seat.

— In its second season under Terry Bowden, Akron won five games in a single season for the first time since 2008.

— With 49 yards in Northern Illinois’ win over Western Michigan, Cameron Stingily joined Jordan Lynch as a 1,000-yard rusher this season.  It marks the first time in that football program’s history they’ve had two players crack that barrier the same year.

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”